Hunan Noodles with Spicy Meat Sauce

炸醬麵

Noodles slathered with hearty sauces concocted from minced pork, bean pastes, and sometimes hoisin sauce are common in north China. This recipe takes us farther south into central China and the province of Hunan, for a spicy, lighter, and clearer-tasting variation on the same theme. The sparkle and spice is supplied by Chinese chili sauce, and there is lots of ginger, garlic, scallion, and pepper to give the noodles zip. Plus, there is enough pork to make it a complete meal in a bowl.

  • This is a very simple dish to cook, even for a novice. Preparations may be completed a full day ahead, and the noodles served hot or tepid.

Ingredients

  • pounds ground pork butt

To marinate the pork

  • 6 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce (read the cautionary note regarding brands)
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¾ pound 1/16 inch thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh or frozen (for substitutes and for making your own)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • teaspoons coarse kosher salt

Aromatics

  • ½–¾ cup green and white scallion rings, cut a scant ¼ inch thick
  • 3 walnut-size nuggets fresh ginger
  • 8–10 large cloves garlic, stem end removed, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 1–1½ tablespoons Chinese chili sauce

Sauce ingredients

  • 2 cups rich, unsalted chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼–½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¾–1 cup julienned carrots
  • 3–4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for stir-frying

To garnish

  • coarsely chopped fresh coriander or fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade

Method

Marinating the pork

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, blend the soy, wine, cornstarch, sugar, sesame oil, and black pepper until smooth. Distribute the pork around the blade (work in 2 batches if you have a processor with a small work bowl, using half the marinade and half the pork at a time), then combine with on-off turns. Do not over-process to a paste. If you do not have a food processor, stir the marinade ingredients in a large bowl until smooth and well-blended, add the pork, then stir well in one direction to combine. Pick up the pork in your hand and throw it lightly against the inside of the bowl 5 or 6 times to compact it.

Seal the mixture airtight with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on the surface of the pork, then marinate 1–3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.

Parboiling the noodles

Bring a generous amount of unsalted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fluff the noodles to separate the strands and station a colander in the sink. (The remaining ¼ pound noodles, if you bought the noodles in the standard 1-pound bag, may be sealed airtight and frozen for future use.)

Add the noodles to the boiling water, then swish gently with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to separate the strands. Boil until tender but definitely firmer than you would want them if you were eating them directly—about 2 minutes, depending on the noodles. Taste frequently to be sure. Drain the noodles promptly in the colander and flush immediately with cold water until chilled. Shake to remove excess water, then toss gently with the sesame oil and salt, using your fingers to coat and separate the strands.

Coated, the noodles may be bagged airtight and refrigerated up to 2 days.

Other preparations

Mince the ginger and garlic until fine, in a food processor fitted with the steel knife or by hand. Combine with the scallion rings and the chili sauce in a small bowl. (I like to cut the scallion rings by hand for this dish, to give them character and to add texture.) Seal the aromatics airtight and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired.

Combine the sauce ingredients, stirring to blend. If you are working a day in advance, seal airtight and refrigerate until use.

Cut carrots may be refrigerated overnight in a misted plastic bag. Coriander or basil should be cut just before serving.

Stir-frying the dish

Have all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop, and put individual serving bowls in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or a large, deep, heavy skillet, or wide, heavy stockpot over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the oil and swirl to glaze the pan. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a single scallion ring on contact, add the aromatics and stir until fully fragrant, about 15 seconds, adjusting the heat so the mixture foams without browning. Add the pork, then poke, chop, and stir to break it into bits and sear it on all sides, adjusting the heat to maintain a merry sizzle so the fat content of the meat renders and helps to oil the pan. Dribble in a bit more oil from the side of the pan if needed to prevent sticking. When the meat is 90 percent gray, add the carrots and toss well to combine. Give the sauce mixture a stir and add it to the pan. Raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, then taste the sauce and adjust with more chili sauce or pepper if desired. It should be wildly spicy and zesty to stand up to the noodles and be true to Hunan taste.

Turn off the heat and add the noodles. Toss well but gently to combine, then cover the pot. Let stand 15–30 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the flavors of the sauce and cook to doneness. If you like, they may be left in the covered pot for upwards of 2 hours, then served tepid.

Just before serving, toss to combine, portion into the heated bowls, and garnish with freshly cut coriander or basil.

Leftovers keep beautifully, 3–4 days, refrigerated and sealed airtight. To reheat, steam over high heat in a tightly covered bowl until hot. The noodles will be soft, but they are delicious nonetheless. Expect them to be even spicier.

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