The Mein Man Makes Biang-Biang Noodles

My first-ever bowl of homemade biang-biang noodles (6+ minute egg with XO sauce in the background)

My first-ever bowl of homemade biang-biang noodles (6+ minute egg with XO sauce in the background)

The next day, a new bowl, with noodles slightly thinner and silkier

The next day, a new bowl, with noodles slightly thinner and silkier

I’ve obviously exhibited a lot of enthusiasm lately for hot oil-seared biang-biang noodles. They’re addictively delicious! We’re lucky to have two places serving these Xi’an-style noodles in Seattle. At Biang! in Edmonds, the noodles are silky smooth and the bowl is packed with chili flavor. At QQ mini Hot Pot in the University District, the noodles are a little thicker, and the bowl is flavored with more of a vinegary taste.

I’m so addicted to this dish that I decided to try to make them at home. This saves me money on gas and food expense, as the noodles themselves cost only about 30 cents per portion and the rest of the ingredients have fairly negligible cost. Plus, as I’m not yet of retirement age and therefore not ready to join my Japanese cohorts in the older age custom of making soba noodles, this gives me an exciting new noodle challenge.

Actually, biang-biang noodles are fairly simple to make, but more difficult to master. Researching the noodles online, I stumbled upon a video clip of Danny Bowien (whose food I enjoyed at Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco several years ago) teaching Martha Stewart how to make the noodles. I love how he starts to ignore her comments in the longer version, though here’s a short version:

This past weekend, I played with an old bag of high-gluten flour to make the noodles two days in a row. Here’s a look at the process:

Preparing the dough, made with just flour, salt, and water

Preparing the dough, made with just flour, salt, and water

Unkneaded dough rests for 15 minutes

Unkneaded dough rests for 15 minutes

Kneading the dough involves rolling a log and folding it back on itself

Kneading the dough involves rolling a log and folding it back on itself

Kneaded dough rests: 3 hours is better than 30 minutes

Kneaded dough rests: 3 hours is better than 30 minutes

Kneaded dough cut into smaller sections and flattened, then rubbed with sesame oil

Kneaded dough cut into smaller sections and flattened, then rubbed with sesame oil

 

Stretching and thwacking dough against counter yields incredibly long noodles

Stretching and thwacking dough against counter yields incredibly long noodles

Pouring hot oil onto chili flakes/spice mix atop the assembled bowl

Pouring hot oil onto chili flakes/spice mix atop the assembled bowl

Finished product: hot oil-searched biang-biang noodles

Finished product: hot oil-searched biang-biang noodles

Everything mixed, and ready to eat

Everything mixed, and ready to eat

At the start of this post, you can see the bowls of biang-biang noodles from day one and day two. The noodles were thinner and silkier the second day (but still certainly “rustic”), likely due to a longer resting time (3 hours instead of 30 minutes) after the kneading process, as well as improved technique in hand-stretching and slapping them (biang!) against the counter. I’m anxious to try fresher flour (next stop will be PFI to try their high-gluten flour, cheap in the bulk bin) as well to improve my technique to make the noodles even thinner. A rolling pin might help, but I prefer to do this entirely with my hands. The challenges are (1) the noodles tend to curl into themselves a bit, creating slight thickness, and (2) the ends of the noodles are slightly thicker, as that’s the place where they’re held for stretching. On the other hand, (1) some variation in thickness is okay, as it makes some areas silky and some more chewy, and (2) I’m getting better at the process, with the noodles getting thinner, especially as they get longer. I had some noodles running 5-6 feet long!

Meanwhile, I’ll continue tinkering with other ingredients to flavor the noodles. At the bottom of the bowls is a sauce that I make with light and dark soy sauce, black vinegar, chicken broth, and a little bit of sugar. On top I’m primarily putting chili flakes and ground Sichuan peppercorn, but am also playing with varying amounts of what you might find in five spice powder (and also cumin). At this point, I really want the chili flavor to be strong, and am wondering if some people add chili paste or chili oil to the bowl. The amount of hot (peanut) oil is also important; I tried to reduce the amount for less oil intake, but the flavor simply suffered. Lastly, it’s interesting to play with garlic, as that can enhance the flavor, but raw garlic has the downside of lingering on the breath for a long time after eating! For now, I’m thinking more chili flakes, more oil, and less soy-based sauce below.

My biang-biang noodle experimentation will continue, and I’ll try to update this post with any interesting new findings. And perhaps once I come closer to perfecting these noodles, I’ll take on the task of learning to write the incredibly complex character for “biang” as the next challenge:

Or, even better, do performance noodle-making like this (from A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop):

4 Responses to “The Mein Man Makes Biang-Biang Noodles”

  1. Andrew
    January 19, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    Thanks for your post! I have been trying to make these noodles as well as other forms of hand pulled noodles, but I find that I struggle with getting the dough recipe right.

    I understand now, that high gluten flour is important. What do you use for high gluten flour? They have different percentages and I don’t know what is appropriate. I bought a flour that states it is 23 grams of protein… (another question- is protein gram count directly correlated with the the amount of gluten?). The flour I see doesn’t give a percentage of gluten, but only says/ or doesn’t say “high gluten”.

    The 3 hr. rest is good to know. I’ve been waiting 30-60 minutes, but still finding that the dough is really tough and bounces back when attempting to push it down or stretch it.

    I think I would get the pulling part down ok if I could get the dough to be the right consistency. Tips?

  2. Jay
    January 20, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for writing! Unfortunately, I don’t know the specific gluten content of the flours I’ve been trying. (And I’ve yet to try to add gluten on its own, which might be interesting.)

    I do think it’s important to allow the dough to rest after each interval of work: original mixing, kneading, etc. That said, I still can’t get the finished product to the desired silkiness I’m seeking. Delicious, but rustic. I might need to beg a local restaurant for some training!

  3. December 27, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    I noticed that nowhere in the article did you actually mention the pH of your water. Resting the dough will certainly help develop gluten, but putting some baking soda in the water you are using may help even more. From what I can tell, the alkalinity of the water is what assists the gluten in developing the “stretch” in the dough.

  4. Jay
    December 28, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    Good observation! I will give that a try, as I’ve read that elsewhere and have yet to experiment with changing the water’s alkalinity.

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