Citizens, the first recipe I ever posted on TFD was exactly one year ago, for the Taiwanese national dish of Niu Rou Mien, a spicy beef noodle soup. It seems only appropriate to close the circle and post the mainland China version of this classic recipe trope! 🙂
Noodles have a very long history in China (pun intended) and, as such, achieving any accurate history of the origin of them is fraught with difficulty. Recorded histories of noodles in China date back more than 1900 years to the Eastern Han Dynasty!
That said, it is generally agreed that it was not until the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century that the superior skills of noodle makers reached its high point to achieve the art of the hand-pulled noodle, or 拉面.
Noodles from Gansu province are very famous for their springy texture, according to Florence Lin, the great teacher of Chinese cooking in the United States. Centuries ago, noodle makers in Gansu learned that certain kinds of ash, called peng, had the effect of tenderizing dough.
Ash contains potassium carbonate, an alkali (like lye and lime) that makes the noodles soft by inhibiting the development of gluten. (Potassium carbonate is also used around the world to cure foods like olives, lutefisk and corn for hominy.)
The modern Lanzhou variety of the hand-pulled noodles and their distinctive broth have developed as a collective food habit of the minority Hui Muslim people in northwestern China.
This is anything but an average bowl of noodle soup; it has an official name – Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles (兰州拉面, lan zhou la mian). It is a registered commercial designation and a long list of rules and standards defines it.
A young Hui man who sold the hot soup noodles topped with beef on the streets of Lanzhou during the Qing Dynasty is credited with developing the dish in its current form. Mao Baozi’s (马包子, 1870-1955) noodles attracted such fame that they literally define the traditional characteristics the dish!
His dish was said to be “1 clear, 2 white, 3 red, 4 green, 5 yellow” (一清、二白、三红、四绿、五黄) to signify respectively clear soup, white radish, red chili oil, green coriander and yellow noodles. (Using the alkali ash imparts a yellowish tint to the noodles, which actually does not use egg.)
In 1919, Mao Baozi opened his first restaurant in the city, leading to the eventual growth of thousands of beef noodle restaurants in Lanzhou. Outside of Lanzhou and Sichuan province, such noodle shops carry the title of 兰州正宗拉面 (authentic Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles), while in Lanzhou itself they are simply called beef noodles (牛肉面).
Citizens, I recognize this recipe is very involved for what is essentially beef noodle soup. However, this is the true pinnacle and apotheosis of what beef noodle soup aspires to be, and I hope you will find yourself worthy of the challenge of making it!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Recipe For Homemade Noodles From Noodle Enthusiast Site lukerymarz.com – or buy 1 pound commercially made Chinese wheat noodles:
-156g cake flour
-25g regular flour
-110g warm water (the warmer the better)
-1g of baked baking soda (TFD CHANGE – the original recipe was for regular baking soda. To make this superior version, just spread a layer of soda on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake it at 250 to 300 degrees for an hour. You’ll lose about a third of the soda’s weight in water and carbon dioxide, but you gain a stronger alkali. Keep baked soda in a tightly sealed jar to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air. Avoid touching or spilling it. It’s not lye, but it’s strong enough to irritate. Wear rubber gloves until mixed into the dough.)
-6g vegetable oil
4 lbs beef soup bones
2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) beef shank
½ of a whole roasting chicken (or a leftover roasted chicken carcass)
10 cups water
4 cups (about 1 liter) chicken stock
Spice mix (see recipe below)
Salt, ¾-1 tablespoon or to taste
½ of a small Chinese daikon radish, quartered and thinly sliced
To Complete The Soup:
1 lb homemade or dried Chinese wheat noodles
Hot chili oil, to taste (see recipe below)
For the spice mix:
6 star anise
1 cassia stick (preferred) or cinnamon stick
5 bay leaves
8 large slices of ginger
10 cloves of garlic, halved lengthwise
1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
2 ½ teaspoons white peppercorns
5 licorice root slices (available in Asian grocery stores and herbal shops. If you can’t find these, you can leave them out)
3 pieces dried orange peel, available in Asian grocery stores and herbal shops
1 black cardamom, pod cracked open
Sichuan Chili Oil:
2 slices of ginger
2 star anise
1 teaspoon cumin
4-6 dried chili peppers, I use chiles de arbol
2 bay leaves
Several Sichuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn powder
1 ½ teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
For The Homemade Noodles:
Note that this recipe is by weight. You’ll need a kitchen scale to make this (or you could try converting it to volume measurements).
I recommend a digital scale since it’s more precise. I’ve created this recipe by weight because it’s the only way to get a perfect mix every time. If you follow this recipe, you shouldn’t need much (if any) flour during the kneading process.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Take a heavy spoon and stir it a bit. When you’re ready, pour the mix onto a kneading surface and begin working it with your hands.
Once it feels relatively smooth, you need to start the real kneading process. You have to knead and stretch the dough until the gluten structue starts to break down. If you’ve ever made bread, you know you have to work the gluten by kneading the bread ball.
With noodle dough, you have to take it PAST that bread stage. It will end up feeling a lot like clay, and when you stretch it you’ll notice it doesn’t tear. I’ve got some notes about kneading and pulling the noodles on the instructions page.
Pull noodles according to the instructions on that page. Reserve them.
For The Soup Base:
Rinse the soup bones and pat dry. Roast them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the beef shank and the chicken (or chicken carcass) to the pot.
Bring everything to a boil again. Once boiling, remove the shank and the chicken, discard the water, and clean the pot. This process gets rid of any impurities, and will give your broth a cleaner flavor.
Put the beef shank and chicken back into the pot along with the roasted bones, 10 more cups of water, and 4 cups of chicken stock.
Make the spice mix by combining all ingredients and tying them tightly in cheesecloth with a bit of kitchen string. Add this to the pot as well and season with salt. Bring everything to a boil.
Once boiling, turn down the heat to low and let everything simmer for about 2 hours. After 2 hours have elapsed, remove the beef shank and set aside.
Add the sliced radish and continue simmering for another hour. After that, use tongs to pick out and discard the spice pouch, chicken, and soup bones. Taste the broth for salt and adjust the seasoning if needed. The soup base is ready.
For The Sichuan Chili Oil:
In a small bowl, mix chili powder, Sichuan peppercorn powder, five spice powder and sesame seeds.
In a pan, add bay leaves, ginger slices, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn and dry red peppers, pour in around 1 cup of oil and heat until really hot. Discard all the spices and leave the oil only.
Pour the hot oil directly on to the powder mixture in the small bowl. Combine and reserve.
Once the broth and chili oil are done, cook the dried noodles in a separate pot according to the package instructions or in boiling water until slightly underdone if using fresh. Divide the noodles among 6 bowls.
Slice the cooled beef shank into thin slices, and fan them out over the noodles. To finish, add a big ladle of broth and radishes, a spoonful of hot chili oil, and a handful each of chopped scallion and cilantro.