Peer into the kitchens of noodle restaurants in Chinatown and you might be lucky enough to see it: chefs slapping noodles against the counter, then pulling them to perfection. There is an undeniable artistry to making noodles, and perfecting the technique requires dedication—in Japan, soba masters spend three years just to learn how to make the dough and to roll it out properly.
That’s not to say the rest of us shouldn’t try. While it’s hard to beat the convenience and versatility of store-bought noodles, making them at home, by hand, is a fulfilling cooking project that is deceptively simple. It’s a deeply satisfying task, on the same level as baking your own sourdough, and the results are perfectly chewy noodles, with ragged edges and imperfect lines: the ideal vehicles for your favorite sauce or chile oil.
My recipe (from my forthcoming cookbook, To Asia With Love) doesn’t contain or require any of the expertise of professional noodle masters, and that’s by design. It’s a bare-bones recipe, a gateway that will provide home cooks with the basic confidence and know-how to tackle the simple yet often-intimidating task of homemade noodles.
There’s some pulling involved, but this is not a hand-pulled noodle—not really. True hand-pulled noodle recipes require a lot of technique in stretching and banging. The much-loved biang biang noodles (the name refers to the sound of the noodles hitting the counter as they’re pulled) takes years of practice to master. While my dough is very similar to the one used for biang biang noodles, the process here is simpler. Rather than elongating the strands of noodles by banging against a surface, my recipe asks you to simply flatten and pull along the noodle with your thumb and forefinger. (If you’d rather do no pulling, simply roll your dough out thinner and slice into the thickness of noodle you’d like; then they’re called knife-cut noodles.)
Here are some tips and techniques that will further explain the process and will help you refine your at-home noodle making:
Bread flour brings the chew
I adore a noodle with bite. Using a strong or high-gluten flour like bread flour will result in chewier noodles, but if you’re out of bread flour, all-purpose will work just fine.
A dry dough is a good dough
This dough is meant to be quite dry, so don’t be tempted to add more water. It will look shaggy and lumpy at first, and that’s fine! Too much water compromises the texture of the noodles, making them gluey rather than springy. Trust the measurements and give the flour time to hydrate and absorb the moisture.
Flour is your friend
Unlike pastry, where you should avoid adding too much flour during rolling, being liberal with flour is crucial to prevent your noodles from sticking during the rolling process. Don’t worry—it won’t affect the final texture of your noodles.
Give it a rest!
The initial resting period for this dough is a relatively short 45 minutes. But if you have the time, leave it for longer, or even overnight in the fridge (just bring it back to room temperature before you work on it). Resting the dough relaxes the gluten and will make it easier to stretch. It’s not essential to leave it for more than 45 minutes, but it will make the dough easier to work with.
Call in the machinery
My recipe calls for mixing the noodles by hand, but you can use a stand mixer if you like. With the dough hook attached, mix the flour, salt, and water at medium-high speed for 5 minutes, or until the dough comes together and there is no more dry flour. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead on a floured surface for about 8 minutes, until it’s nice and smooth.
Making noodles is a lot about timing. Once the noodles are rolled and stretched, they’re best if cooked and eaten immediately. If you’re making a larger batch (which I often do) and it will take you a few minutes to get all your noodles ready, dust them with rice flour to keep them from sticking to each other. Do the same if you want to freeze the noodles: Dust them well with rice flour to separate the strands and place them on a plate or pan lined with parchment paper. Place the tray in the freezer and, once frozen, transfer the noodles to a freezer container or bag. To cook frozen noodles, plunge them straight into a pot of boiling water—no need to thaw first!
Growth will happen
Here, I’m talking about the noodles themselves—they will expand in the water as they cook, so be mindful of this when you are rolling and cutting—but also about you, the noodle-maker. Your noodles may not come out how you want them the first time, but all you have to do is try again and you, too, will expand and grow.Hetty McKinnon
Originally Appeared on Epicurious