It’s a good thing I love grocery shopping so much, because I tend to do it more than your average bear. Especially in my days before moving to Austin, when I lacked proper transportation for bulky or heavy items, I would find myself making multiple trips to carry everything on foot- Sometimes in the same day and at the same store, no less. Somehow my hapless friends often find themselves roped into these missions, since the market is “just along the way” to our original destination, or I’ll suddenly remember I’m in dire need of x, y, and z, which of course I’d love to share when the recipe was done. There’s always some good excuse, or at least one reasonably convincing.
Not all accomplices in this recurring crime are matched in their skills for smooth acquisitions and quick getaways, however. Some in particular have proven to be more of a liability rather than an asset. These people know just how to stir the pot before we ever get into the kitchen.
Scanning the aisles with a short, clear list in hand, I’ll have my mission set, but no matter how efficiently we cruise past tempting oddities and intriguing new ingredients, it’s impossible to maintain the same steady pace. Our combined culinary curiosity can’t stand up to the power of a new food mystery, no matter how relatively mundane. On a quest for plain, ordinary, unexceptional bananas, the basket somehow becomes heavy with unlisted extras.
This recipe, and so many others, come to think of it, are entirely their fault. An unusual style of noodles caught my eye and BOOM, they snap it up without a second to breathe, let alone consider the purchase, practically frothing about a story they read about this rarefied staple.
What was such an esoteric import doing at the pitifully ordinary mega mart? How could we possibly pass it by? Suddenly we were on a search and rescue mission, precious cargo in hand, hustling to the checkout line before I could protest.
In the Sichuan province of China, dan dan noodles are typically served as a snack, rather than an entree, swimming in a thick, fiery red broth spiked with chili oil. Pork was used sparingly as a seasoning, but if you ask me, even greater flavor can be drawn from wild mushrooms, rich with umami and unbelievably meaty texture.
Dan dan noodles found in the US are quite different from the original, of course, bearing a gentler sauce that’s more sweet and sour than spicy. Sometimes you might even find sesame paste blended in to add creaminess and mellow out the spices. My approach is a blend of these two styles, creating something entirely inauthentic and recognizable to absolutely no one of either culture. That is, in a word: Perfect.
Cashew butter creates a smoother, more neutral canvas to paint with dazzling Sichuan peppercorns, allowing their unique mala essence to shine through. The “holy trinity” of aromatics in Chinese food are in full force, harnessing the foundational flavors of garlic, ginger, and scallions to carry such bold, nuanced flavors with grace. Funky fermented black beans play off the earthy notes of the mushrooms, echoing back savory tones to the soy sauce and nutty toasted sesame oil all at once. It’s hard to say whether the noodles, mushrooms, or sauce itself is the star of the show, but the overall effect is worthy of a standing ovation.
Authenticity be damned. Let’s just explore, create, and make something that tastes good together.
Dan Dan Sauce:
- 1/4 Cup Cashew Butter
- 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
- 1/4 Cup Chinkiang Vinegar
- 1/4 Cup Red Chili Oil
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 1/2 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Stock
- 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 - 1 Teaspoon Ground Sichuan Peppercorns
Mushrooms, Toppings, and Noodles:
- 1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
- 1 Pound Mixed Wild Mushrooms, Cleaned and Roughly Chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Ginger
- 1 Tablespoon Fermented Black Beans
- 2 Tablespoons Shaoxing Wine (or Dry Sherry)
- 10 Ounces Dried Wide Noodles (or 1 Pound Fresh Noodles)
- 1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews, Roughly Chopped
- 4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
- Beginning with the sauce, whisk together the cashew butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil until smooth. Add the garlic, mushroom or vegetable stock, sugar, and Sichuan pepper, to taste. Stir well to fully incorporate and set aside.
- To prepare the mushrooms, heat the sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Once simmering, add the mushrooms and ginger, stirring frequently until softened; 6 -8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low before adding the fermented black beans and wine. Cook gently until all the excess liquid has evaporated; about 8 - 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package and drain thoroughly.
- Add the dan dan sauce to the mushrooms and simmer for 4 - 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has slightly thickened.
- To assemble, distribute the noodles equally between 4 - 6 bowls, depending on how many servings you'd like to make. Top with the saucy mushrooms, toasted cashews, and scallions. Enjoy hot!
Regular cremini or button mushrooms can work in a pinch, too.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 366Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 900mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 5gSugar: 6gProtein: 9g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.