A little labour, a lot of love.
There are some evenings I’m happy to spend hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking meals, and then there are times I want to put in minimal effort but still get maximum results. This is one of the dishes I can turn to for just that.
The combination of minced meat in sauce spooned over slinky noodles is how this dish gets its ‘ragu’ description. But unlike the Italian classic, this ‘ragu’ doesn’t need hours of gentle blipping, instead it benefits from hot and fast cooking, and that means you can have it on the table in about 15 minutes.
It’s an adaptation of a Chinese dish called ‘dan dan noodles’. The Szechuan version varies, including chicken stock, black vinegar and peanuts in some recipes, and always a lot of chilli. Here I take out lots of the liquor so the dish isn’t heavy on the sauce, and I omit the heat. And as much as I hate having a no-chilli diet, not including the hot stuff allows the other ingredients to speak for themselves. Something they do just perfectly here.
There are two main reasons this is so packed with flavour. First, the liquid ingredients; Japanese mirin brings sweetness, the Chinese shaoxing rice wine provides body and the light soy gives rich and salty umami-ness – together they create a rich and well balanced sauce, which is perfect when cooked into the crispy minced pork. And thats the second trick – make sure you cook your pork. I mean really cook it. You want it to cook out its moisture and begin browning deliciously, even charring slightly at the edges. This nuttiness is crucial for great flavour and texture.
Here endeth the sermon on porky-noodliness. Go forth and eat fellow noodle lover, and tell me what you think.
- 300g lean pork mince
- 50mls mirin
- 50mls shaoxing rice wine
- 50mls light soy sauce and extra for drizzling after cooking
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns, ground
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced
- A large thumb sized piece of ginger, finely minced/grated
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 2 handfuls spinach leaves
- Groundnut / vegetable oil for frying
- Noodles of choice, I used a mixture of Japanese somen and buckwheat, which take just 2 minutes to cook
- Bring a pan of water to the boil with the lid on.
- In a frying/sauté pan heat a couple of tablespoons oil on a high heat for a few minutes, then add the chopped red onion, stir and cook for a few minutes.
- Add the pork to the pan and cook on all sides on a high heat until the moisture has evaporated, and the pork mince starts browning and getting crispy around its edges.
- Add the ginger and Szechuan peppercorns to the mix and stir to combine, and then add the soy, rice wine, mirin and rice vinegar – stir to combine and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Reduce the heat on the pan to a medium-low heat and add half the sesame seeds.
- Place the fresh spinach in the bottom of each of the bowls.
- Cook your noodles as per their pack instructions in the boiling water – add a ladle of the noodle water to the pork dish, then drain the noodles.
- Once you’ve drained them, put them back in the pan and dress them with the sesame oil to give them extra flavour and stop them sticking. Then put them into the eating bowls over the spinach.
- Take the pork off the heat and spoon it over the noodles. Top with the chopped spring onions, the remaining sesame seeds and a good drizzle of light soy sauce.