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Soup

Making Hand-Pulled Noodles

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Soup   

I had my noodle fix this week. Once at the Chinatown Express in DC china town, where I had noodle soup with roast pig. The other was at a korean Ja Jang Mein place in NOVA. I had Ja Jang Mein.

They were both good and excellent and had the hand pulled noodles in common. As I watched the noodle maker streching and tossing the noodles, I wondered if I could do it.

Have any of you made noodles by hand by the streching method (not via pasta machine or cutting with a knife). I would appreciate if you could share the recipe and experience. I'm hoping to give it a try....It just can't be easy as the people I was watching seem to make it.

Soup

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anzu   

It is not easy. A (Chinese) friend and her husband have been running their own restaurant for over ten years, and even they still can't manage it properly.

The following is a combination of tips from her and from a guy that ran a stall in Shanghai making only these pulled noodles (called lamian by the way) who I questioned closely a few years back.

Use white flour (I don't know what type), mixed with water and no other ingredients. Knead the heck out of it and then knead more again. Leave to rest for several hours before trying to pull them.

And don't count on being able to get a meal out of the ones you're practicing with. They will probably end up on the floor rather than in you cooking pot for the first few attempts! This is the voice of experience. :smile:

Good luck.

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From the recipe never tried:

To make the noodles, roll the dough into a long cylinder. Rub sesame oil over. Grab both ends of the dough. Twist the dough, and then pull it out, stretching your arms apart. Fold the dough in half. Continue stretching and folding the dough until it forms fine noodles.

Those six simple sentences describe a process whose complexity is beyond my ability to fathom. I admire so profoundly the chefs that make hand-pulled noodles; I simply cannot imagine it. If anyone on eG does this, he or she will earn my undying awe.

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The candy that I import is made using a similar technique, though sugar confection is finicky in different ways than wheat: sugar confection can melt from too much handling, wheat is more elastic. But both must be stretched as evenly as possible to avoid premature breakage.

There's a video on my web site that shows the basic process. When I was given a chance to try this with Mr. Wong last Christmas season, the specific spiral motions of the hands were quite important both for accomplishing the task and for creating a rhythm and pace. I got a little more confident as I went along, but Mr. Wong scolded me a lot for not moving fast enough. (Moving too slowly will cause the sugar to get stickier and melt, requiring more cornstarch and producing a pastier or uneven result.).

I'm not sure I'll be able to replicate the candy myself without adult supervision, but since I'm even less an expert on the wheat version: Is oil the only thing separating the strands or does one dust with flour along the way?

My Chinese neighbor in Germany when I was a starving student there used to make hand snapped noodles, which are using a similar oil-covered rested dough but a little less finicky. He made fat thin noodles which were served in soup.

From the recipe never tried:
To make the noodles, roll the dough into a long cylinder. Rub sesame oil over. Grab both ends of the dough. Twist the dough, and then pull it out, stretching your arms apart. Fold the dough in half. Continue stretching and folding the dough until it forms fine noodles.

Those six simple sentences describe a process whose complexity is beyond my ability to fathom. I admire so profoundly the chefs that make hand-pulled noodles; I simply cannot imagine it. If anyone on eG does this, he or she will earn my undying awe.

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anzu   

Notice no one's stepped forward yet to say they can make hand pulled noodles!

The guy I used to watch making them in Shanghai kept the kneaded dough covered in a generous amount of flour. No oil was used at any point. This could, I guess, be for reasons of economy rather than taste or workability of the dough.

When a customer ordered a serving of noodles he would cut off a section of dough, roll it once in the extra flour, then pull. So no extra flour or oil after that initial point.

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I have enrolled at the Shaolin masters of hand pulled noodles temple. After I pass certain rites of passage such as transporting two buckets of water on a stick accross my back up a hill 100 times without stabbing my torso with the knives tied to my arms to prevent me from lowering my arms, cause ya know it has to be extra hard, I will be taken into the inner sactum of the masters of hand pulled noodles.

I will provide a full report with photos.

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Behemoth   
I have enrolled at the Shaolin masters of hand pulled noodles temple. After I pass certain rites of passage such as transporting two buckets of water on a stick accross my back up a hill 100 times without stabbing my torso with the knives tied to my arms to prevent me from lowering my arms, cause ya know it has to be extra hard, I will be taken into the inner sactum of the masters of hand pulled noodles.

I will provide a full report with photos.

:smile:

I am a disciple of the Drunken Fist kung fu style, myself.

Oh no wait, I meant drunken sloth.

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Soup   

Sorry no pictures...

