Noodles are a basic staple of Asian and European cuisines. Chinese noodles may be boiled in soups, stir-fried as chow foon, or deep fried into crunchy strips for chow mein and other dishes. Italian cooking is renowned for noodles such as spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, and capellini among many other shapes of pasta like lasagna, ravioli, rotini, gemelli, and mostaccioli. Japanese noodle varieties include ramen, soba, somen, hiyamugi, kishimen, and udon. Noodles are a favorite food throughout the world because of their simplicity, versatility, organoleptic appeal, and satiety.
Cutting pasta by hand
Noodles and spaghetti consist basically of flour and water.
Egg noodles are made by using two eggs plus enough water to make 1/2 cup instead of the plain water. For pasta made by hand, Italian recipes recommend using one egg for every 100 grams of pasta flour. Since one cup of flour weighs approximately 160 grams, this corresponds to three eggs for two cups of flour. This makes a soft dough which is easy to work by hand, and which gets stiffer as additional flour is introduced from the flour used for dusting the work surfaces where the dough is rolled.
For machine rolling, a stiff but pliable dough is prepared from flour and water. Knead the dough thoroughly, cover with plastic, and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. The resting time allows the flour to absorb water uniformly and makes the dough more pliable and easier to handle. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin and make a sheet one millimeter thick (the thickness of a U.S. penny). Dust with flour to prevent sticking, as necessary. Roll the sheet into a log, and cut slices of the width desired for the noodles. Pasta rolling pins, illustrated below, can also be used to manually cut the dough into noodles.
A pasta machine, such as the one illustrated below, can be used to roll and cut the dough evenly. When using this type of pasta machine, the dough must not be too wet, otherwise it will stick in the machine. Once you have rolled the sheets, it may be necessary to let them air dry for about 10 minutes to be able to cut them properly. The drying time will vary depending on the humidity of the air and the amount of moisture in the dough. If the dough is too moist, the noodles will tend to clump together. The noodles may be air dried by draping them on plastic coat hangers or a Pasta Drying Rack for several hours, or they may be refrigerated for use at a later time.
Flour for noodles and pasta
Italians like their pasta "al dente", which is slightly chewy rather than pasty. Good quality Italian pasta is made from semolina flour that is ground from the hard durum winter wheat berry. The firmness of the pasta made from semolina is due to the high level of gluten protein in the flour, approximately 13 percent, and the fact that semolina is coarsely ground, rather than finely ground. Although good noodles can be made with bread flour or unbleached white flour, they are not as chewy as the noodles made from semolina.
Pasta of different colors may be obtained by adding pureed colorful vegetables to the dough. Spinach produces a green pasta. Beets produce a red pasta. Additional flour may be needed to compensate for the water content of the vegetables. Click here for multi-color pasta and striped pasta recipes.
Japanese soba noodles are made from wheat and buckwheat flour, whereas hiyamugi, kishimen, and udon noodles are made from high-gluten wheat flour (udon ko) similar to bread flour. Asian cooking uses several types of semi-transparent noodles with a high starch content. Rice vermicelli, also known as rice noodles or rice sticks, are thin noodles made from rice flour. Cellophane noodles or bean threads are usually made from mung bean starch.
The Extrusion Method
Pasta can also be made by extrusion, which consists of forcing the dough through dies with holes of various shapes. Most commercial pasta is made by this method. Extrusion machines produce a continuous stream of pasta that must be cut off to the desired length as the pasta shape emerges from the machine. Machines such as a stand mixer with the Food Grinder Attachment can be converted to extrude pasta at home with Pasta Maker Plates. The dough for extruders has to be slightly softer than the dough for the roller machines to decrease the pressure needed to produce the pasta and keep the machine from overheating. The KitchenAid Stand Mixer also has a Pasta Roller Attachment.
Extrusion dies and pasta shapes
Spätzle or spaetzle are egg noodles of soft texture made by extrusion. Spaetzle are found in the cuisine of Germany and regions of neighboring Austria and Switzerland. This type of pasta is also called Spätzli or Chnöpfli in Switzerland. A typical recipe consists of 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup milk, and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In another mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Pour the egg-milk mixture in the center of the dry ingredients and combine well. The dough should be smooth and thick. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form the spaetzle, place a spaetzle maker or a colander with large holes over the boiling water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do this in batches, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the spaetzle float to the surface. Stir gently to prevent sticking. Rinse the cooked spaetzle in cool water. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add the spaetzle and toss until it is coated with butter. Serve, and sprinkle with chopped chives or grated cheese.
A bowl containing 4,000-year old millet noodles was found in a Chinese archeological site. The Chinese have a long history of making noodles using several techniques. One of them is to dip a chopstick into a batter of flour and water. The batter has to be thick enough to adhere to the chopstick, but light enough to come off when the chopstick is flicked unto a pot of boiling water. The noodles formed by this technique are not uniform in size or shape. Similarly, knife-shaved noodles (dao xiao mian 刀削面), also known as hand-sliced noodles, are made by shaping a two-kilogram piece of dough into a log, and shaving off strips of dough using quick slicing motions with a sharp cleaver into a pot of boiling water.
