You may already have discovered how well broccoli’s poufs (how the tops are referred to in professional circles) suck up sauce. They suck up flavoured oil really well too, in this case one that’s been hanging out with garlic and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. And rice noodles, they do the same thing. Put them together and you get a totally non-saucy but luscious, oil-slicked lunch. This could feed four. Each time I tested and set out to serve this, I intended it to serve four. And each time James and I finished the entire thing in one sitting. Biting into garlicy poufs, slurping up fried noodles and the back and forth that ensues becomes methodical. Before you know it, the noodles are gone, there’s only a hint of broccoli debris on the platter and you’re back at the wok pressing your finger into the remains of cracked pepper and pressing your finger to your tongue, if you did such unsightly things.
The garlic and scallions caramelize so they’re both pungent and a little sweet here. If you’ve never cooked with Sichuan peppercorns before, they are worth picking up for their distinct effect but you absolutely could use black peppercorns instead–you would just end up with a different kind of kick. Either way, I like a dish like this with a sprinkle of the hottest chili oil–not hot sauce–for an almost flavourless blast of searing heat.
Softened Garlic and Broccoli with Sichuan Pepper
250 g rice noodles (about 1/2 package)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbs + 1/4 c peanut, vegetable or canola oil
1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
2 large heads of broccoli, peeled and trimmed of tough woody parts, and halved lengthwise
2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tbs Sichuan peppercorn, ground
Chili oil, optional
Immerse noodles in very hot water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and pat them dry as much as possible with paper towels. Drizzle sesame oil over top, toss well to coat evenly and set aside.
While the noodles are soaking, steam broccoli until fork-tender at the thickest part of the stems. Drain well, gently pat dry as much as possible.
Heat a wide, heavy, well-seasoned pan, wok or non-stick, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tbs of oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to and scallions and stir-fry for about a minute and a half. Add the noodles and toss to coat them evenly in the oil. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes or until they have fried and softened (careful not to overcook them which happens fast). Plate noodles and cover with another plate to keep them warm and softened. Carefully wipe out pan.
Place the same pan back on the heat but lower it to medium-low. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, garlic slices and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Let the oil warm and the garlic soften and slowly brown. If your garlic starts to brown too quickly, lower your heat–you want it to turn soft and golden but not to burn. Once it starts to turn golden, add the ground Sichuan pepper and allow it to toast for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and toss gently but constantly for for 3 minutes to allow the garlic to absorb the oil and flavour. Uncover noodles, plate broccoli on top and make sure to top with all of the golden garlic and toasted pepper. Serve hot with chili oil if desired.