Dan Dan Mian with Sausage (Spicy Sichuan Noodles)

The noodle dish known as
"Dan Dan Mian". Which roughly
translates to "Help! My head is on fire!"
This is strictly for the adventurous among us, as it gets a little fancy, and a lot spicy. It gets a little meaty too, so not for vegetarian adventurers. You can thank our friend the Sichuan pepper for that. It's not an ingredient typical of a Western pantry, so you might have to make a special trip to your local Chinese grocery store to get a package of Sichuan pepper. As it's kind of not Dan Dan Mian noodles, without the Sichuan pepper. (Though you won't die from substituting black pepper).

Sichuan pepper is not actually a "pepper", it's the pod of the berry of a tiny fruit, and has a bit of a lemony taste. In large doses, it can create a numbness on the lips (that's how you know it's Sichuan pepper!). You really just want the outer husks here, not the black seeds contained within, as they have a gritty taste like sand. You also want to add the pepper at the very end of the cooking process. Star anise and ginger are good compliments to this spice of China's Szechuan province.

If you have a package of whole Sichuan peppercorns, there's some preparation that should be done to make it palatable. This consists of removing the gritty black inner seeds (if possible, and you have the patience), roasting the peppercorns on a dry skillet or in an oven (til fragrant), and combining it with roughly the same amount of salt (or less) in a good pepper grinder.

The salt really helps with the grinding and grittiness. But it of course implies you need to reduce the amount of other salt, if any, you add to a dish. I specify "good pepper grinder", because one that doesn't grind finely enough, may create a sandy texture you won't like. Oddly, the best grinder I tested for Sichuan peppercorns happens to be a very cheap plastic grinder from "Cole and Mason", that originally came packaged with herbs inside of it (see picture). For some odd reason I haven't figured out yet, it seemed to do this better than my grinder with the steel Peugeot mechanism (an otherwise fine grinder). Alternatively, you can grind the whole thing in a food processor or electric coffee grinder.

The dish is normally done with ground pork (though no reason you couldn't use ground beef). I don't normally have that, so I use Italian sausage, which is essentially flavored ground pork. Could be another type of sausage as well.


8 ounces (225 g) italian (pork) sausage
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2-4 T cooking oil (peanut or vegetable)
3 tablespoons garlic finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger peeled and finely chopped
4 tablespoons onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons chilli oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn, ground
8 ounces chicken bouillon powder (dissolved in water) or chicken stock
12 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles, thin (you can use ramen, udon, whatever you have on hand)
1 handful roasted peanuts, finely chopped (opt.)


Cut a slit down the middle of the sausages with a sharp knife. With the back of the knife, scrape the sausage meat out of the casing, place in bowl, discard casing. Add soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of oil. Mash and mix the combination well. Heat a wok or large skillet on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the sausage mix. Stir with a spoon or spatula to break it into small pieces, mashing the meat with the back of the spoon to flatten it out. Carefully add a small quantity of water (barely covering the food), to soften the mix. Continue to mash it down. When the water is evaporated, stir fry a minute more to lightly brown the meat, remove and set aside. (Cook noodles according to directions, drain well).

Reheat the wok or skillet, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking oil and stir-fry the garlic, ginger, and onions until aromatic, about 1 minute. Then add the peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil, Sichuan pepper, and chicken stock and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes (you can also add chili sauce if you have it, for an even hotter experience). Divide noodles into individual bowls, pour the peanut sauce on top, top with sausage and chopped peanuts, and serve while hot.

Optionally, you may prepare the bowl thusly (as a somewhat more traditional variation): noodles first, then a serving of wilted steamed chinese cabbage, then soya sauce, then some chicken stock, then a generous heaping of szechuan pepper, then fresh chopped garlic, then chopped spring onions, chili oil, and finally the sausage meat.


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