The word 'Mala' is the slightly numbing sensation on the tongue that comes from a mix of dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. With this in mind I wanted to create a rich, spicy, aromatic fried noodle dish with lamb that had lots of Mala. Like most Sichuan food in China the ingredients used are relatively the same, yet all having that Mala effect on the tongue. This recipe is a super simple braise, although adding a few essential details in the dish completely transforms a humble noodle dish into something far more special! Let's get straight into it!
Cook Time 1hr 30 mins / Prep Time 30 mins
To serve 4
Lamb and braise:
1 deboned leg of lamb (1kg approx)
2 tbsp sake or shoaxing wine (lamb)
1 tbsp cornflour (lamb)
1/2 white onion
4 garlic cloves
15-20 dried red chillies
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp cumin seed
2 tbsp korean chilli flakes
1-2 tbsp doubunjiang (chilli bean sauce)
2-3 tbsp light soy
2 tbsp dark soy
2 tbsp black rice vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Egg noodles for 4 recipe link here
1/2 bunch spring onion
1/2 bunch coriander
1 tbsp korean chilli flakes (chilli paste)
1 tsp sichuan peppercorns (chilli paste)
10 dried red chillies (chilli paste)
50 ml cooking oil (chilli paste)
Lamb and braise:
Before we begin If making the egg noodles from fresh then you can find the full recipe on how to make those here. These egg noodles can be done the night before to make things easier and I would always recommend making your own if possible. Now onto the lamb, before cooking we want to briefly velvet the lamb shoulder by using a little cooking wine and some cornflour. This will make the lamb much more tender and give the lamb a nice glossy finish. Start by removing any sinue on a deboned leg of lamb then cut the lamb into equal sized strips then into bite sized cubes. Place the diced lamb into a large mixing bowl ready to velvet.
2. To velvet the lamb, add 2 tbsp of sake or cooking wine then massage into the lamb until the bowl becomes dry. Next add 1 tbsp of cornflour and mix into the lamb until the diced lamb becomes smooth and velvety. Place the lamb to one side to lightly marinade for 30 minutes.
3. Just before we begin to start the braise I find it easier to get all of the veg/spice prep out of the way to make cooking far easier. Start by slicing 1/2 white onion fairly thickly, mince 4 garlic cloves and 10g of ginger and cut 10-15 dried red chillies into thick slices. As for the spices measure out 1 tbsp Sichuan pepper corns, 2 tbsp of cumin seeds and 2 tbsp of korean chilli flakes. I like to briefly chop through the Sichuan peppercorns as its never great to bite into a whole one. When all the ingredients are ready separate individually and we can now start the braise.
4. Now to cook, place a large heavy pan onto a high heat with a drizzle of oil. When hot, add the marinated diced lamb in batches and sear until nicely caramelised. Take your time with searing the lamb as the more colour we get here the better flavour the braise will have. When all of the lamb is ready place onto a tray and wipe off the excess oil from the pan.
5. Next in the same pan that we seared the lamb in add a drizzle of sesame oil and add the sliced onion, minced garlic, ginger and the dried chillies. Briefly stir fry on a high heat for 2 minutes until fragrant. Now add the seared lamb back in along with the Sichuan peppercorns, korean chilli flakes, cumin and 2 tbsp of brown sugar then stir fry for an additional 2-3 minutes until we start to get the aroma from the spices.
6. Now that our lamb is nice and aromatic its now time to add the liquid ingredients, add 1-2 tbsp of doubunjiang (depending on how spicy you want it), 2 tbsp of black rice vinegar, 2 tbsp light soy and 2 tbsp dark soy. Turn the heat up to high and slightly cook and reduce the liquids. To finish the braise add approx 600ml of water or enough to cover the lamb then bring the braise up to a boil. When boiling turn the heat down to medium, place a lid on top and braise for 1 hour.
'Mala' Chilli Paste:
7. Whilst we wait for the lamb to braise we now can make up the chilli paste that will give the dish that 'mala' sensation. This paste is usually added on top of the dish at the very end and is activated by drizzling hot oil over the paste. Start by roughly cutting 10 dried chillies with or without the seeds depending on heat. Add the chopped dried chillies to a dry pan along with 1 tsp of Sichuan peppercorns and toast on a high heat for 2-3 minutes taking care not to burn the chillies. When ready add to a pestle and mortar and also add 1 tbsp of korean chilli flakes then pound to a fine paste. To stop the paste from burning add 1 tsp of cooking oil and mix well to lightly dampen the chilli paste. Store in a small bowl and we will top the dish with this at the very end.
Noodles and Herbs:
8. When the lamb has had just approximately 1 hour of braising we now want to remove the lid from the braise and turn the heat up to high. If the braise still has a lot of liquid then reduce to thicken the braise. Whilst the braise is reducing all that's left is to prepare the noodles, rather than simply boiling and adding to the braise I wanted to slightly crisp the noodles up first. Start by placing a large saucepan filled with water then place onto a high heat and bring to the boil. When boiling add the noodles in batches and if fresh literally cook for around 45-60 seconds until just under cooked (If using dried then follow what the packet suggests). When cooked, rinse the cooked noodles under cold running water to stop the cooking process then drain.
9. To crisp up the noodles add a tiny drizzle of sesame oil to a wok or pan and place onto a high heat. When hot add the drained noodles and a 1/2 bunch of spring onions that are cut into strips. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes or until slightly crispy.
10. To the noodles we now want to add braise, when reduced and the lamb is tender add the braise to the fried noodles and stir fry. This way of coating the noodles is fairly similar to making a pasta. Coat the noodles in the braise then adjust the seasoning if needed. I find a fresh drop of rice vinegar seems to enhance the flavour towards the very end, if in need of salt add a touch of light soy and dark soy for more colour.
11. Just before we serve the noodles its at this point where we want to add the mala kick. Add some cooking oil into a small saucepan (approx 50ml) and turn the heat onto high. Now divide the noodles into serving bowls and place a generous tbsp of the chilli paste over the top of the noodles. When the oil is hot drizzle a touch of hot oil over the chilli paste to sizzle and release all of that good chilli aroma. Finish the the noodles with some coriander and mix everything together to coat in that 'mala' chilli oil!...Hope you like this super simple and delicious noodle recipe!
As for what else would work instead of lamb leg then alternatively you could use shoulder, slow cook beef joints, pork belly, shoulder etc...If braising for 1 hour seems a bit too long then you could shorten the time by using velveted faster cook meat such as loins, fillets and add towards the end instead of braising. Have fun with this one and I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised by that mala kick! As always enjoy and peace!