The Mein Man Makes Biang-Biang Noodles
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:
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):