The Chinese also make hand-pulled noodles (la mian 拉面) using a flexible dough that can be stretched easily. This is done by increasing the amount of water in the dough (approximately 1 cup of water for every 2 cups of flour). Cover the dough with plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 60 minutes to relax the gluten. The dough is stretched until it looks like a long, thick rope. The rope is folded in half, twisted, and stretched back to its original length approximately ten times. The twisting is done by holding one end of the rope in each hand while the center hangs down under the force of gravity and flinging one side against the other in a circular motion. The rope is twisted first to the right, stretched, folded in half, and then twisted to the left, stretched, and folded in half again. This process creates a structure of dough fibers oriented along the length of the dough rope that is necessary for being able to pull the noodles. Next, the rope of dough is placed on a countertop covered with plenty of flour, and the noodles are made by pulling the dough, resting it briefly on the floured countertop, grabbing the two ends with one hand, while holding the middle with the other hand. This process is repeated until the noodles are of the appropriate thickness. Each time, the noodles are rolled on the countertop covered with flour to keep them from sticking, and the number of noodles doubles.
This video shows chef Kin Jing Mark making Chinese hand-pulled noodles. He held the Guinness World Record as the fastest human noodle maker for several consecutive years. His last record was set in 1993 on NBC's afternoon talk show, Vicki, when he stretched out 4,096 strings of Chinese noodles by hand in 41.34 seconds. The fine noodles are called dragon beard noodles (longxu mian).
The video with Alton Brown, above, shows the method of stretching the noodles in more detail. Danny Yip, Executive Pasta Chef at the Beverly Hills Mr. Chow restaurant, stretches the noodle dough eight times to create 256 strands with the thickness of regular spaghetti.
The TV show Glutton for Punishment from the Food Network had an episode in 2007 where the show host Bob Blumer had to master the art of making hand-pulled noodles in one week. One of the challenges that he had to overcome was that nobody would give him a recipe for the dough. After a lot of sleuthing, he saw a noodle chef preparing the dough and came up with a recipe consisting of pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and water. Pastry flour has 10-11.5% protein whereas all-purpose flour has 11-13% protein. A mixture of these two flours is lower in protein (gluten) than all-purpose flour and will make a dough that is easier to stretch. In addition, the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3) increases the alkalinity of the dough. The alkalinity weakens the flour proteins, improves moisture retention by hydrating the starches, and produces a more pliable dough that facilitates pulling the noodles.
Traditional Chinese noodle recipes used "Kansui" or alkaline water from wells in the preparation of the dough. Modern formulations use kansui powder, containing sodium and potassium carbonates, dissolved in water. A published commercial recipe for Chinese noodles describes dough made from hard wheat flour with 45% added water and 1% kansui powder consisting of 55% sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), 35% potassium carbonate (K2CO3), and 10% sodium biphosphate dodecahydrate (NaHPO3.12H2O). Japanese ramen noodles are a variation of Chinese-style noodles made with kansui.
The following recipe was documented to work well for pulled noodles. Measure the ingredients carefully using a digital scale. Mix the dry ingredients, and stir in the water and the vegetable oil. Once the dough has formed, put the dough on a flat table and knead it with your hands. The dough has to be kneaded and stretched until the gluten structure breaks down and no lumps are visible when the dough is stretched. This requires about 20 minutes. A stand mixer set at medium speed can do the job in about 15 minutes. The amount of flour and water may need to be adjusted to get the proper consistency. The dough is ready for pulling when it feels like clay, and it does not tear when you try to stretch it. Pulling noodles is definitely an art that requires lots of practice!
Luke Rymarz's Recipe for Hand-Pulled Noodles
- 156 grams cake flour
- 25 grams all purpose flour
- 110 grams warm water
- 2 grams salt
- 1 gram baking soda
- 6 grams vegetable oil
To cook the noodles, drop them into boiling water and boil for approximately 10 minutes. Pasta should be cooked in plenty of water. Add the pasta only when the water is boiling vigorously, and stir immediately. Different shapes and kinds of pasta take different times to cook, generally in the range of 2 to 13 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking time, test the pasta to make sure that it is firm and chewy, but not hard or doughy (undercooked) or mushy (overcooked). Drain the noodles using a colander and serve them topped with your favorite spaghetti sauce, beef Stroganoff, or chicken cacciatore. You can also make noodle soup by adding the boiled noodles to a well-seasoned chicken soup.
You don't have to go to China to see how hand-pulled noodles are made. Come to the corner of 6th street and H street in Washington, D.C. The Chinatown Express restaurant has a store-front window where you can see the chef pulling noodles for lunch and supper. You may order the noodles stir-fried with your choice of meat, seafood, or vegetables, or in a soup with a variety of garnishes.