Dan dan noodles
I love being able to roll out of bed on Sunday mornings, literally walk about 30 paces to the west, and then in a half-asleep haze stumble my way through the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market. For a fairly small market, it packs an incredibly diverse selection of produce and meats. Although sometimes I try to plan ahead and make a mental list of seasonal items to look for, I usually go in unprepared and wind up picking out whatever looks good to me. When I get home and empty my bag though, I often realize I’ve no idea what to with the items I’ve assembled.
This week I found myself staring at the hunk of perfectly marbled pork shoulder I just couldn’t say no to, wondering if I really had the interest in sitting around for several hours waiting for it to braise. While looking for recipes involving stewing it in five spice powder, I came across this one for dan dan mian. It called for stir-frying ground pork, but then I recalled a tip from Mark Bittman that yes, it is possible to grind one’s own meat with only a food processor. I decided to give it a try, and was surprised that the results were quite satisfying. The pork had a finer texture than store bought ground meat that allowed it to intermingle with the other seasonings and toppings in a more consistent manner.
I should mention that in addition to grinding my own meat that yes, I also made the noodles and sauce from scratch. Making all these components on my own helps me get rid of flours, spices, and condiments sitting around in my cupboard. And even if it is an imagined sense of accomplishment, there is the notion that doing so somehow makes things fresher and more vibrant. But the results are surely different from the way they would turn out if this dish was made by hand in Chengdu, or even in a reputable Sichuan restaurant here in the states. DIY is undoubtedly a hallmark of the new style of home cooking, the type that has been somewhat myopically attributed to Brooklyn. Sometimes I wonder though if by going the homemade route, are we moving away from truer versions of these dishes to ones that are, like most American food, simply bastardized alterations of the originals?