It never would have occurred to me to make my own Chinese noodles. The fact of the matter is I have always chosen to live near sizable Chinatowns, where at least one factory and usually several churn out fresh noodles daily, expressly for noodle addicts such as myself. Even a finicky present-day Chinese cook would no more think of making his or her own noodles than a French person living within reach of a real French bakery would think of making his or her own baguettes.
If you have a food processor:
If you have a small capacity work bowl, divide the recipe in half and process 2 separate batches of dough, then knead them together by hand into one ball. If you have a large-capacity work bowl, then you may do the whole recipe at one time. Check manufacturer’s instructions to be sure of bowl capacity.
Put the flour and salt into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Turn on and off twice to mix. Break the eggs into the work bowl, then process with 2 or 3 on-off turns to blend. With the machine running pour the water through the feed tube in a thin, steady stream, stopping immediately when the dough begins to form a ball around the blade. Give the machine 2 or 3 seconds’ “lag time” to incorporate the last water droplets and form a near-ball, then run the machine for 10 seconds to knead the dough. If necessary, add a bit more water until the dough comes together.
Remove the dough. It will be slightly sticky, though not wet. Knead by hand about 30 seconds, until smooth and fingertip-firm, and elastic enough so it springs back when you press it with your finger. If processed correctly in the machine, the dough will not stick to the board when kneaded. If it is sticking, then flour the board lightly.
Smooth the oil over the dough, seal airtight in plastic, then set aside to rest for 20 minutes to 3 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.
If you do not have a food processor:
Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a deep well in the center of the flour, lightly beat the eggs with the water, then add to the well. With chopsticks or a wooden spoon, stir slowly at first from the center to incorporate the flour, then vigorously to form a firm dough, adding water by droplets if needed to bring the dough together. Turn out onto a lightly floured board, then knead by hand until fingertip-firm, smooth, and elastic enough so the dough bounces gently back when pressed with a finger, about 10 minutes.
Oil, seal, and let the dough rest as above.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and cover with a cloth against drying.
Remove and flatten the first piece with your palm or several rolls of a rolling pin into an approximate rectangle, about ¼ inch thick. Smooth cornstarch on both sides, then pass the dough through the widest roller setting. Fold the dough into thirds, folding one end towards the middle then the other end on top. Flatten firmly so the dough passes easily through the rollers without tearing. Smooth cornstarch on both sides, turn the dough 90° so it enters the rollers on an unfolded end, then feed it through the roller. Repeat folding, flattening, dusting, and rolling 2 or 3 more times at the same setting, until the dough is smooth and unwrinkled. These first run-throughs knead the dough. Hereafter, you will not need to fold or flatten it.
Turn the machine one notch to the next thinnest setting. Dust the dough on both sides with cornstarch, then pass it through the roller. Proceed to turn the machine down one notch, dust both sides of the dough with cornstarch, and send it through the rollers until you have a band that is either ⅛ inch thick (good for hearty pot-browned noodles) or 1/16 inch thick (good for cold noodles, soup noodles, stir-fried noodles, and more delicate pot-browned noodles). If one setting produces a too-thick result and the next one threatens to yield a too-thin result, run the dough through the wider setting twice and it will come out just right.
When the dough is as thin as you want it, spread it on a towel to dry, about 7–8 minutes on each side, or until the dough has firmed up slightly and will pass through the cutters with ease. (A terry towel works beautifully to speed the drying.)
As soon as one band is spread to dry, proceed to roll out the next piece of dough. If the first piece dries before the last piece is done, cover it with a towel to keep it supple.
The dough must be cut while supple but slightly firm to the touch. (Unlike flour-dusted dough, cornstarch-dusted dough will not get that slightly leathery feel, but it will feel firm.) Too wet, it will stick together and not cut cleanly. Too dry, it will crack and break when cut.
Fit the machine with the ⅛-inch cutting head, standard on most machines. (If you have a 1/16-inch head, you may use it instead.) Dust cornstarch on both sides of the first dough band, then send it through the cutter. If the metal teeth don’t immediately grab and “bite” the dough on their own, gently press the dough into the cutter until it catches.
Stretch out the noodles in one long hank and use a sharp knife or cleaver to cut it crosswise in two, to yield noodles that are about 15 inches long. Toss the noodles on a cornstarch-dusted surface to coat the newly cut edges, then spread to dry on a terry towel-lined tray. Fluff occasionally, allowing the noodles to firm up at least 5–10 minutes before cooking.
Cut and dry the remaining dough.
The noodles may be left uncovered for about 1 hour before cooking. To hold them several hours to overnight, cover with plastic wrap or a towel to prevent them from drying out completely, and refrigerate if you wish, fluffing occasionally.
For longer storage, dry or freeze them. Either let them dry out completely on a cornstarch-dusted tray, coiling them if you like once half-dried, and pack them in a tin for an indefinite time. Or, leave them on a cornstarch-dusted tray for about 4 hours, fluffing occasionally, until they are supple yet firm and can be packed loosely into plastic bags without breaking or sticking together. Seal the bag airtight, and freeze up to 1 month. Fluff when thawed to separate the strands.
In an 8-quart pot, bring 4 quarts of unsalted water to a rolling boil over high heat. (Increase to 5½ quarts water for 2 pounds noodles.) Put a heatproof colander in the sink. Add the noodles to the pot, swish gently with chopsticks to separate, then cook until done but still toothy, adjusting the heat so the water merely simmers. (This will help you to not overcook them.) Fresh-made, 1/16-inch thin noodles require only about 10 seconds to cook once the water has returned to a simmer. Thicker or drier noodles will require longer. Taste often to check, pulling the strands from the water with chopsticks and biting into them.
When almost cooked, drain the noodles immediately and proceed as the recipe requires. Remember that the noodles will continue cooking en route to the colander and while they are being either chilled down or served up, so pluck them from the stove when still a bit undercooked.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.