Well, I took a shot. I tried making hand pull noodles with the direction. I got to the pulling stage no problem. However, when I pulled (simulating the actions of the people I've seen do this) it didn't exactly make nice long noodles. I could get two pulls and sometimes three but the "strands" would break. I didn't think something so thick would break apart so easily. Also the strands were not even. There were thick parts and thin on the same strand and from one strand to another. More times than not it would break closer to where my hands were holding the dough, near the end.

I wish I could discribe the dusting my kitchen got with all the flour. After a few attempts, I gave up. I am going to try again. I think maybe I should work the dough more and definitely add a bit more water. BTW, this is amazing upper body work out. I don't know how those people make noodles all day using this method.

Soup

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Sorry no pictures...

Well, I took a shot.  I tried making hand pull noodles with the direction.  I got to the pulling stage no problem.  However, when I pulled (simulating the actions of the people I've seen do this) it didn't exactly make nice long noodles.  I could get two pulls and sometimes three but the "strands" would break.  I didn't think something so thick would break apart so easily.  Also the strands were not even.  There were thick parts and thin on the same strand and from one strand to another.  More times than not it would break closer to where my hands were holding the dough, near the end.   

I wish I could discribe the dusting my kitchen got with all the flour.  After a few attempts, I gave up.  I am going to try again.  I think maybe I should work the dough more and definitely add a bit more water.  BTW, this is amazing upper body work out.  I don't know how those people make noodles all day using this method. 

Soup

Not sure whether this is a ? or a solution! But wouldn't bread flour be easier with the extra Gluten, having just come from a thread talking about Pasta and noodles! I understand that originally they wouldn't of used strong flour but now?

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sazji   

Well, this is an old thread but as soon as I saw it I had to run home and try it! :biggrin: The recipe seemed a bit fishy though; maybe it's my flour but it seemed like a lot of water. Also the resting time (30 minutes) seemd awfully short; I did a bit of research on the internet and other sites gave times ranging from 2 to 8 hours. I've helped make thrown yufka (phyllo) several times (but not the final throwing process mind you, they wouldn't let me near carefully-prepared dough!) and it seems a similar quality is required in the dough; that it stretch evenly without breaking. If the dough isn't right, it doesn't matter how good your technique is, it will just not work. Here there is a long vigorous (exhausting) kneading, followed by a couple of hours of rest, followed by an "elbowing" where they hit the dough forcefully with the elbow and forearm, without actually kneading it again, then it rests further, and is finally made into preliminary rounds that rest once more before it is finally opened by a throwing process.

I tried it with a flour that included baklava as the uses, but there is a big distinction here between "home" baklava and börek and those made by the pros, and I know the flour the pros use is not readily available in grocery stores. Anyway, the dough seemed very soft and sticky; but I managed to keep it together with quick kneading. After 30 minutes and another kneading it wasn't nearly ready to stretch, so I let it sit another hour. Still resisting, so I did a really violent kneading, and then it came to a stage where it practically flowed. I managed to get a few pulls but the strands immediately reunited, even with oil. Trying it with flour gave a little better results but like Soup, I had them stretching unevenly and breaking, even when I let them stretch on their own accord and just "kept up" with them. (Or perhaps you have to keep ahead of it?) I did manage to get one bowl of passable if uneven noodles, that tasted like way overcooked ramen, so I'm going to try it again with a little less water and better flour.

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sazji   

Second attempt. Got another brand of flour. Made a slightly stiffer dough, using only 1 1/2 cups + of flour, kneaded longer, let it rest 30 minutes, kneaded again, still had it pulling back, so this time I let it rest about 2 hours, and it did relax quite nicely. But once again had even fairly thick strands ripping, which tells me again that there's still an issue with the dough. The fact that my kitchen is very cold also may have something to do with this! I decided to leave it all night. This morning I tried again, and wow, what a difference! The dough actually stretched, and fairly evenly this time. The trouble was that it was pulling back again; this I think is the result of the flour that got mixed in on the first couple pulling attempts; it also affected the ability of the dough to hold together. Even so, I ended up with something edible, if a bit thick:

After three pulls. You can see a little bit "bunchiness" for lack of a better word, in the dough. This tells me that it has gluten that is not completely developed/relaxed and that there's going to be trouble.

MVC-821S.jpg

At four pulls I started having the predicted trouble sad.gif but they were getting there.

MVC-822S.jpg

I also found that at this stage, you really can't afford to be putting them down and messing with your camera. I need an assistant!

I dusted these with more flour, took the ends stretched once again; I'll admit to taking some individual ones and coaxing them out as well. But at least I could coax them, which was a lot more than I could do the first time.

Here's the result after boiling:

MVC-824S.jpg

Next time, I'm going to try another long knead and secondary kneading, perhaps just a tad more water (but not as much as my first attempt) and let the dough rest all night in a warmer place before attempting any pulls.

