Chinese Egg Noodles
Made From Scratch
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This post is the first in a series of awesome egg recipes for 2018 brought to you in collaboration with BC Egg.
All opinions are my own.
Food bloggers and writers are very seasonally aware people. Not only do we tend to pay attention to the ingredients in season, but it behooves us to be prepared for specific holidays and events as well. You’re not going to see a whole lot of Christmas cookies published in July, and for good reason. With February 14th only a few days away, many food blogs are unsurprisingly chock-a-block with Valentine’s Day recipes. That’s great of course – I personally think my chocolate beet cake is a pretty stellar little seasonal recipe, and if I could tie little recipe cards to Cupid’s arrows, you can bet that I would. But this year I’m a lot more excited about the holiday that happens to fall two days later: the Lunar New Year. I live in a part of Canada with a very large Chinese population, and I married into a Taiwanese family, so food and festivity really kick into high-gear around here. And food in particular tends to take on special significance.
I’m actually posting two Chinese New Year recipes on Diversivore this year (the other one will be up in two days), and I want to avoid repeating myself too much, so I’ll keep this bit brief. Basically, the Lunar (or Chinese, if you’re in China or writing about Chinese food) New Year is a time for everyone to head home, be with family, and engage in lots of festivities meant to bring a happy start and good fortune for the year ahead. Many of these festivities specifically center around foods with symbolic importance. Dumplings are eaten because they resemble silver and gold ingots (and for linguistic reasons I won’t get into here). Steamed chicken (with the head and feet attached) represents food and plenty for the whole family, as well as family unity. There are also a whole bunch of different dishes eaten specifically because of the importance of word play. Basically, the dishes and ingredients are either homonyms or puns for words that symbolize health, wealth, and prosperity. If you’re a fan of language, I highly encourage you to come back to read the next post as well, as I go over the linguistics in much more detail. It’s a really fun subject, and one I could write about all day, but today we’re going to get specific and talk about two of my favourite foods coming together: eggs, and noodles.
Who doesn’t love noodles? I mean, no matter what they’re made of, or where in the world they come from, noodles are pure, perfect comfort food. In East Asia (the birthplace of noodles), they’re made from wheat, buckwheat, mung beans, rice, and other starches, and prepared pretty much every way imaginable. Given that they’ve been a part of Chinese culture for well-over 2000 years, it’s hardly surprising that they’ve taken on considerable cultural significance too. Long, unbroken noodles have come to represent longevity – so much so that cutting your noodles is equated with the risk of cutting one’s own life short. No biting – you slurp those bad boys. Or, if you’re my kids, you just sit there with a small look of growing concern on your face while you continue to shovel the noodles into your face, worried that you’ll run out of mouth-space before the noodles finally end. Either way.
Eggs too are both popular and significant during the new year. The yellow yolk represents gold, and the eggs themselves represent fecundity and wishes for a big and healthy family. Whole egg dishes (like my Taiwanese Tea Eggs) are understandably popular at this time of the year because of that – though to be fair, they’re pretty much beloved all-year-round. They’re are also the star of a fun little tradition associated with Lunar New Year and the coming of spring – egg balancing. Folkloric tradition holds that fresh eggs can be balanced on their broad end because of celestial/gravitational/whatever alignment, and that achieving the feat will bring (you guessed it) good luck for the coming year. The tradition was exported to the USA in the mid-20th century, but the date was transposed to correspond with the equinox. Meanwhile, Taiwan associates the activity with the Dragon Boat Festival, which lands some time in late spring/early summer. The truth is that the date doesn’t matter in the slightest – you can balance an egg on literally any day of the year. But trying is fun. Or infuriating. Or both.
Let’s put those eggs and noodles together now, shall we? Many Chinese noodles are made with wheat and water only, but the addition of eggs makes for a richer, chewier dough with a beautiful yellowy hue. Noodle-making has long been one of those kitchen duties generally assigned to specialist shops and merchants, with few people making them at home for themselves. Now if you happen to live down the street from a noodle-making master, you’re forgiven for thinking that this might not be the recipe for you. But for the rest of you, let me tell you just why you the three reasons you should make your own egg noodles at home. One: they’re surprisingly easy – especially if you have a pasta maker, but even if you’ve only got a rolling pin. Two: you can control what goes into them, meaning that you can use better quality ingredients. Three: fresh noodles (like many fresh starchy foods) are very different from frozen or dried noodles. Point number four is the unsurprising culmination of the other three: they taste absolutely incredible. Points 1-3 are pretty self-explanatory, but let’s really dwell on that whole taste thing for a minute. Fresh homemade egg noodles taste amazing, and they offer a texture and freshness that elevates the ingredient from its all-to-common filler status. Noodles like this don’t just go in a dish – they can anchor it. As for that whole ‘easy-to-make’ point, they really are pretty straightforward, but (as usual) I’ll give plenty of notes, tips, and tricks below. As is so often the case, things are much easier when you’re not guessing the details.
