Noodles with beef and Sichuan peppers

This dish is simple yet excellent, and gives me an opportunity to sing the praises of Sichuan peppercorns. Sichuan peppers (花椒) impart a really unique taste; they’re like a cross between cayenne and Novocain. Seriously. They have a real spiciness, but they also have a strange numbing effect on the tongue that reminds one of a trip to the dentist. In a good way. Trust me.

I know this sounds odd, but in fact it’s really pleasant. The numbing effect goes well with the spiciness so that the heat doesn’t overpower the taste. In fact, Chinese has a phrase for the effects that Sichuan pepper can add to a dish: ma la (麻辣), or “numbing and spicy.” The numbing effect allows you to increase the spiciness without fear of endangering your palate.

You’ll find that this recipe is a little more on the numbing side of things than the spicy side, so it’s a great introduction to the taste of the Sichuan peppers themselves. And a word on the peppers: they come in a few varieties. One important distinction is roasted or simply dried, and the other distinction is whether you’re getting both husks and seeks, or husks alone. The seeds can be pretty gritty and sandy, so the husks alone are preferred. The husks carry all the 麻辣 taste anyway.

Noodles with beef and Sichuan peppers

Noodles with beef and Sichuan peppers

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1 egg, placed in boiling water for 7 minutes, then chilled in an ice-water bath for about 10 minutes; then peeled and cut in half. The yolk will be quite soft.
  2. 1 lb round steak (sliced into small, thin pieces), marinated for 25 minutes in 1 Tbsp light soy sauce, 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, and 1 tsp corn starch
  3. 4 oz thin noodles (like somen for example), boiled for 4-5 minutes and then drained, rinsed with cold water (to stop the cooking), and tossed with 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  4. 3 cloves garlic, 1/2″ ginger, both minced
  5. 1/2 red onion, sliced
  6. 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp corn starch, 1 Tbsp Lau Gan Ma black bean chile sauce, 1 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns (husks only), stirred together
  7. 3 scallions (green and white parts), finely chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  • Cook the egg.  Marinate the beef as directed in #2 above.
  • Cook the noodles (#3) and them to your serving bowl.
  • Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Then add the beef mixture (#2) and let it cook undisturbed for about 1 minute until almost totally opaque. Then add #4 (garlic and ginger) and stir-fry everything for about 30 seconds. Add the onion (#5) and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the sauce (#6) and stir on medium/low heat for about a minute until everything is combined and heated through.
  • Place the beef mixture over the noodles. Add half the egg, garnish with the sliced scallions (#7), and serve.

Variations: You can serve in individual bowls or serve from one large community bowl. Vary the garnishes: add cilantro, basil, or shiso. Increase the spiciness: add a handful of dried chiles to #4 above. Garnish the egg with nanami togarashi chili power. Add fresh red peppers in place of the onions.

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