One thing that would help: somebody who has actually seen this process in action, how long do the chefs take on each pull? Do they shake as they are pulling or it just a long smooth movement?


Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

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If I recall correctly, the style of handpulled noodles I've seen made had one side become like a handle, then the loop side was stretched, then joined/mashed into the handle side, and repeated.

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anzu   

Trying to re-visualize it in my head, I'd say that each pull is about 4-5 seconds to bring it out to a length where both arms are stretched out as far as you can take them.

And it's usually shaken when pulling it out, though I have seen one instance (and one instance only) where the guy was not shaking the dough, but just pulling smoothly.

What was the type of flour you were using on the second attempt?

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Austin   

Hand-pulled noodles are amazing, but not something I would try at home without the appropriate supervision! In April I was in Xinjiang, western China, where the Uyghur people virtually live on a hand-pulled noodle dish called laghman (I wrote and photograhed article on Uyghur food in last month's Chile Pepper that mentions and shows both laghman and hand-pulled noodles, buy the mag or download a PDF of the piece from my my website.) Those guys are really experienced and can whip, swing, stretch, pull and twish huge blobs of dough into pencil-thin noodles in minutes! I read afterwards that laghman noodles have oil and salt, but they looked and tasted like plain egg noodles. For the recipe in my article I give a laghman recipe, but recommend that people go out and buy udon noodles; the taste, size and texture are almost identical, and no crazy pulling necessary!

Austin

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sazji   

Hehe, I live in Istanbul, I can't go out and buy udon, and I have nobody to supervise me... Besides, why miss an opportunity to reinvent the wheel? biggrin.gif But I got it this morning! It's all about preparing the dough. Okay, technique is important and I'll work on that, but here's the thing - with a "normal" kneading as we do bread, it doesn't work because the gluten only relaxes to a certain point, then siezes up. This is a good thing when we are doing bread or (if you are ambitious) phyllo; it will reach its limit and hold its shape. With noodles we want to really break down the gluten. I called my yufka-making friends (now in Austria...) and it was helpful and not helpful. Turns out the long rests they gave the dough were more a matter of convenience and not so much of necessity. They knead it well, let it rest a half hour to 45 minutes, then give it an "elbowing" before forming preliminary rounds that are relaxed once more. I got this to work last night, and threw some halfway decent yufka (though if I had had professional baklava dough it would have been better). But it didn't work for the noodles, they would always reach that point where the dough would sieze and stretch no further, or even pull back.Not wanting to throw away my batch, I wrapped it and left it overnight. The next morning, I tried again, still no dice. So I tried a different kind of kneadin: I pulled the piece oblong, doubled it, rolled a bit oblong again, then gave a sharp twisting pull, doubled it again, repeated ad nauseum. After a few minutes of this, a big change took place - I noticed that gradually the dough began to pull more easily and smoothly. It took about 4 or 5 minutes. After a bit it got to a point where I could stretch it out full arm length in about 5 seconds. It also stretches *very* uniformly.I also found that it can get *too* relaxed, where you can't keep up with it.I started practicing with small pieces (say, a bit larger than walnut sized) and used flour to separate them rather than oil to start. Here is one successful result:

MVC-850S.jpg

You can practice a lot; the dough can actually take in some flour for several times before it gets too stiff because you haven't actually added that much. After practicing some more I tried it with oil; and here's the result from a similar sized piece of dough:

MVC-851S.jpg

After you do this several times, try it with larger pieces..Some notes:

1. When you take a piece of dough to work with, you will need to pull it a few times to get it into form. At first it will be a bit stiff. There is a "sweet" point where it will both hold its shape but stretch easily as well. You want it to be at a point where you have to actually pull it - at that point it will hold its shape. If you overdo it, it gets almost "runny" and you will find yourself trying to keep up with it. Also, when it gets this soft, the noodles will tend to stick together. This is especially important when you are using oil to keep them separate!

2. If you practice with oil, you will notice that each time you re-knead the dough, it will first sieze a bit then relax, but relax more and more with each try.

3. How I pulled: Take a piece of dough, roll it out to a cylinder. Grab the very ends (don't grab too much or you will end with a big lump at one end) and draw out. If you are right-handed, bring the right end to the left hand and loop it over the left middle finger. Run your right hand between the two halves thumb down, then with the left hand, unite the two halves and take them in your thumb and forefinger. Stretch with the palms up, repeat the process as many times a you want/can. ;)

The next problem is boiling them! Once again, using flour is easier, because the noodles don't stick together as much; if you have a successful pull you'll see the noodles holding themselves separate. I think it's a good idea to practice with a pot of boiling water with this as well, starting with small amounts. The noodles must not be stuck together or you will have long ridged bands instead of noodles! If you try and separate them after they are in the water with a fork, they will just break because the first thing the dough does in hot water is to stiffen up for a bit. In a minute or so they will relax.I haven't been very successful with getting the oiled noodles to separate; my dough may have gotten a little soft. I'll get myself some really high-gluten flour and try it again. I'll also have a friend with a camera take picturs because when you are pulling a big bunch of dough you can't be taking time out to futz with a camera!

