Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sichuan spaghetti

Bruce Cost calls this recipe "Chinese Egg Noodles with Pork and Hot Bean Sauce" in Asian Ingredients, but in the text of the recipe he says, "As a topping for fresh egg noodles, this simple ground meat dish makes a sort of Sichuan spaghetti." I’ve been calling it “Sichuan spaghetti” ever since.

I have been craving Sichuan spaghetti for a while, and I promised myself I'd make some this weekend. I did a big store run yesterday; both the Asian supermarket and the local high-end grocery, in that order. I had decided to get the perishables at the high-end grocery so that I could go straight home with them, so I didn't get ground pork at the butcher counter of the Asian supermarket as I normally do. Besides, it being Saturday, the Asian supermarket was very crowded. When I arrived at the meat section of the high-end grocery, I realized that they didn't have ground pork. Great snakes! How can a grocery not have ground pork? It was quite a shock, but I regrouped and decided to use chopped chicken thigh meat instead of ground pork. After all, on Friday night I had cold Sichuan pork rather than cold Sichuan chicken, because pork was what had been thawed for dinner. Maybe it would even things out.

When I started assembling the dish, a second shock was in store. I discovered that my jar of Lan Chi's Soy Bean Sauce with Chili was down to the dregs (guess I should've picked up another jar at the Asian supermarket after all). Not to worry, however, since I had a spare tin of Szechuan brand Hot Bean Sauce. The required five tablespoons of hot bean paste took care of most of that, though, so now I really do have to get more hot bean sauce.

After all the alarms and excursions, it turned out all right, though my propensity for adding the recipe's requested amount of the appropriate hot condiment left me thinking that it was a tad on the hot side. That's my own fault. On the other hand, the next time I make Sichuan spaghetti, I'm going to reduce the amount of peanut oil. Cost calls for quarter of a cup, but even with the ground pork, that makes the dish excessively oily for my taste (though still quite edible).

It really is a simple and adaptable recipe. Stir-fry chopped ginger (quarter of a cup) in the peanut oil for 30 seconds, then add the meat and stir-fry for two to three minutes (until it changes color, but not so long that it browns). Then add five tablespoons of the hot bean sauce (or an amount to taste, if you prefer) and two teaspoons of sugar, mix and cook for three to four minutes. Stir in half a cup of chopped scallions, turn off the heat and pour over your waiting noodles. Cost's recipe is written so that you make the sauce first and then you cook the noodles, but I cook the sauce and noodles at the same time, because I like being able to pour the sauce over the noodles right away.

To accompany the meal, I got a bottle of Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer 2001. I've read in several places that gewurztraminer is one of the few wines that will work with spicy Asian food, so I wanted to give it a try. I'm happy to report that the experiment was a success. The gewurztraminer has a good amount of body for a white wine (I'm really a red wine person, I confess) and didn't lean too far to either the dry or sweet ends of the spectrum. Cold beer is probably still the ideal companion for spicy Asian food, but cold beer loses a lot of its appeal during chilly winter weather.

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