This could be a landmark moment in the global spread of Sichuan cooking, the first English language tian shui mian recipe - maybe (I'm sure someone can prove me wrong).
As mentioned previously tian shui mian managed to fight off stiff competition from about 600 other meals to make it into my top ten. The bitter sweet sauce, hot chili and lip-numbing Sichuan pepper clinging to thick, chewy hand made noodles was almost too good for words. If you've been to Baozi Inn then it's on the menu there although they call it something like Sweet and Spicy Noodles. I've not eaten it though so can't comment on their version.
Loving it so much I obviously I wanted to recreate this meal so soon after getting back to Blighty I turned to Fuchsia Dunlop - whose books are my favourite Sichuan resource - but, alas, nothing. Next up came Google but whilst it got me slightly warmer (the dish is mentioned on a couple of English language sites, incuding this site at number one) there was still no recipe. Luckily I'd bought a couple of Chinese language Sichuan recipe books whilst travelling so dictionary in hand I waded through the indexes of them. Still nothing. At my wit's end I had the bright idea (even if I say so myself) to utilise the Chinese language pack installed on the PC, get the symbols in Google and search with them. Bullseye! Pages of recipes in Chinese, all I needed to do then was translate.
Luckily for me the gf's cousin was over from Malaysia last weekend so I called upon his services and we flew through the ingredients, all bar one that is - red soy sauce. This completely stumped both him and me but another symbol fueled Google search told us this was a sweetened, flavoured soy sauce (not the sweet bean paste I had guessed was in it when first tasting the dish). They were also kind enough to provide a skeleton recipe.
Armed with this information and a couple of attempts to get it just right I can now present to you tian shui mian. On top of being damn tasty it's got the added bonus of requiring you to make your own noodles which (ignoring pasta) was a first for me. I wasn't sure of the gluten content of Chinese noodle flour so I decided to try a 50:50 mix of strong and plain flours on the first attempt, this worked perfectly so I'm sticking with it.
Tian Shui Mian, serves 4 people for a light meal
Noodles Sauce Method
200gr strong white flour
Oil for rolling out
50gr chili oil, with sediment
1 TB sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 ts chicken powder (optional)
10gr sesame paste, I used the dark Sichuan kind but you can use tahini too
2ts roasted and then crushed Sichuan pepper
Noodles200gr of plain white flour
Sauce65gr red soy sauce (see note below)
For the noodles combine the flours and the salt then add the water, stirring and kneading till all the flour has combined. There's no need to knead till smooth like you would bread, at this point anyway. Place in a bowl and cover, leaving for 30 minutes.
At this point remove the dough and give it a knead. As the dough has had half an hour to hydrate it should knead easily, coming together in a smooth lump in little time at all. Once smooth cover in clingfilm and leave while you put the sauce together.
This couldn't be much simpler, once you've made the red soy sauce that is.
Combine everything except the Sichuan pepper in a bowl and stir until the sesame paste has broken up and all is combined
Oil the dough, roll out to 5mm thick then cut into noodles 5mm to 10mm wide. Dust well to avoid sticking. Once they're all cut place into boiling water and cook until floating, probably 3 minutes. Have a nibble on the end of one to check they're done.
Drain the noodles and split between four bowls, place a quarter of the sauce on top of each and then sprinkle with Sichuan pepper.
Stir the noodles with your chopsticks till they're coated with the sauce and then enjoy.
Note: Red Soy Sauce Method
80ml light soy sauce
120gr molasses brown sugar
1 TB rice wine
1 star anise
1 5cm piece of cassia bark (Chinese cinnamon)
Small pinch of fennel seeds
Note: Red Soy SauceIngredients
MethodMix it all up and simmer over a water bath for 15 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Strain and cool.
The excess can be used for more tian shui mian (once will not be enough) or to dip dumplings in.