Citizens, we are now in the 4th week or so of the coronavirus pandemic that has spread throughout the world, and no place has been harder hit than the city of Wuhan where it was first diagnosed. Note that I did not say ‘originated’, as any virologist/epidemiologist will tell you it’s virtually impossible to say where a virus actually originates from – only where it was first encountered and identified as a new epidemic.
Wuhan has a proud gustatory history and this recipe for hot and dry noodles is one for which the city is well-renowned. I have seen far too many posts online ‘blaming’ the citizens of Wuhan for this epidemic and/or blaming the Chinese people for a host of reasons as to spreading it. !
So, as to the dish itself:
Hot dry noodles (热干面 pinyin rè gān miàn), also known as reganmian, is a traditional dish of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. Hot dry noodles have enjoyed a storied place in Chinese food culture for more than 80 years, and it is unique because the noodles are not in soup like most other Asian-style hot noodle dishes.
It is the most significant, famous and popular breakfast food in Wuhan, often sold in street carts and restaurants in residential and business areas. Breakfasts such as hot dry noodles are available from as early as 5 am, and usually appears on night markets as a snack during late night times in Wuhan.
Hot dry noodles restaurants may be found all over the city. Typical hot dry noodles contain soy sauce, sesame paste, pickled vegetables, chopped garlic chives and chili oil. Hot dry noodles, along with Shanxi’s knife-cut noodles (刀削面: Daoxiaomian), Liangguang’s yifumian, Sichuan’s dandanmian, and northern China’s zhajiangmian, are collectively referred to “Top five noodles of China” by People’s Daily, and in a 2013 article titled “China’s Top 10 famous noodles” Business Insider reported that CNTV rated the dish the top Chinese noodle dish. The specifics of the preparation of hot dry noodles is discussed in Wuhan author Chi Li’s novel ‘热也好冷也好活着就好’.
The recipe for hot dry noodles is different from cold noodles and noodles in soup.
Both Wuhan and Szechuan cuisine make extensive use of chilies to cleanse the palate and cope with the humid climate. The chef will cook the fresh noodles mixed with sesame oil in boiling water. When the noodles get cooked and cooled down, it becomes pliable. Before eating, the noodles will be cooked in the same process again. Finally, dressings including spring onion and sauce will be added.
While preparing hot dry noodles, the noodles are placed into a Chinese strainer (a cone-shaped strainer) and dipped briefly into boiling water and then swirled and drained. The noodles will be poured into a paper bowl and the sauce and pickled vegetables will be poured on the top of the noodles. Chili oil is usually used in the seasoning of hot dry noodles as well as a bit of fresh cilantro.
The summer in Wuhan is extremely long, and the high temperature causes food’s rapid deterioration. As a result, people added dietary alkali into noodles to avoid deterioration, and this is the predecessor of hot dry noodles.
A widely circulated story as to the origins of the dish is that in the early 1930s, there was a small food stand operated by Bao Li, a hawker who made a living by selling bean noodles and noodle soups near a temple in Hankou. One day, Li poured sesame oil onto his noodles accidentally, and he boiled those noodles, then added shallot and other condiments on the next day and sold them on next morning. His noodles became very popular because of its unique taste, and customers asked Bao Li what kind of noodle it was, and Bao Li answered: Hot dry noodles.
Now, in searching out the most authentic recipe for this magnificent dish, I came across a recipe on reddit.com from u/mthmchris that is so good, so stringent in its requirements for authenticity, (my highest praise!). As such, my edits to his recipe are tiny, and I even hesitated to put my name on this, but decided the minor changes I made have indeed made it my own, though with a respectful bow to the Master in the process.
He notes in his post on reddit:
1 year ago
Recipe: Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles, street food-style (热干面)
Reganmian, literally translated as ‘hot dry noodles’, is synonymous with the Hubei city of Wuhan. Starting from sun-up, vendors dot the city whipping together bowls for hungry commuters lining up for their morning fix. If I tell someone from Wuhan that I traveled up that way, one of the first questions from their mouth is “did you eat some reganmian?”
But before going to Wuhan, I honestly didn’t really get it. In China, you can absolutely find this noodle dish outside of Hubei – or at least cheap imitations. When I’d eat it where I live (Shenzhen), I was almost bewildered that it was… a thing. Seemed to me that hot dry noodles were simply some noodles mixed with a bit of sesame sauce, soy sauce, some accoutrements, and a drizzle of chili oil. Tasted fine of course, but how could that be such a much-beloved dish?
After you eat the real deal though, you immediately understand what you’ve been missing. See, a big component of hot dry noodles that most joints outside of Wuhan neglect is a lushui spiced braising liquid. Many of these hot dry noodle shops in Wuhan also sell braised beef, whether on the side or at a different time of day. They’ll take a big scoop of their spiced beef braising liquid and mix it in with the noodles – a spoonful of soy sauce is no substitute.
