I love it when a plan comes together. Okay, this blog post isn’t actually about The A-Team, great though they were. What I really want to talk about is the season finale of The Amazing Race. And noodles. Chinese noodles, to be specific.
I like to read while I eat my breakfast. Lately, I’ve been slowly making my way through an absolutely beautiful cookbook, Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. As much coffee table book and travelogue as cookbook, it makes for fascinating reading. I earmarked several recipes I wanted to try, including the hand-stretched Kazakh noodles.
Then, for the penultimate episode, The Amazing Race went to China. As we ate Rob’s sumptuous dinner, we watched the teams compete at a noodle-making challenge. I kid you not, He Pingping, the world’s smallest man, was there–watching them struggle, laughing his head off, and smoking what appeared to be a GIANT cigarette. And the world’s tallest man, Bao Xisun, was at the mat to greet the teams as they finished this leg of the race. I love this show.
The season finale was to start from Shanghai. A lightbulb went on above my head. I would make hand-stretched Chinese noodles for dinner for the season finale, and serve them with a variety of toppings. Michael offered to make Kalbi beef. We started plotting, and the plan came together.
I began with a trial batch of noodles on Monday night. I get a little antsy around dough—it so often doesn’t do what I want it to. But I stirred and kneaded, rolled and cut. After belatedly figuring out why you shouldn’t just toss the cut noodles into a pile (sticky!) I boiled some up and tried them. They were good, and not all that difficult. I could definitely do this.
I made a few more batches over the course of the week, draping them over clothes hangers, figuring out why you shouldn’t hang the noodles in the closet of your spare bedroom to dry (brittle!) and then carefully piling the fragile dried noodles into a paper grocery bag.
With a little practice, I can now turn out a batch of noodles, which will serve four, in about 30 minutes, not including the time for the dough to rest.
Michael did make his Kalbi beef, and it was delicious. In addition, we served the noodles dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil, and set out a variety of topping options: shrimp, tofu, bok choy, scallions, sriracha sauce, and other condiments.
And so ended another season of The Amazing Race. While I didn’t win the betting pool (again!) I really can’t complain. Good food was eaten, and a good time was had.
These noodles would make a great casual company meal of the sort that includes a pre-dinner glass of wine, appetizers in the kitchen, and everyone pitching in to help with dinner. Hand out a few aprons, put some water on to boil, and put your friends to work.
(From Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)
- 3 1/2 cups flour, preferably unbleached, plus more for dusting the work surface
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- About 3/4 cup lukewarm water
At least 1 hour before you want to serve the noodles, combine the flour, salt and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk or stir to mix well. Gradually add the water, stirring until a dough forms and adding water as needed so the dough is not dry or stiff. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 3 minutes, until smooth.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Use a rolling pin to flatten each piece into a rectangle approximately 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide on the floured work surface. Use a sharp knife to cut the rectangles crosswise into strips slightly less than 1/2 inch wide. Cover the dough with a clean cloth or plastic wrap; let it rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature.
Before starting to stretch the noodles, lightly dust a large work surface with a little flour. Pick up a dough strip and touch both sides of it to the floured surface, then use the thumb and forefinger of one hand to pinch it gently near one end, holding it nearer the center with the thumb and index finger of your other hand. You’ll be stretching it both by pinching it along its length and by pulling the pinched section gently away from where you’re holding it in your other hand. Gradually work your way along the strip, pinching it and gently pulling your hands apart a little as you do, to flatten and stretch it. When the strip is 12 to 15 inches long, hang to dry. Repeat with the remaining dough strips.
Once all the noodles have been shaped, they can be cooked immediately, or let dry. For fresh noodles, bring water a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the noodles, bring back to a boil and cook for about 6 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Working in batches, drain in a large colander. For dried noodles, cook for about 11 minutes. Serve immediately with sauce or a stir-fry dish.