Hot and Sour Noodle Soup (Suan La Fen 酸辣粉)

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup (Suan La Fen 酸辣粉)

Suan La Fen (酸辣粉) is an experience for the palette and senses. The slippery noodles together with the spicy and tangy broth turn each mouthful into a fragrant and fun sensation. However, making the noodles from scratch can be a bit tricky. Usually, a gelatinised dough is prepared by cooking some of the potato starch with boiling water and then adding more starch and water to form a thick batter. On the streets of Sichuan, the batter is then pressed through a special colander directly into simmering water, forming thin glass noodles. At home, the process is difficult to replicated. An ordinary colander won’t do the trick and many home cooks turn to a piping bag instead. The method below, inspired by Elaine from China Sichuan Food, leads to much thicker and pleasantly chewy noodles that are easy to prepare and work really well in this dish.

Traditionally, Suan La Fen is made with sweet potato starch, which can be difficult to get. I actually prefer the chewiness and ease of plain potato starch, but you can use either for this recipe, just make sure to adjust the water a little as described in Step 1. You can, of course, also skip the fuss and simply buy ready-made sweet potato starch noodles instead and follow the rest of the recipe. Just check the instructions on the back, as some of them require soaking overnight.

 

Ingredients

  • 300g potato starch or sweet potato starch (or 250g dried sweet potato noodles)

  • 400ml veg stock

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper

  • 2 tbsp black vinegar

  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce

  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce

  • 1 tsp golden sugar

  • 2 tbsp chilli oil + 1 tsp sediment (I used Gulp)

  • 2 spring onions

  • 2 tbsp pickled mustard stems (you can buy them in Asian grocery stores)

  • 20g coriander

  • 2 tbsp deep-fried soy beans (see note below to make your own)

  • 2 tbsp deep-fried peanuts (see note below to make your own)

  • vegetable oil for frying the soy beans and peanuts (see note below)

Method

  1. Bring a large pan of water to a boil to cook the noodles later on. Also turn on the kettle for some extra boiling water. To make the noodles, mix the potato starch with 240 ml boiling water (if you’re using sweet potato starch, use 250 ml) from the kettle, then form it into a dough and knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a long rectangle. Cut each rectangle into strips, then use your hands to roll each strip into a thick noodle. You can gather the finished noodles on a baking tray as you go. No need to dust it, they shouldn’t stick to each other. If you’re using dried sweet potato noodles, simply follow the instructions on the packaging to cook them.

  2. To make the sauce, add the stock to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Peel the garlic cloves and grate them into a small mixing bowl. Add the Sichuan pepper, vinegar, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, chilli oil and chilli sediment and stir together. Then divide the mix over two serving bowls. For the garnish, finely slice the spring onions, roughly chop the mustard stems and coriander and set aside in separate bowls.

  3. Check the boiling water and reduce it so a gentle simmer. When you’re ready to serve, cook all of your noodles in the water until they begin to float (30 - 60 seconds). In the meantime, divide the hot stock over both serving bowls. When the noodles are floating, skim them off and add them to the bowls as well. Sprinkle over the spring onions, mustard stems, coriander, soy beans and peanuts and serve straightaway.

Notes

  • If you want to make your own fried soy beans, soak 100g of soy beans overnight in plenty of water. The next morning, drain them well and dry them on some kitchen paper. Add them to a wok or shallow pan and pour in enough vegetable oil to shallow fry them on medium-heat until they turn golden (10-15 minutes). Transfer them to some kitchen paper placed on a cooling rack to remove any excess oil. Then transfer them to a small bowl or glass, sprinkle with some salt and stir to coat evenly. You can now add 100g of raw peanuts to the hot oil and fry them until they turn golden (5 minutes). Then proceed as you did with the soybeans. If you’d like to use less oil, you can skip the soybeans and just roast the peanuts in the oven. You can keep both in an airtight jar until they begin to loser their crunch.

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