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sazji   

What kind of flour: From the second to fourth attempts (third attempt was pretty much like the second), I was using a typical store-bought flour here, which is equivalent to a normal bread flour in the US. It seems the issue was more with dough preparation than flour, though I do want to try it with a baklava (very high-gluten) flour to see if it makes a difference.

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sazji   

It occurs to me (rather late actually) that as I had to work really hard to break down the gluten so that it wouldn't sieze, the call for pastry flour (which I can't find here easily) in the original recipe makes sense. With a little hard flour thrown in to give it strength.

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Ben Hong   

I really admire all the people who are trying to attain the high art of pulling noodles, but other than saying that you can do it, is there any economic, taste, or aesthetic reason that hand pulled noodles are better... or worth the effort? Not many of us has the time to develop the skill to make noodles that are as consistently good as the pros do. A better way to get hand made noodles is to do what almost 200 million Chinese housewives do in the noodle eating regions of China, as a daily necessity. They roll out the dough in thin layers, stack them and cut into thin strands. Presto! Noodles. So simple and more hygienic.

Myself I use the pasta machine if and when I actually want homemade noodles. :raz:

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sazji   

Why do they still pull them in China? Is it purely for the show? Not sure why rolling and cutting would be any more or less hygienic than pulling them. Well, clearly no economic difference one way or the other. I must say I do like the texture of them; I'd never had them before but I'll definitely do it again. It seems that once you have the technique even fairly under your belt, pulling the noodles is much faster than rolling out, stacking and cutting them. But the main reason I did it was because it's interesting, and it's fun. :raz: And I learned/am learning something new. Both good reasons to do something in my book. After all you never know when a skill might come in handy or apply somewhere else.


Edited by sazji (log)

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Behemoth   

Wow, sazji -- that's quite an impressive difference. A couple months from now you should be a master. Istanbul could use a noodle shop, I know at least a few people who would become regular customers once they move back! Something to fall back on if the research grants fall through. :wink:

I think there is a big texture difference between rolled and hand pulled noodles. The hand pulled ones always felt a little "springier" to me.

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Ben Hong   
Why do they still pull them in China?  Is it purely for the show? 

Mainly for show. But I am glad that they have preserved and expanded the skill.

20 years ago, there may have been 50 places in all of China that had pulled noodles. Then there was a travelogue done by a British team that showed the procedure, and overnight the pragmatic Chinese realize that they had an attraction that they could draw the "big nose" tourists with. Now there is a restaurant or a stall on every block that has pulled noodles. Back in the old days, they were all rolled and cut...which was more expedient. Point of fact is that the vast majority of noodles sold in eateries is not pulled.

Tell me this, did everyone go home to try the "flying blades and spatulas art" of the Japanese teppanyaki restaurants when they first showed up? Did the juggling skill and showmanship of the Japanese grill cooks improve the flavour of the food by flahing and flipping their knives through the air?

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The handcut noodles is a different kettle of fish altogether. Think pasta.

But I do love hand-pulled noodles. La mian is one of my favorite dishes when eating out.

Sazji's method sounds like what I've seen here at the many hand-pulled noodle chains here--Crystal Jade is definitely one of the best.

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Austin   

We have Crystal Jade now here in Bangkok as well; WOW, those are probably some of the best noodles I've ever had.

Austin

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sazji   
Tell me this, did everyone go home to try the "flying blades and spatulas art" of the Japanese teppanyaki restaurants when they first showed up? Did the juggling skill and showmanship of the Japanese grill cooks improve the flavour of the food by flahing and flipping their knives through the air?

With all due respect, I don't think that's a good comparison. When Japanese cooks throw their knives through the air, the only connection to the food itself is the cutting; the ingredients are no different. But with noodles, the dough is different, it has to be softer, it has to be kneaded a lot more; those are both things that will inevitably affect texture, even if it is not an immense difference. But then what may seem trivial to one person may be very important to another. Two restaurants may make the same dish even, but due to subtle differences in preparation, we may really prefer one to the other. I don't yet seen the reason that cutting noodles is more expedient, when one has the technique.

As for becoming a master...well, I don't think I'll ever eat that many noodles! And research grants...? What research grants? :huh: I sit and do translations of insurance policies and legal contracts (well, luckily it's not all that dull) to be able to survive here!


Edited by sazji (log)

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