Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dan Dan Noodles

A few years ago I discovered authentic hand-pulled Chinese noodles at Katy’s Dumpling House just outside of Chicago and it was easily one of my most memorable culinary experiences. The Dan Dan noodles at Katy’s are near perfection with an ideal marriage of savory broth, garlic spiced meat and ginger infused bok choy.  The real appeal of these noodles are the multidimensional flavors that build by layering the elements, providing a beautifully composed bowl for presentation.

I duplicated Katy’s version soon after we got home and was totally satisfied with the meaty results (pictured above), but the vegan version turned out to be equally delicious.  The lighter flavors of vegetable broth are an ideal complement to the sweetness of the shrimp.  Bok choy continues to play the supporting role better than any other vegetable, so it stays. When I make the meat version, I will go the extra mile and  bust out the pasta roller for homemade egg noodles, but the oriental market has many noodle options and when pressed for time any of them work well.

Here is my version without meat; to make the full meat version simply use chicken broth instead of vegetable and switch out the shrimp pound for pound with pork. The flavors in this dish are bold enough to cover most of the off-putting flavors of canned broth or bullion, but homemade stock is always preferred.  As with any Oriental dish, have all ingredients prepped and at the ready because actual cook time takes only a few minutes.

Layer 1:

7-8 cups Basic Vegetable Broth with Oriental flavor options
1-2 vegetable bouillon cubes (in lieu of table salt)
¼ cup oyster sauce
2-3 Tablespoons Mirin
3 Tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons rice vinegar

Combine all ingredients except vinegar and keep warm on back burner.  If the flavor seems flat, add oyster sauce instead of salt. The quality of oyster sauces varies greatly therefore more may be needed to flavor the broth than listed.  Add the rice vinegar just before serving since vinegar flavor dissipates with heat.

Bring broth nearly to the boil just before serving as it will keep all the other ingredients warm as the bowls are assembled for presentation.

Layer 2:

Approximately 1 pound noodles, cooked al dente in salted water.
Homemade linguini-like egg noodles are hands down the best and Asian markets often sell these in the refrigerated section.  Check serving sizes, this recipe makes six huge noodle bowls, so whatever noodle is substituted (and many work in this tasty broth, including vegan) just make sure to prepare enough for six substantial portions.
Divide hot cooked noodles into 6 large serving bowls and ladle enough broth over the noodles to leave only the top noodles protruding from the steaming liquid.

Alternatively, the noodles can be rinsed to cool after cooking and heated through with a quick fry in sesame oil in the wok, portioned into bowls and covered with broth.

Layer 3:

2 lbs cleaned, butterflied shrimp
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon chili garlic sauce 

Toss shrimp with garlic and chili garlic sauce.  Heat sesame oil in wok to smoking point and quickly saute shrimp just to cook through.  Remove from wok immediately and divide amongst the noodles, placing on the opposite side as the bok choy.  Any liquid left in the wok is too flavorful to waste and should be divided amongst the bowls as well. 

Layer 4:

8 cups chopped fresh bok choy (or more)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
¼ cup chopped shallot
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Add additional sesame oil to the hot wok from cooked shrimp, quickly saute garlic, ginger, and shallot 15-30 seconds.  Add the bok choy and toss with other ingredients, add soy sauce and steam 3-5 minutes until desired doneness.  Divide the bok choy equally into the six bowls to one side of the noodles. 

Layer 5:

8 spring onions, sliced thin.
Sprinkle each bowl liberally with green onion.  Serve immediately. 

Adjust chili garlic quantities based on your desired heat preference, the recipe as written here will provide only mild-moderate heat.  Hot pepper oil (available at most Oriental markets)  is usually on the table so that everyone can adjust the heat for themselves.
Makes 6 very large servings.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Simple beginning...

Vegetable broth is a staple in most of my cooking.  I try to plan ahead and throw together broth while in the kitchen making other dishes just so I have it on hand when I need it.  It takes only a few minutes to trim the veggies and throw them in the pot with some water to cook.  The only challenge to making any broth is maintaining a steady low simmer the duration of the cooking time, no longer than 2 hours.  I seem to recall reading that vegetables cooked longer than two hours add no appreciable flavor to the broth, so I aim for two hours, but have made decent broth in just under an hour while assembling all my other ingredients.
I don’t make large batches of broth and freeze them, so I can create the flavor profile I am looking for in the dish when assembling the broth.  Many vegetable and herb additions will give a decidedly ethnic flare to the broth and will enhance the overall dish, but may not be welcome in every recipe.  However most broths, vegetarian or meat, start out with the basic trinity and expands from there.
Basic Vegetable Broth
3-4 large carrots ends trimmed, cut up
2-3 stalks celery, large chop
2 onions skins removed, cut up
6-8 cups cold water
Place ingredients in a stock pot adding enough water to cover the vegetables.  Bring to a boil slowly, skimming off any foamy impurities that might rise to the top of the cooking broth.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 1½  to 2 hours.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing cooked vegetables to extract all the juices.  
All homemade broths will need salt but add it sparingly prior to final tasting of the dish since any number of additional ingredients may contribute saltiness.
Other flavor options:
Oriental Vegetable Broth:  Add an additional 1-2 shallots, 5-6 scallions (green onions), 1 2-inch piece of ginger, 2 cloves garlic
Italian Vegetable Broth:  Add 2 leeks, 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems; 1 bay leaf, 1 fennel bulb sliced (optional),  1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)

Mexican Vegetable Broth:  Add 2 cloves garlic, the stems and discarded pieces of red pepper if available, and dried ancho, poblano, or other peppers.  The dried peppers available at Mexican grocery stores add significant flavor and need little more than to be cooked in the broth.  The flesh can then scraped into the dish for an added flavor boost.