Noodle experiments

I love noodles, of most sorts, though I’ve been sticking with these “Kazakh noodles” since I found the recipe in Naomi Duguid’s ‘Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China’. It’s very easy, and the noodles have a nice chew and springiness, two characteristics I tend to value in noodles.

After reading hyperbowler’s post looking for a resource on making all sorts of Asian noodles

which piqued my curiosity, as I hadn’t come across a comprehensive noodle-making manual before.
I ended up finding probably the opposite of what he is looking for, an industrial noodle making compendium.
It covers topics from breeding noodle wheat to milling to instant noodle seasonings and packaging, and objective evaluation of noodles, mostly in an abstruse, academese filled article with many tables but little applicable information.
To some more practical matters, like a formula for Chinese Wet Noodle (Parboiled Yellow Alkaline) or Thai bamee.

In any case, I’ve been meaning to explore home noodle making techniques for a while now. I am a scientist, so I envision this as a long series of single variable tests.

I don’t really want to get into anything with too high a level of difficulty, so la mian is likely out (they said they couldn’t figure out a reliable recipe in Beyond the Great Wall), but I hope to explore different styles as well as different hydrations, flours, salts, eggs/egg whites, etc.
I plan on focusing on Asian noodles, but appreciate additions to the thread of all sorts.


Experiment 1, griddled vs. oiled steamed noodles in Mongolian tsuivan

For my first experiment I decided to make tsuivan, a Mongolian noodle dish with lamb and vegetables I was unfamiliar with until my trip to Asian Grill Mongol Xool / Asian Grill/ Togi's Mongolian Cuisine (Oakland)

The noodles are unusual in that they are cooked from raw by steaming over the cooking stew of the lamb/carrot/cabbage mixture. It seems like an efficient method of cooking in a single pot on the central stove in a ger. After searching for recipes and viewing may videos, it seems that the noodle method is either to oil the noodle sheet well, then cut into slivers, or to briefly griddle the noodle sheet to dry it out before cutting and steaming. This is backed up by the recipe here:
which gives the griddled noddles the name tasalsan guril.

I tried out both methods, and greatly prefer the tasalsan guril. They turned out with the flavor of a fresh noodle, but with more of a hint of the firmer texture of dried noodles. They easily stayed separated, despite me not oiling them before steaming. The oiled noodles had the slightly gummy texture I find in a lot of handmade noodles. Though most uncoiled completely, I kind of liked the unevenly thick bits of where a couple layers stuck together.

I made the noodles with King Arthur Bread Flour (12.7% protein). I mixed 150 g water 300 g flour (33% hydration) in a food processor for a minute or two, then rested overnight. I griddled one sheet (unoiled) over medium heat just until it started to turn color (a bit translucent, then flipped it and went a minute of so more.

The oiled noodles took quite a bit of oil to be able to spread it over the whole sheet, and after cutting they seemed like they would forever be blobs rather than uncoil as noodles, but after 15 minutes of steaming they did uncoil.

The recipe above was a bit bland, and needed quite a bit of salt and pepper, and even some soy sauce added by a couple guests. We tried our first round just a bit after mixing the noodles in to the lamb mixture, as is shown in most videos I’ve watched, and suggested in the recipe above.

I turned down the heat on both pans, hoping to get some crisp noodles for round 2, but they crisped little, and stuck quite a bit. The most appealing aspect of the noodles at Asian Grill was the somewhat charred edges on many of the noodles, served on a sizzling platter. To try to achieve this, I let the noodles cool, which helped them unstick from their pans (though the gummier oiled variety had some irreversible stickers), and heated up a cast iron skillet. The tasalsan guril had no issues with sticking, even without any added oil, but they blackened more quickly than they crisped, though there were some nice crispy edges. The oiled noodles seemed prone to sticking, so I added some extra oil, and these achieved some degree of browning, but not much crisping.

It’s interesting to me that the characteristic I liked best about the version I had at Asian grill isn’t described or attempted in any recipes I’ve come across online, but I’m happy to have learned this griddling technique, and will likely use it in the future when I want a fairly toothsome fresh noodle.


This is great!

I got a bunch of questions:

  • what made you think to use a high gluten flour and let the dough sit overnight?
  • how thin did you roll out the noodles?
  • I’m trying to think how to do this without a two burner grill like you have. what do you think might happen if you used a pasta rolling machine, oiled the noodles, and baked them in the oven instead of using a grill?