So this recipe is my best attempt to recreate that, the proper Wuhan hot dry noodles.
As to the noodles, you want to use fresh noodles if at all possible, preferably the alkaline ones sold in any good Chinese or Asian supermarket. These can be distinguished by their bright yellow color, which is not from eggs but due to a chemical reaction from the presence of a highly alkaline base in the pasta. Fresh ramen noodles are an excellent substitute, if they are thick enough. If for some reason you just can’t find any alkaline noodles, fear not as you can substitute fresh thick spaghetti, although the taste will not be quite the same.
There are a number of unique ingredients in this recipe, all of whom I am confident you will come to love as part of your culinary adventures with the Mighty One Himself! The spicy preserved radish that is one of the hallmarks of the recipe is very hard to find in the U.S., but you can buy it from here. The pickled long beans that are also a key ingredient are impossible to buy here, but I call for an ingenious and very close indeed substitute – pickled dilly beans, my preferred brand of which you can buy here.
In Wuhan, the recipe is classically prepared with a black sesame paste as opposed to the tahini we usually get here – thankfully, this ingredient may be easily purchased here. So a quick word on the name ‘hot dry noodles’ – the ‘hot’ refers to ‘re’ (热), that is temperature-hot, NOT spicy-hot. Everyone has their own heat tolerance, but generally you should only add enough chili oil to get this anywhere between ‘mild’ and ‘medium’ spicy for you. Best would obviously be a homemade chili oil, but the ever-popular ‘Laoganma Chili Crisps in Oil’ is a very good alternative.
Shanxi mature vinegar may be purchased here, my preferred brand of sesame oil is here, a decent shaoxing cooking wine may be bought here (though if you can find it, I prefer Pagoda brand, not this one), and dark soy sauce (not the same as regular soy sauce!) here. Also, an excellent quality of five spice powder is easily found here, as well. Note that the lushui braising liquid makes a LOT, but it freezes very well and will become a go-to for you in many dishes, I promise!
Citizens, I urge you to stay safe and not to panic during this coronavirus outbreak – so wear your masks outdoors, use gloves and carry LOTS of hand sanitizer. All will (hopefully) be well soon, and please think kindly on Wuhan and its citizens, they need our support during these trying times! I might recommend an excellent bowl of hot and sour soup alongside this, which was actually a medical prescription in its original form!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- Fresh -or- par-cooked thick alkaline noodles (碱面), or thick fresh spaghetti or fresh ramen noodles ~150g per serving.
- Sesame Oil (麻油), 1 Tbsp.
- For the Lushui spiced braising liquid:
- Beef for the Lushui Spiced Braising liquid: one beef bone cut into 2-3 pieces, preferably with marrow
- 100–200g beef brisket (牛腩) -or- plate (坑腩) -or- scraps
- Aromatics for the Lushui Spiced Braising Liquid:
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 ½ inches ginger (姜), thinly sliced
- 8 scallions (葱), white part only. (save the green part of those scallions for later as a noodle topping)
- Liquids for the Lushui Spiced Braising Liquid:
- 3–3 ½ pints (1.5-1.75L) water
- ¼ cup liaojiu (料酒) a.k.a. Shaoxing wine
- ¼ cup light (regular) soy sauce (生抽) – try your best to submerge the beef bones, but try not to go too much over 4 pints of liquid total else you’d have to adjust the other ratios.
- Spices/Seasonings for the Lushui Spiced Braising liquid: ½ tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorns (花椒)
- 1 tsp. fennel seed (茴香)
- 1 tsp. whole cloves (丁香)
- 3 star anise (八角)
- 1 cinnamon/cassia stick (桂皮)
- 2 dried bay leaves (香叶)
- 1 black cardamom pod (草果), slightly crushed open
- 20g slab sugar (红糖) -or- dark brown sugar
- Sesame sauce:
- 1 ½ Tbsp. sesame paste (芝麻酱), preferably black sesame paste
- 3 Tbsp. hot, boiled water
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. sugar
- Homemade chili oil -or- Laoganma Chili Crisps in Oil.
- Dark Soy Sauce (老抽). To be tossed in the final noodle dish.
- Spicy Preserved Radish (辣萝卜干) -or- Sichuanese Zha Cai (榨菜). To be tossed on the final noodle dish.
- Chopped pickled long beans, suan dou jiao, 酸豆角 if you can find it, which is unlikely. Substitute pickled dilly beans
- Shanxi Dark Chinese Vinegar (陈醋/香醋). To be tossed on the final noodle dish.
