Cooking Vacation: Hand Pulled Noodles

Hand Pulled Noodles
Hand Pulled Noodles in Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

I'm not home in Orlando right now, I've gone to Ohio to visit my family and catch up with old friends. It's the perfect time for a cooking vacation. My dear friend Weldon and I decided to spend some serious kitchen time playing with our food, trying new techniques, and teaching each other a few dishes along the way. Today's challenge? Hand Pulled Noodles!

If you've ever seen a noodle master pulling dough into noodles, you'll know how mesmerizing it is. And the texture of those hand pulled noodles is gorgeous, completely unlike most noodles with a springy, toothsome, texture. I've seen it live, I've watched videos on the internet, and I've always wanted to try it myself, so Weldon and I set out to make our own hand pulled noodles as well as Taiwanese Beef Soup to use them in.

First, let's start with the soup. We used beef shank and beef bones as the base with aromatics including onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and scallions. The liquids included hot water, soy sauce and rice wine, while other seasonings used were cloves, star anise, brown sugar and the seasoning on the left. It says bean curd seasoning on the jar, it's fermented black bean chili paste, and I definitely need to look for it when I get home, since it was a major contributor in the flavor department. This all gets cooked together for hours on the stove, and once it is simmering and reducing to a gorgeously, thick consistency, you start making the noodles. 

Beef soup on it's way.

Next come the noodles. It turns out there are two different doughs for hand pulled noodles, depending on which Chinese tradition you are following. The Beijing style uses high gluten flour, water and salt, while the Shaanxi style uses an alkaline base with lower gluten flour. Weldon and I used a Shaanxi style recipe that included cake flour, a little bit of AP flour, baking soda, salt and water. This mixture was kneaded in a stand mixture and allowed to rest before we got our hands on it and started pulling. I don't know the best way to describe the process, and when the time comes that I feel ready and experienced enough to post a Boozy Epicure recipe for hand pulled noodles, I can only assume I'll have to include a video since the technique is tricky, to say the least.

You basically work the dough into a log (I found it easier to roll it a bit first) then grabbing both ends you pull in short spurts, flipping and twisting the dough in the air. Once the dough is stretchy and ready, you basically pull/stretch, then fold it over itself and pull/stretch again. From one long noodle you get two, from two, four, and on and on until you get the thickness you want. The real difficulty lies in not breaking or tearing the dough or noodles as your stretch. It was hard work, but after many mistakes, broken strands, and a lot of laughing at our poor technique, we had a stack of noodles ready for boiling. 

They only took a few minutes to boil, then you place them directly in a bowl of the now reduced and silken, rich, beef soup, add a quick blanched section of bok choy, and garnish with scallions if you like (which we did.) Not all of the noodles were the same, some were shorter, some were longer, some were thicker, some were thinner, but we slurped them up greedily.

And the taste? Out of this world. Even with the fumbling and awkward pulling, the noodles had the proper bounce and spring of good hand pulled noodles and they soaked up the soup to make a deliciously satisfying meal. Definitely worth the time, especially if you can't get hand pulled noodles where you live. I will be practicing my pulling techniques and hope to publish a recipe and technique video in the near future.

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