Well, I hope to answer some of these questions better with further experiments re: flour type, hydration, and resting, but from previous experience harder/more protein wheat yields firmer noodles. In general, I like a noodle with quite a bit of bite and bounce that isn’t particularly gummy, so my experiments will likely be biased toward that.
As for sitting overnight, it is nearly impossible to roll thin immediately, though that long of a rest was more of an accident than deliberate.
I rolled them out fairly thin, and a bit deliberately uneven–from about the thickest setting on a pasta roller to about 2x thickness.
I think drying in the oven might be slightly different, but a good alternative, in fact the linked recipe suggests that tasalsan guril can also be air dried, but that is more difficult. Of course, the sheet could be cut to your pan size, as you’re generally chopping into short noodles anyway.

Some random tips for future noodles:

For pierogi and XLB dough, using heated water makes dough easier to roll out. I wonder if that might allow you to skip the relaxation stage.

Also, eggs gives a firmer bite. I’ve made Daguid and Alford’s version of then thuk, upon your recommendation for the book!, and thought about adding eggs in for that reason.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your process!

Remedial noodle remix, Round 2, liquid composition

It’s taken me a while to get motivated to test noodles styles since I discovered the ease and bounciness of the Kazakh noodles mentioned in my OP, with the added bonus that their stretching before boiling provide a noticeably homemade touch, with some variation in thickness and width.

But today I tested some variations on the liquid content. Again, with my preference for quite bouncy styles (unlike fresh, silky pasta), I stuck with King Arthur Bread flour for this test.

I initially intended to keep the liquid percentage constant, at the “ideal” liquid percentage listed in the Industrial Noodles book and Lucky Peach of 30%, but this is actually quite low, and even with just water forms a very dry dough if mixed directly. Better to mix as in pasta, until texture seems firm, then add more in rolling. Plus, the amount the flour absorbed with my various liquids of varying water and fat content was noticeably different.

I tried whole egg, yolk, white, water, and vodka. Though the amount of flour per unit liquid I added was quite different, with an attempt to normalize the texture/dryness, I tried to keep other factors the same by resting for an hour each, kneading 5x through the past roller on the thickest setting, adding enough flour to keep it smooth, and 2x more through the 2nd thickest setting. All were cooked for 2 minutes in boiling water.

The yolk only version mixed up most easily, with the dough losing any sense of gumminess quite easily, and it absorbed the least amount of flour per volume, which makes sense, as it has less water per volume. It rolled out to about half the thickness of most of the other noodles, even when using the same setting on the pasta roller since it didn’t bounce back in thickness. When cooked, it was the smoothest textured, retained a good amount of bounce, and had no gumminess.

The white-only version seemed sticky through most of the mixing, and needed a lot of flour addition to smooth when running through the roller. I began this project thinking I wanted the bounciest noodles possible, but these verged on a bit too firm for me, though it should be noted these are relatively thick noodles, which I ate in a simple sauced fashion, not sauteed or noodle soup.

The egg version was also a bit sticky, but similar to the white in properties. A bit less firm, this might have been the best balance for me. The Kazakh noodles in the OP contain mostly egg, but a bit of water too, but I prefer the egg only version (which is actually how I’d been making them since my original reading of the recipe).

The water version seemed less gummy than the egg white containing versions after initial mixing, but quite soft. It didn’t gain as much width back after rolling as any of the other noodles, with the except the yolk version. It cooked up the softest and gummiest, though firmer and not as gummy as I’ve experienced at say, Shangdong in Oakland.

The alcohol version (vodka, 80 proof, so still 60% water) mixed quite craggy. It never really smoothed out when running it through the pasta roller, and bounced back to a similar width as the egg-white containing versions. Upon cooking, it was quite bouncy, but also a bit gummy, and the noodles broke easily.

In summary, I’ve ordered them by the two most noticeable qualities (flavor differences were surprisingly subtle), with parenthesis around versions that are somewhat the same level of gumminess or bounciness/firmness, though still ordered by the more subtle differences I thought I perceived.

gumminess (least to most)–(yolk, white, whole egg), alcohol, water
bounciness (most to least)–white, whole egg, (yolk, alcohol), water

So if you like bouncy, yet still gummy noodles vodka might be the way to go. Whole egg was my favorite, but I’ll keep whites in mind for thinner cut noodles, where alkaline salts are often used for firmness, though I generally find the taste a bit distracting.

