I love Chinese food. I don’t care if it’s Americanized Chinese General Tso (Hello—who doesn’t like that), fiery Hunanese cuisine (which we have to drive to Vancouver to get because there’s none to be found in Seattle), hot and numbing Sichuan fare—I love it all. The food I’ve had in China that was the most memorable, and that which I most wanted to imitate is Xinjiang style, specifically the food I’ve been lucky enough to try in Xi’an. We ate the SHIT out of that stuff.
With a strong Muslim influence, the foods in Xi’an are full of chiles, laced with Sichuan peppercorns, and you find a lot of goat and lamb. There is a street outside the mosque with the most amazing and diverse street food I’ve ever eaten, and I looooves me some street food. I’ve been trying for years to imitate a snack I found there called Guo Kui (“Little Helmets”). A colleague forwarded me a recipe he found last week on a chinese website after listening to me bitch and moan about how there are no English recipes that seemed authentic to my taste memory of that food, and my friend Kairu pulled in her mother to help translate. Stay tuned on that one…we’re giving it a test run this weekend.
While researching Sichuan recipes in my fervor around a trip I’m taking to cook at the Sichuan Culinary Institute next month, I came across this recipe from Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco. Bowien is a rock star, and the food he puts out has a cult following. Reading the ingredients on this recipe, I had to give it a try. Let me tell you: It. Is. Spectacular. This is the flavor I remember from trips to china, and specifically the couple of times I’ve been in Xi’an. The gaminess of the lamb, a rich meaty broth, thick noodles and that gorgeous marriage of chiles, cumin, and Sichuan pepper. We went insane for this soup. You will too.
A couple of quick modifications: I added Sichuan peppercorns to this recipe, because I love their addition to this mixture and they are key to my memory of similar dishes. Second, I substituted in my favorite Udon noodles because they’re just amazingly delicious in soups. Other than that, I stuck with the program.
Oh, one more thing…the photo. I was lucky enough to spend yesterday afternoon with my friends Becky Selengut (and her disgusting “I camped all weekend with the lesberati” dirty feet) and the supremely talented photo goddess Clare Barboza. Becky and I had arranged with Clare to have a private photo lesson to teach us how to use the “big boy cameras” we bought last year. We love the photos we manage to get using these cameras, but neither of us know what the hell we’re doing. (Ok, she has more of a clue than I do, but that’s a REALLY low bar). We brought fruit, nuts and some cheeses to use as practice subject but I thought, “Fuck that…if I’m going to be with the pros, I’m bringing something I actually want to put on my blog”. I brought the soup components and Clare helped style and set up the shot, and stepped me through modifying the elements on the table and with the camera to create the darker, moodier type of photo that typically draws me in. Thank you, Clare!
Danny Bowien use lamb breast or lamb belly, sometimes even lamb ribs, but lamb shoulder works just as well. (Note from Marc: I used shank and then added the bones to the stock during the braising process to pull out every ounce of lamby goodness).
Chinese Sizzling Cumin Lamb with Chile Pickled Long Beans
MODIFIED FROM RECIPE BY Danny Bowien Of Mission Chinese Food In San Francisco, Ca
Bon Appetit, MAY 2012
• 1 cup cumin seeds, toasted
• 1/2 cup coriander seeds, toasted
• 1/2 cup fennel seed, toasted
• 3 tablespoons kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil (not toasted)
• 4 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1 1/2 cups beer (Budweiser or any other pilsner works well)
• 4 cups beef or low-salt chicken broth
• 1 1/2 cups cola
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 1 yellow onion, burnt over an open flame, finely chopped
• 2 jalapeños, burnt over an open flame, finely chopped with seeds
• 2 fresh bay leaves
• 1 garlic clove, smashed
• ¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted in a hot, dry pan
• 1/2 tablespoon olive oil plus more for brushing
• Kosher salt
• 1 onion, thinly sliced
• 3 red jalapeños, thinly sliced with seeds
• 1 pound ramen noodles (Note from Marc: I used udon noodles)
• 1 bunch cilantro, tough stems removed
• 3 scallions, thinly sliced
• 2 tablespoons black vinegar
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
• 1 green jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds
• Chili Pickled Long Beans (recipe below)
Pulse cumin, coriander, and fennel in a food processor until you have a rough grind. Combine half of spice mixture, salt, sugar, fish sauce, and sesame oil in a medium bowl; add lamb and toss to coat (reserve remaining spice mixture). Let lamb marinate at room temperature for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Working in batches, cook meat until brown, about 4 minutes per batch; transfer meat to a platter. Add beer; stir, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of pan. Simmer until liquid is reduced by a third, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to pot; add broth and next 7 ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 2–3 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a baking sheet; reserve. Skim fat from braising liquid.
Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet until it is very hot. Pat lamb pieces dry. Brush with oil and season with some of reserved spice mix. Working in batches, cook lamb, turning occasionally, until smoky and fragrant but not burnt, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to a large bowl. Toss onion and red jalapeños in a bowl with 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil. Add to griddle and cook until softened and charred in spots, about 3 minutes; add to bowl with lamb.
Bring lamb braising liquid to a simmer. Add noodles, simmer until just tender, about 1 minute. Add reserved meat, onions, and jalapeños.
Combine cilantro, scallions, vinegar, sesame seeds, ane green jalapeño in a large bowl. Season to taste with some of remaining spice mix; toss to coat. Divide lamb mixture among bowls. Top with the cilantro mixture. Serve Chili Pickled Long Beans on the side.
Chili Pickled Long Beans
MAKES 1 QUART
RECIPE BY Danny Bowien Of Mission Chinese Food In San Francisco, Ca
Bon Appetit, MAY 2012
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 cups soy sauce
• 1 cup black vinegar
• 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
• 1 fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced with seeds
• 1 red fresno pepper or jalapeño chile, thinly sliced with seeds
• 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds
• 1 12-ounce bunch Chinese long beans, cut into 1/4-inch rounds (4 cups)
Combine garlic, soy, vinegar, fish sauce, and chiles in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer; add long beans. Remove from heat, cover, and let cool completely.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Transfer to a container, cover, and chill.