Noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese tradition. A usual recipe for Chinese New Year would be to serve these in a Longevity Noodle Soup. Traditionally, you slurp these noodles whole without breaking them, so that you do not cut your longevity short. For my birthday/New Year’s feast I decided to go a different route.
At the first banquet we went to in Chengdu, and nearly every other banquet, we were served Cold Sichuan Noodles. We came to love this dish. It would always be one of the first dishes we would grab when the banquets would start.
When we came back to America, I developed my own Californian version of this recipe that had a lot of fresh greens. In China, especially 25 years ago, one did not eat raw vegetables, because most of the farmers used night soil as fertilizer. For this New Year’s meal, I am returning to the original version that we had in China. I want a simple spicy Sichuan sauce and chewy noodles.
Looking on-line for the recipe, I was unable to find any that matched what we were served so many years ago in Chengdu. The only images that I found that even looked right were for Sichuanese restaurants and for some reason they did not include their recipes. I am left to build this dish from a memory of a taste.
After Dinner Note: I could not quite replicate the original dish today. While my noodles were close to what we had in Sichuan, it still needed about twice as much La-yu and peanut oil as I was willing to put into it. I do remember this dish swimming in oil.
Karl’s Cold Sichuan Noodles, original recipe
1-2 dried chilies (see note below)
2 Tbs. peanut oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced
1 tsp. ginger, grated
1-2 tsp. La-yu (辣油; là yóu; chili oil), to taste
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. black vinegar
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, finely ground
8 oz. thin fresh noodles
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
1 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
1. Tear the chilies into small bits and toast them, over a medium heat, for 15-30 seconds in a small dry pan.
Tip: Remove the seeds, if you do not like it too spicy.
Note: The chilies of Sichuan are called cháo tiān jiāo ( facing heaven pepper) and their import is restricted in the U.S. You can make do with any small dried red chili, like dried Santaka or cayenne peppers. Finding a La-yu made in Sichuan is your best bet for coming close to the authentic flavor.
2. Add the peanut oil, garlic, green onion, and ginger to the pan and cook for 30 seconds.
3. Turn the heat off and stir in the La-yu, soy sauce, sugar, and black vinegar. Let the heat of the pan warm the sauce for a minute or two.
Tip: How much La-yu you use in this dish depends on your tolerance for the chili burn. If your Sichuan pepper is fresh, its numbing effect actually allows you to tolerate a much higher heat level than you could normally handle. Done properly, Sichuan noodles should be fairly red from all of the chili oil.
Note: You may make your own La-yu by cooking 10 whole crushed dried chilies in ¼ cup of peanut oil or canola oil for five minutes. Strain out the solids or leave them in for that extra “kick.” To get the true Sichuan flavor, you should use unprocessed rape seed oil. This is almost impossible to get in America. Here, rape seed oil is filtered, nearly tasteless and sold as canola oil.
4. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the Sichuan pepper.
5. Pour the sauce into a small, lidded jar and let it meld overnight on the counter.
Tip: You may use it immediately, but it is better after a night of melding.
6. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook to al dente, about 3-5 minutes.
7. Drain the noodles and rinse them briefly to stop them from over-cooking.
8. Return the noodles to the empty pot and add the sesame oil, toss to coat the noodles.
Tip: This prevents the noodles from sticking together and forming a solid mass.
9. Shake up the jar of sauce and pour it over the noodles. Toss to coat.
Tip: Alternatively, do not shake up the sauce, but leave the gritty bits settled on the bottom of the jar. Carefully pour two thirds of the sauce over the noodles. After you have transferred the noodles to the serving bowl, pour the rest of the sauce over the noodles, so that the chunky bits of chilies, green onion, and Sichuan pepper act as a second garnish.
10. Transfer the noodles to a serving bowl.
11. Pull out a few pieces of the dried chilies as garnish and sprinkle the noodles with toasted the sesame seeds.