Sichuan nourishment for pandemic quarantine. This recipe, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, is effective at getting the fundamental flavors from off the shelf pantry items, without taking the deep dive of cooking your own mother sauces. Refer to Chinese Cooking Demystified to witness absolute mastery. The small handful of Chinese pantry items you’ll need will probably still cost less than a container of cashew milk and cold pressed juice; well worth the investment.
8 ounces ground pork
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
fresh ground white pepper (preferred, but black pepper is ok)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
4 tablespoons tahini or peanut butter
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock (or use the pasta water if you must)
1 tablespoon neutral oil (preferably sunflower or peanut, canola is gross)
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated about 1 tablespoon
6 medium cloves garlic, grated (use Microplane) about 2 tablespoons
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or aleppokorean chili flake for milder/fruitier heat if desired)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tsp prepared Chiu Chow chili oil or homemade Sichuan chili oil (or more neutral oil)
16 ounces linguini (bronze die cut please)
3 or 4 scallions, green and white parts separated, sliced thin.
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted in small dry skillet until fragrant, then pounded fine in a mortar and pestle (be vigilant with removing any seeds from the peppercorn husks)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted in small dry skillet until fragrant
- Combine pork, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, shaoxing wine, scallion whites in a small bowl, season generously with cracked white pepper, stir well with a fork and set aside while preparing other ingredients. Whisk together oyster sauce, remaining soy sauce, tahini/peanut butter, vinegar, and more cracked pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in chicken stock and set aside.
- Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot over high heat. Cook pasta very al-dente, then strain in a colander. Once fairly dry, return to the stock pot, toss with Chiu Chow/chili oil until strands are loose and well separated.
- Heat 12-inch skillet over high heat until hot. Add neutral oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add pork and cook, scraping along pan bottom and breaking up pork into small pieces with wide metal or wooden spatula, until pork is in small well-browned bits, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, garlic, and red pepper; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add peanut butter/chicken stock mixture; bring to boil, whisking to combine, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer to blend flavors, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in sesame oil.
- While sauce simmers, portion noodles among individual bowls, ladle a portion of sauce over noodles, sprinkle with scallions, sesame seeds and/or ground Sichuan peppercorn.
Good, racy Mosel Riesling, like the 2017 Stein Palmberg Trocken; the numbing tingle of sichuan peppercorn with the electric minerality of the Riesling feels so right. If you’re drinking a feinherb or sweeter, later harvest style, go strong on the chilis. Or for those raised in old wood fuder, more toasted sesame and scallion would highlight their earthy musk. A Riesling with skin contact and more barnyard-y aromas might warrant a boost of shaoxing wine. Lean into high acid with more grease when oiling the noodles. Drink all the Riesing and adjust accordingly.
- Saman Housseini