Peony Blossom Cold Noodles

牡丹涼麵

Lively with a chili-infused dressing, this dish with its tones of pale pink, green, ivory, and red is as pretty as a peony. It is very easy to make and very versatile—a cold luncheon, a supper on a summer’s night, or the start of a special meal where something light and lively is needed are all settings in which these noodles shine. It is, after “Orchid’s”, my favorite cold noodle dish.

  • The noodles, oil, and trimmings may each be prepared in advance but should be tossed together just before serving lest their flavors and aromas dissipate. Be careful when shopping to get the freshest, whitest bean sprouts available. When blended with the noodles, they are almost invisible to the eye, and it is then that your tongue has the pleasure of discovering them.
  • From start to finish, the noodles can be on the table in 30 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • ¾ pound long, 1/16-inch thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh or frozen (for substitutes, and for making your own)
  • teaspoons Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • teaspoons coarse kosher salt

Trimmings

  • ¾ pound fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 cup thinly slivered cucumber or slivered and blanched fresh snow peas
  • 1 cup thinly slivered, lightly smoked ham, Black Forest-style recommended
  • 1 cup firm red radishes, trimmed
  • 1 medium carrot, trimmed and peeled
  • ¼ cup freshly toasted chopped peanuts

Seasonings

  • 3 tablespoons Five-Flavor Oil
  • tablespoons black soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1½–2 teaspoons Chinese chili sauce

Method

Preparations

Cook the noodles as directed.

Once the noodles are drained and chilled, shake off the excess water, and toss them gently but thoroughly with the sesame oil and salt, tossing with your fingers to coat and separate each strand. Oiled, the noodles can be bagged airtight and refrigerated up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before using.

As soon as possible after buying them, blanch the bean sprouts for 30 seconds in plain boiling water to cover, then drain and rush under cold water or plunge into ice water until chilled. (Blanching preserves the whiteness and removes the grassy taste.) Cover the sprouts with cold water and refrigerate until use, up to 2 days.

Mix the seasonings in a small bowl, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Go light on the chili sauce if you are not familiar with its potency; you can always add more.

Just before assembling the dish, swish the bean sprouts to dislodge and remove any green seed cases, drain, then spread on a lint-free towel to blot up excess water. Shred the radishes and the carrot, in a food processor or by hand. (I like the carrots extra-fine for this dish, and shred them by hand with an inexpensive contraption sold in Japanese hardware stores, called “My-Ace”—a rectangular plastic box that can be fitted with different shredding and slicing blades. The package says it is guaranteed to “make your food more charming and delicious,” and indeed, it does.)

Assembling the dish

Shortly before serving, combine the noodles and bean sprouts in a large bowl, tossing with your hands and showering the noodles into the bowl to avoid breaking them. Add the seasonings, wiping the bowl clean with a handful of noodles to garner every bit of sugar, then gently toss to blend. Taste and adjust with an extra dab of chili sauce if required. The noodles should be very zesty in order to stand up to the trimmings when they are tossed together.

Mound the noodles on a large platter, then arrange the shredded radishes and carrot and the slivered cucumber and ham in heaps of alternating color around the noodles. Or, if the setting is such that you would like to assemble the dish on individual serving plates, then repeat the pattern on each plate. Garnish the top of the noodles with a sprinkling of peanuts and with a “scallion branch” if you like.

Invite your guests to toss the noodles and trimmings together before eating to distribute them in the sauce. Traditionally, the tossing is left to the noodle eaters, and for the host to do it would be considered stealing the fun.

Leftovers keep nicely 1–2 days, sealed airtight and refrigerated, and grow spicier.

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