Do you ever just crave a really perfect version of a really specific food? Sometimes all I want is a perfect pizza margherita with that beautifully balanced chewy and crisp crust like they have at Da Michele in Naples. Or an absolutely perfect totally scratch made pączki Polish donut. Just one….but it has to be perfect.
Sometimes I get these cravings and they last for weeks. Those perfect foods keep popping into my head until I’m literally compelled to the kitchen as if by some otherworldly force and I get to work with rote like single-minded focus. Must.make.food.
Sometimes by the time I’ve made whatever I’m making I’m not even really that hungry for it. It’s the searching and finding that I crave. I don’t want to eat it so much as I want to taste it. The one perfect taste that transports you. Snaps you out of your reality and to somewhere else. Somewhere you’ve been or you want to go. And then it becomes not just a food you’ve made and eaten, but an experience.
Needless to say I’m passionate about this cravings and cooking process. It’s what drives a lot of my time in the kitchen. These noodles are a perfect example. I’ve been craving perfect, springy, eggy, curly Chinese style noodles for over a week. I don’t know where the idea came from but once it was implanted in my mind, there was no ignoring it.
The thing with Chinese style noodles is that unlike regular pasta noodles (like angel hair pasta for example) Chinese egg noodles are made with alkaline water AKA kansui. Kansui, or alkaline water, is exactly what it sounds like – water combined with a caustic chemical (usually lye) that makes it alkaline. It’s also called lye water and it’s used in a lot of different foods like the masa harina cornflour used in Mexican style tortillas and also the cooking process for bagels.
I’d heard of the culinary applications of lye before, but learning about lye water in noodles was news to me. I’ve spent my fair share of time in Asian markets and I think I would have noticed such a culinary curiosity as “lye water” somewhere on a shelf, but I never did.
The effect of lye water on Chinese noodles is that it makes the dough more pliable, more resilient and more springy. It is also (I’ve gathered from the half-dozen or so recipes for Chinese style egg noodles that I consulted for this recipe) totally optional. And since I already had a strong foothold in the kitchen when I learned about the effect of lye water on Chinese egg noodles, I wasn’t about to pop out on my bike and haul ass to a toko in the Pijp just to grab some optional lye water. So I made them without and they still turned out great.
If you do want to go the lye water route but don’t have or can’t find lye water – I’ve heard there’s an easy workaround involving putting baking soda on a sheet pan in the oven for 20 minutes and some crazy chemical reaction kitchen voodoo that turns it into exactly what you need. You can learn more about turning baking soda into lye water for noodles. Fun fact -baking soda can also replace lye in bagel making.
As for me, I adapted this recipe for Chinese egg noodles from Diversivore. I used the basic proportions in this recipe but AP flour instead of high gluten (because it’s what I had) and followed my own process, which involved rolling out the dough in my Marcato Atlas pasta machine, cutting it into thin noodles, flouring and leaving the noodles to dry on a table.
This recipe makes a lot of noodles and will end up being at least 3 dishes for us.
Asian chicken noodle soup: The first dish was simple Asian influenced Chicken noodle soup. A few weeks ago I roasted a (traditionally raised) chicken in my new romertopf clay cooker and then froze the carcass to make stock. I popped that carcass into a Dutch oven with some garlic and onion and simmered it for hours.
My initial inspiration was just mouthfuls of perfect noodles in a slippery, fatty, rich and savoury chicken broth – and that’s exactly what I got. No skimming off the traditionally raised fat here – it was all delectable. Topped with a little bit of soy sauce, Sriracha and sliced green onions. It was exactly what I needed and more. Not pictures sorry – it went too fast.
Singapore style curry egg noodles: There were a ton of leftover noodles sitting in a tupperware in the fridge. I also knew I had 500 grams / 1 lb of ground beef that I needed to use. The idea of curried egg noodles like you’d get at a Singaporean hacker stall hit me and that was it. They were so good. We ate them on a Saturday night (sometimes takeout time in our house) and they were spicy and savoury and ready in about 15 minutes – and wayyy better than anything we could have ordered in. See the recipe here Singapore Style Curry Egg Noodles.
Thai coconut curry noodle soup: This is still just an idea and might change but will update once I’ve used the last of the noodles.
Until then happy eating. I’m off to make some apricot and almond cheese danishes for a party.
Springy, bouncy, curly and delicious Chinese style egg noodles made with a pasta roller machine (or by hand if you’re brave.)
- 450 grams / 1 lb of flour
- 3 large eggs
- 60 ml / 1/4 of a cup of water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Crack the eggs into the center and use a fork to mix them with the surrounding flour. When the egg is almost completely integrated with the flour, begin sprinkling in the water along the perimeter and wherever you see the mixture is driest.
- Once the mixture is basically incorporated you’ll need to start kneading with your hands. Turn the dough over onto itself and then press it down firmly with the palm of your hand. Repeat this process, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
- At first it will still look dry and crumbly and you may be tempted to add more water. Don’t add more water. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes and it will smooth out as the flour gets fully hydrated. Once the dough is smooth enough that it sticks together, roll it into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and put it aside on the kitchen counter for at least 5 minutes to let the flour fully hydrate. It will also soften and be easier to work with.
- Once the dough has rested, unwrap it and cut it into roughly 8 even sized pieces. Take one, flatten it roughly into a rectangle shape and begin feeding it through the pasta roller on the lowest setting. Run it through on this setting at least once or twice, until its very smooth and elastic. Repeat this process on the lowest setting with all of the pieces, lining them up on the rim of a large bowl or on any other spot you can hang pasta (like the back of a chair or a clothes hanger for example).
- Once all of the pieces have been run through the lowest setting and smoothed out, you’ll begin running them through the next setting, again one at a time and then putting each piece back to rest in between rolls so they don’t stretch too abruptly and break. Be sure to also liberally flour them so they don’t stick to the roller or themselves and tear. Repeat this process until they’ve all been run through the settings from lowest (thickest) to highest (thinnest). Once all of the pieces have been rolled out, you can run them through the pasta cutter on the thinnest setting (for spaghetti).
- The best way to handle the noodles once rolled is to make sure they’re liberally floured and hang them to dry with enough space that they don’t stick to each other.
- I wanted the curly effect for my noodles so I (carefully) spread them out on a floured counter and left them there to dry for a couple hours. They still clumped a bit but it was a worthwhile trade off for me for springy, curly noodles.
- If the noodles do clump together, use your hands to gently pull apart the noodles holding them from the unclumped ends. If you try to go at the clumps with your fingers they may press together harder and clump even more.
- To cook, add the noodles to boiling salted water and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Since they’re so heavily floured they produce a very starchy pasta water (that you may want to freeze for later use to thicken soups, stews or sauces) so if you plan on using these in a soup I recommend cooking them in plain water, strain, rinse in cold water and then add them to a bowl and pour the broth over them – that way they won’t overcook or overly thicken the soup base.
Rolling out the dough: My pasta roller has settings 0 (lowest and thickest) to 8 (highest and thinnest). I absolutely always start on zero, but sometimes I might skip steps 5 or 7. It’s up to you how much time you have for the process but cheating a bit here and there probably won’t be too damaging. Worse case scenario the dough may pucker a bit and if it’s bad enough you can always re-roll it.
Storing: Unused noodles can be stored in a tupperware container in the fridge for about 2 days. Any longer and the mix may oxidize and turn brown. If you need to store them for longer than 2 days, cook them, rinse with cold water, and freeze them in an airtight freezer bag for 1- 2 weeks.
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Chinese