Yolks and whites–note how much thicker the whites are

Whole egg

Vodka in blue, water in clear

And a pic of how craggy the vodka noodles remained after rolling–vodka top, egg middle, water bottom

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Very cool!

The point of using vodka in kenji’s pie crust dough is to allow hydration during mixing, and evaporation during cooking. It looks like you’re getting evaporation even before cooking begins.

If there is another dimension you plan to test, such as different flours, at the same time you can play with alkalinity by boiling one set of noodles and water, and one set of noodles with baking soda added (see serious eats)

I’m definitely planning to test flours, I have to pick a couple more up, including a dumpling flour I’ve gotten in the past.
And likely an alkaline salts test, but I tend to find their taste mildly offputting, especially since I tend to like stir fried or sauced rather than soup presentations. I’ll probably stick to more normal techniques–Koon Chun alkaline water in the noodles. I’m the one who commented on the serious eats that I’ve tried alkaline salts in the boiling water with fresh noodles and ended up with stuck together noodles. Though I am curious how it works with dried noodles.
I don’t know what I was expecting with the vodka noodles, I just wanted a liquid that had less water content, but not protein or fat, like the eggs. Evaporation seems like a decent theory as to why they turned out a bit craggy and brittle!

I started back down the noodle experiment route when I found myself with a lot of braised beef and a Lunar New Year on hand.
This time I decided to look at the differences between flours, so tested 5 different flours in a water dough noodle that was rolled, cut, and hand pulled. The more I experiment, the more I’m starting to believe my modified version of the “Khazak noodles” mentioned in my first post (with just Korean flour and whole eggs) will end up being my preferred noodle style, for ease of making and my desired texture–firm and bouncy, yet still flexible and smooth.

I compared Korean high gluten (or perhaps just regular “high quality”) flour, Korean low gluten flour, Unbleached King Arthur Bread flour, Bleached Pillsbury all-purpose flour, and a mix of 2/3 AP and 1/3 cake flour (as suggested as a substitute for Chinese flour by Carolyn Phillips).

I made all batches with 100 g flour, 50 g water (33% hydration), made in a food processor, and left to rest for at least 30 minutes. The workability of the dough was very noticeable–both the Korean flours were much more flexible. They were easy to roll out, and pulled easily, which was why I’ve been buying the high gluten version of Korean flour at Koreana Plaza. The low-gluten version pulled into much thinner noodles, and even the higher gluten Korean flour pulled to half the width of any of the American flours.

The American flours behaved approximately the same, with the mix with cake flour being somewhat easier to roll out, though it had about as much spring back as the others. All resulted in much thicker noodles. It’s possible that adding a bit more water would make them easier to roll out, but based on anecdotal evidence and random googling keeping the dough at low hydration helps avoid the gumminess I dread in a lot of these noodles. And since I knew they sere destined for a soup/stew rather than a stir fry I really wanted to try to keep them springy (without using eggs or alkaline salts). I broke several noodles while pulling each batch of the American flour noodles (I hope I didn’t give my guests too bad of luck this coming year) and they all sprung back to rather thick noodles.
Here’s how they looked after cooking, from left to right:
Korean High Gluten, Korean Low Gluten, Bread Flour, AP flour, 2/3 AP+1/3 cake flour

It’s obvious the American flour noodles are thicker, and that they are yellower, though the two rightmost are bleached flours (I suspect the vitamin enrichment). I wasn’t trying to pull any of them particularly thin, but it wouldn’t have been possible with this hydration of American flours, whereas I felt like I could have made lagman-style noodles, pulled through my fingers until fettucine size if I had wanted to with either Korean flour, particularly the low gluten version.

Finally, when the noodles were eaten with the beef noodle stew (bread flour shown here) they were all good. The thicker noodles provided more body and bounciness, which I enjoy, but the thin noodles weren’t gummy, like I’ve found in many restaurant versions of the same. The Korean low gluten flour is definitely the thing to use when you want to make a delicately thin noodle or dumpling wrapper. The American flour versions were large and indelicate, but still worked for me in this soup noodle preparation.