SICHUAN PORK NOODLES
Reprinted with permission from The Best Simple Recipes: More Than 200 Flavorful, Foolproof Recipes That Cook in 30 Minutes or Less (America's Test Kitchen, March 2010). Copyright © 2010 by the Editors at America's Test Kitchen.
Why This Recipe Works: Spicy Sichuan noodles, or dan dan mian, consist of Chinese noodles topped with a rich savory sauce of browned ground pork seasoned with garlic, ginger, Asian sesame paste, and chiles. We inject flavor into this dish from the get-go by combining the pork with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and chili-garlic sauce (in place of fresh chiles), and then browning the mixture. We add chicken broth spiked with more vinegar and soy sauce, oyster sauce, and peanut butter, which adds a depth and richness to our sauce similar to traditional but hard-to-find Asian sesame paste. Either fresh Chinese noodles or linguine work well here.
1 pound ground pork
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian chili-garlic sauce (see note at end of recipe)
1-1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 pound fresh Chinese noodles or linguine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Meanwhile, combine pork, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and chili-garlic sauce in bowl. In another bowl, whisk broth, peanut butter, oyster sauce, remaining vinegar, and remaining soy sauce.
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add pork mixture and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth mixture and simmer until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon salt and noodles to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain noodles, and return to pot. Add sauce and toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Smart Shopping: Asian Chili Sauces: There are three varieties of Asian chili sauces — sriracha, sambal oelek, and chili-garlic sauce — that we use in the test kitchen, and while all are made from hot chile peppers, they are noticeably different.
Sriracha, made from garlic and chiles ground into a smooth paste, is the spiciest and smoothest of the three, with a heat that's upfront and fades quickly. It also has a slightly vinegary flavor.
Meanwhile, chili-garlic sauce (what you need for this recipe), is similar to sriracha as it is made with garlic and chiles (and other aromatics), but the chiles are only coarsely ground, giving it a chunkier texture. It has a round flavor and is the mildest of the three.
Finally, there is sambal oelek, which is made of coarsely ground chiles only — it contains no garlic or additional spices and so naturally it has the most pure chile flavor (tasters noticed a strong pickle flavor as well). Sambal's heat level falls in the middle, and that heat builds slowly.
You'll find jars of these sauces in the international aisle of larger supermarkets. Once opened, they will keep for several months in the refrigerator.
• I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: if you have an Asian market in your area by all means take advantage of this trove of interesting ingredients, often at bargain prices. You'll find the sauces called for in this recipe and much more. Each time you go, pick up something new to you, and ask the folks working in the store for ideas on how to incorporate it into your cooking. Then experiment.
• When testing this recipe, we asked the man at the meat counter to coarse grind the pork. We liked the heartier texture of the sauce.
THOUGHTS FROM LYNNE
Okay... a recipe calls for a few tablespoons of fresh cilantro leaves; you buy a bunch, use a few sprigs, and the rest sits forgotten and getting slimy in the fridge. What to do to avoid tossing most of a bunch?
To begin, slow down that decay in the refrigerator by keeping the cilantro as dry and airtight as possible (markets have the nasty habit of spraying produce with water, an ideal set-up for deterioration).
As soon as you get the cilantro home, loosen the bunch and spread the branches out on paper towels to absorb any moisture (do not wash!). Roll them up and put into a plastic bag. Press out all the air, seal and refrigerate. You now have close to a week of fresh cilantro to work with.
A bunch of cilantro (stems and all) could become a green curry for vegetables, fish and meat by chopping it up with shallots, ginger, garlic, turmeric, lime, chilies and coconut milk. Cook them all together until the fat separates out and the seasonings are slowly frying in it — that's where the great curries of India and Asia begin.
A whole bunch of coriander blended with paprika, olive oil, garlic, tomato, lemon, and cumin gives you North Africa's chermoula sauce/marinade.
A bunch of cilantro with scallions, almonds, mint, lemon and whole milk yogurt gives you a Middle East soup, dip or sauce.
By the way, cilantro and Chinese parsley are other names for the leaves of the coriander plant. Coriander, a relative of the parsley family, is used in cooking for its seeds, as well as its pungent leaves, which are commonly called for in foods of the Caribbean, Mexico and India.