Nothing compares to the slippery silkiness of handmade noodles. Freshly rolled and cut wheat flour dough strikes the ideal balance between tender and chewy. In Cantonese, there’s a word for that noodle perfection — ngun — that’s as hard to translate as it is to pronounce if you’re not a native speaker. It’s not exactly al dente because there’s no bite in the center, but that’s the closest approximation.
Getting to that state of bliss is actually really straightforward. The only ingredients are flour, salt and water, and the resulting dough is easy to knead and roll. Unlike scallion pancake dough, which uses hot water to yield tender bread, this calls for cold water for maximum chewiness in the noodles.
You need just enough water to bring the dry ingredients together; wet dough makes for floppy, soft noodles. When you’re mixing the dough, add the water a bit at a time. Flour takes time to absorb liquid, so you’ll gather the scraggly dry flecks into the mix, which will ultimately hydrate during kneading and resting.
You can roll the dough with a rolling pin or use a pasta machine. Either way, you want the sheets as thin as possible because they expand when boiling. You don’t need any additional flour while rolling because the dough is dry. In fact, flouring a rolling pin and surface will cause the dough to slip and slide, making it harder to flatten to bed-sheet thickness.
However, you do need lots of flour when cutting the dough. To get long, even noodles, fold the dough over and over onto itself. Get a generous coating of flour between the layers. If you don’t, they’ll all stick together when you cut through them. The flour will help the rolls of noodles unravel easily.
If you have time, you can lay them out to dry for a few hours at room temperature, but you can boil them right away too. Because they’re fresh, they take only two to three minutes to soften. To test for doneness, bite into one: There shouldn’t be a raw center. Drain well, then rinse under cold running water to wash off the excess flour and to keep the noodles from overcooking to mush. Do this even if you’re going to ultimately eat them in a hot soup or stir-fry.
From-scratch noodles may not be an everyday treat, but it’s a fun cooking project that will give you a taste of how delicious fresh noodles can be.
Time: 2 hours, largely unattended
Yields: Makes 4 pancakes
Layers of spiraled dough flecked with scallions become tender with just the right amount of chew after frying until the outside crisps.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion greens
1. Mix the flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl using chopsticks or a wooden spoon. Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil, then pour it into the bowl. Mix until the flour is evenly moistened and has formed large pebbles, then stir in 1/4 cup cold water. Continue mixing until the dough starts gathering in large clumps. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth, tacky dough forms. Pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick rectangle, cover loosely with plastic wrap on the work surface and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Clean the work surface, then rub it with a thin layer of oil. Uncover the dough and roll it using a lightly oiled rolling pin into a 24- by 6-inch rectangle (about 1/8-inch thick). Drizzle the oil over the dough and rub it evenly to coat the surface. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the scallions and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Starting from one long side, roll up the dough tightly as you would a sleeping bag. Cut the long rope into 4 even pieces. Stuff in any scallions that may fall out at the edges and pinch the open ends and seams closed. Gently squeeze a piece to make it narrower and longer, then spiral it like a snail shell into tightly wound coil and tuck the end under the coil to seal. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Gently press one coil flat with your palm, then gently roll it into a round 6 to 8 inches in diameter, depending on whether you prefer a thick or thin pancake. Repeat with the remaining coils.
5. To shallow-fry the pancakes, fill a medium skillet with oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat over medium heat until the oil is wavy, then carefully slip in a pancake. Fry, flipping occasionally to evenly brown, until crisp and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. To dry-fry the pancakes, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a pancake and let sit until golden on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip, cover partially with a lid, and cook for 2 minutes more. Uncover and continue cooking, flipping the pancake every minute for even browning, until golden brown and no parts of the dough look translucent, 2 to 5 minutes more. To give a dry-fried pancake a little crispness, drizzle a little oil around the edges of the pan after uncovering and let it run under the pancake while it finishes cooking. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
Sesame Scallion Pancakes: Substitute toasted sesame oil for the vegetable oil for brushing on the dough and sprinkle 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds over the dough along with the scallions and salt. Fry in vegetable oil.
Time: 1 hour
Yields: Serves 4
Nothing compares to the slippery silkiness of handmade noodles. Freshly rolled and cut wheat flour dough strikes the ideal balance between tender and chewy.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold filtered water
1. Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl using chopsticks or a fork. While stirring, add the water in thirds, letting each addition incorporate before adding the next. Keep stirring until the dough forms large, shaggy clumps with dry bits remaining. Use your hand to knead the dough in the bowl into a single mass while gathering all the dry bits. Once the dough forms a ball, transfer it to a clean work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
2. Cut the dough in half and cover one piece with plastic wrap again. Roll the other piece into a rectangle as thin as possible. Generously dust the dough’s surface with flour and fold in half lengthwise. Dust the top with more flour and fold again. Repeat until you have a folded stack of dough about 3 inches wide.
3. Transfer the dough to a well-floured cutting board and cut into thin strips (1/4- to 1/2-inch) using a sharp knife. The noodles will expand to about twice their width, so cut according to your desired size. Unravel the noodles and place on a rack or floured surface to dry out. Repeat with the remaining dough. If you have time, let the noodles dry for a few hours.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold running water until cool, then drain again. Use immediately.
The dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 6 hours before rolling. The cut noodles can be air-dried at room temperature for up to 4 hours.
SPICY CHILI CRISP NOODLES
Time: 10 minutes
Yields: Serves 4
Savory, spicy and tangy, these Sichuan-style cold noodles are packed with flavor.
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/4 cup homemade Chili Crisp or jarred
Finely chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
1. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and half of the chili crisp in a large bowl. Add the cold noodles and toss until evenly coated.
2. Divide among serving dishes and top with the remaining chili crisp and cilantro.
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