- Peanuts, 30g, toasted and pounded. To be tossed on the final noodle dish.
- Garlic, 2 cloves minced, combined with 1 Tbsp. hot, boiled water. To be tossed on the final noodle dish.
- Sliced Scallions. To be tossed on the final dish. Green part only, using the parts that we didn’t use when making the lushui spiced braising liquid.
- White pepper powder. To be sprinkled on the final dish.
- Five Spice powder. To be sprinkled on the final dish.
- Minced Cilantro. To be sprinkled on the final dish.
- Accent seasoning powder (aka MSG). To be sprinkled frugally on the final dish. Remember not to go too heavy when using MSG and try to not leave it out, this is street food and it always uses MSG when bought that way in Wuhan!
- Par-cook the alkaline noodles until al dente, adding a bit of cool water right whenever the pot’s coming up to a boil. We’re aiming to keep the water here right under boiling, adding a bit of cool water whenever you’re starting to see some heavy bubbles.
- This technique helps keep the alkaline noodles from getting soggy. For reference, for us getting to al dente using this method took ~6 minutes, but please taste your own noodles while cooking. You might be working with a different noodle thickness or your water temp might be slightly different.
- Quickly strain the noodles, then place on a bamboo strainer or baking sheet that’s been placed in front of a fan. Bamboo strainers are great for this but so long as you did a solid job straining a baking sheet would be fine too. We used a mechanical fan here (quickest and easiest solution), but if you want to go real old school you can use a hand fan as well.
- Add the 1 Tbsp. of toasted sesame oil to the noodles, then continuously shake and pull the noodles upward to cool them down. ~3 minutes or so, then set aside. If you’re familiar, this is actually the exact same method that’s used for Sichuanese cold noodles. For Sichuanese cold noodles, this is a nice technique because the starch rubs off a bit and creates an irregular surface for the sauce to cling to. Here, it’s beneficial because the sesame oil will absorb into the noodles and get a real nice flavor. I also think that the starch helps bind with the sauces to create a nice creamy consistency.
- Start the Lushui spiced braising liquid: fry the aromatics, then add in the liaojiu wine, the water, the spices, the soy sauce, the beef bones/scraps, and the slab sugar. Add about 2-3 tbsp of peanut oil to a pot over medium heat. Fry the aromatics for ~1-2 minutes until they start to smell real nice, then hit it with the wine. Give it a mix, then go in with all the aforementioned ingredients.
- Bring the lushui up to a boil, then down to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for ~90 minutes. Minimum cooking time here is ~60 minutes to infuse the spices into the liquid, but to fully impart the beefy flavor it can go up to a few hours if you have the time.
- Strain the lushui, setting aside ¼ cup per serving of noodles and saving the remainder. The remainder freezes nicely for future meals.
- Make the Crushed Peanuts: Over medium-low heat in a cast iron pan, toast the peanuts for 3-5 minutes until they’re starting to pop and get nice and brown. Take off the heat, peel, and transfer to a mortar. Pound til crushed.
- Make the garlic water: mince two cloves garlic and combine in a bowl with one Tbsp. hot, boiled water. Set aside for at least 15 minutes before serving.
- Make the sesame sauce: In a small bowl mix the hot boiled water in with your sesame paste one tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. Once thin and resembling a sauce-like consistency, season with salt and sugar.
- When you begin stirring in the hot, boiled water, at first it feels like you’re almost working backwards – the sesame paste is going to look like it’s actually getting thicker. Just work through it, stirring and adding all the water, then season.
- Slice the scallion greens.
- Going one serving at a time, re-heat the noodles by dipping in boiling water for ten seconds. This is what makes this dish hot dry noodles and not… cold dry noodles. A quick ten second bath is enough, then transfer to a bowl.
- Assemble. Use a bowl that’s large enough for comfortable mixing.
- Sprinkle a bit of MSG over the noodles. Don’t go with too heavy of a hand.
- Sprinkle over a touch of white pepper powder.
- Sprinkle over a slightly more generous bit of five spice powder.
- Add on a small handful of scallions.
- Add on a roughly equal amount of spicy preserved radish.
- Add on a roughly equal amount of crushed peanuts.
- Toss on ~1 tsp of minced garlic, and sprinkle over ~ ½ tsp. of garlic water over the noodles.
- Toss on 1 tsp. to 2 Tbsp chili oil. Add enough to get anywhere from ‘mild’ to ‘medium’ according to your taste buds.
- Add ½ tsp. dark Chinese vinegar.
- Pour ¼ cup of the lushui spiced braising liquid all over everything.
- Add in 2 Tbsp. of the sesame sauce.
- Add in 1 Tbsp. dark soy sauce.
- Add minced cilantro to taste.
- Mix well, and devour.
- Category: Recipes
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