Pot-Browned Noodles

煎麵

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • With a topping, serves

    2

    as a main dish .

Appears in

Called “two-sides-brown” in Chinese, this is just about my favorite style of Chinese noodle dish—an inch-thick noodle “pillow,” crunchy and brown on the outside and soft within, topped by a savory, saucy stir-fry of meat and vegetables. The texture appeals to me mightily, as does the cooking method. I relish the dramatic moment when one tosses the noodle pillow up in the air to flip it over, hoping that eternal split-second that it will land back neatly in the pan! (If your taste runs to greater surety, you may flip the noodles with a spatula. This dish is an easy one, and no unskilled flipper need fear it.)

  • Below is the master recipe for the noodle pillow, plus a list of suggested toppings. These traditional choices aside, use your imagination for devising a topping. It needn’t be fancy—a healthy splash of master sauce, the reheated leftovers from last night’s Saucy Potted Pork, or a stir-fry of slivered vegetables bound together with a good dollop of top-quality oyster sauce are all fair game for a noodle pillow. Most any saucy stir-fry is compatible, as is a simple sprinkling of Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt.
  • The noodles may be parboiled up to 2 days in advance. The frying, done just before serving, takes 15 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound long, 1/16 inch thin Chinese egg noodles, fresh best (for substitutes, and for making your own)
  • teaspoons Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Method

Parboiling the noodles

Boil the noodles until cooked but firm. Drain, then rush immediately under cold water until thoroughly chilled. Shake off excess water, and spread the noodles evenly on a lint-free cloth. Roll the cloth up loosely, then gently pat the roll to dry the noodles, just as you would a sweater. Undo the roll and transfer the noodles to a large bowl. Toss gently but thoroughly with the sesame oil and salt, working with your fingers to lightly coat and separate each strand. Take care not to break the noodles.

Once oiled, the noodles may be bagged airtight in plastic and refrigerated, up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before frying.

Frying the noodle pillow

Heat a heavy 12–13-inch skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 5 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the sides as well as the bottom of the pan, then arrange the skillet on the burner so the oil is evenly deep. Reduce the heat to medium.

When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one strand of noodle, coil the noodles evenly over the bottom of the pan, working from the outer edge toward the center. Press them down with a spatula, cover the pan, then cook until the underside of the noodles is nicely browned, 5–7 minutes.

Turn the noodles over like a pancake, flipping them in the air with a sharp jerk of the wrist if you’re a practiced flipper, or with a spatula if you’re not. Dribble the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in from the side of the pan and swirl the pan to distribute the oil underneath the noodles. Press the noodles down evenly with the spatula, cover, and cook until browned, 5–7 minutes.

While the second side is browning, stir-fry the topping so that the noodles and topping are done simultaneously.

Loosen the browned noodles with a spatula if necessary, then slip them out of the pan onto a large, heated platter. If the topping is not ready, the noodles may be held briefly in a 250° oven.

Mound the topping in the center of the noodle pillow, so an inch of noodles remains visible all around. Serve immediately, inviting your guests to pull the pillow apart with their chopsticks, Chinese-style, or use a knife if you wish to slice it like a pie.

Leftovers, in my opinion, are excellent at room temperature. Or you may warm them in an oven, covered tightly with foil.

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