Once you’ve made your noodles you can try making all kinds of dishes with them. They excel in soups, where their rich flavour and chewy texture holds up very nicely. But if you’re really want to show them off, keep reading and check out my little recipe-within-a-recipe for Soy Sauce Fried Noodles below.
The dough this recipe yields can be used to make a few different types of Chinese noodle. These are primarily differentiated by the way they’re cut and used, but (as with Italian pasta) the basic flavour is largely the same.
Note: for each variety below, the common English name is given, followed by the name in Traditional Chinese characters, Mandarin (Pinyin), and Cantonese (Yale with tone numbers)
Thin Noodles – 幼麵 – yòu miàn; yau3 min6 – Probably the most popular form of Chinese egg noodle, especially in Southern China, these are exactly what they sound like. They’re thin (about the size of spaghetti), and usually round or slightly square in cross-section. They’re used in a wide variety of dishes, but are especially popular in soups and in so-called ‘dry’ dishes (i.e. those with sauce rather than soup).
Oil Noodles – 油麵 – yóu miàn; yau4 min6 – Very similar to thin noodles in both appearance and name (the Chinese names differ only by tone), these noodles are basically differentiated by the fact that they’re served with oil or in an oily sauce, and are generally tossed in some oil before cooking, drying, or refrigerating. Given the diversity of flavoured oils in Chinese cooking, there are a surprising number of variations and options out there. Oil noodles are also frequently sold pre-cooked.
Mee Pok Noodles – 麵薄 – miàn báo; min6 bok6 – Thin, flat noodles used to make the various Teochew dishes known collectively as (you guessed it) mee pok, these broad noodles are somewhat like fettuccine in appearance. You’ll find lots of information about how the method used to cook these noodles makes a difference (or is purported to), but when it comes to the noodles themselves, a good quality egg noodle makes excellent mee pok when rolled thin and cut into fat strips.
Yi Mein (or Yee Mein) – 伊麵 – yī miàn; yi1 min6 – Larger, thicker noodles, yi mian are very popular in both the East and the West. They can be made and eaten fresh, though they’re typically sold in large dried round blocks. These blocks are actually prepared by first deep-frying and then drying the fresh noodles, and as such aren’t typically prepared at home. While I didn’t make yi mian here, you could certainly try your hand at a thicker fresh egg noodle. If you do, make sure to adjust your cooking time a little bit to account for the larger size.
Wonton Noodles – 雲吞麵 – yún tūn miàn; wan4 tan1 min6 – Strictly speaking, this name applies more accurately to a finished soup dish than it does the noodle itself, though this name is often used in English on noodle packaging. Wonton noodles are generally thin noodles, or flat mee pok style noodle (see above for both types). A very fine, thin type of wonton noodle is popular for making dry stir-fried dishes.
Lo Mein Noodles – 撈麵 – lāo miàn; lou1 min6 – Like wonton noodles, lo mein is actually the name of a dish, not a noodle (in fact, it’s just wonton noodles served ‘dry,’ i.e. with the soup on the side). Nonetheless, English packaging uses the term ‘lo mein’ pretty frequently, generally in reference to a particularly thick, chewy noodle resembling fresh yi mein. What exactly these thick lo mein noodles should be called isn’t clear from my research (if you’ve got a definitive idea, let me know). They seem to be a very popular exported noodle, showing up in Southern Chinese expat communities all around the world, yet the noodles seem to generally be named after the dish they end up in (hokkien noodles, which seem to be more-or-less the same, are another example of this phenomenon). In any case, if you leave your rolled dough a little thick, you can easily make these wonderful and robust noodles at home.
Shrimp Roe Noodles – 蝦子麵 – xiāzi miàn; ha1 ji2 min6 – These fascinating egg noodles are basically thin noodles made by adding tiny shrimp eggs to the dough. They have a distinctive and much loved taste all their own. I haven’t made them, but you can bet I’m going to try.
Jook-sing (Bamboo Pole) Noodles – 竹昇麵 – zhú shēng miàn; juk1 sing1 min6 – These noodles are uncommon even in the parts of Southern China from which they hail, but I mention them because they’re pretty interesting. The ingredients in the dough are incorporated by a chef who literally sits atop a large bamboo pole, which is affixed to a wall on one end and held parallel to the working surface. The dough is then worked by repeatedly bouncing the bamboo pole up and down. Needless to say, I did not make these noodles. Sounds like fun though.
On a basic level, this is the simplest of recipes: dry and liquid ingredients kneaded into a dough, flattened, and cut. I could stop there, but that’s not my style. The notes below are included so that you won’t get to a stage and think to yourself ‘wait, is this right?’ I’ve also included notes about hand-rolling your dough vs. using a pasta maker. Both methods overlap until the final stages anyway, so while a pasta maker does make flattening and cutting the dough easier, it’s by no means necessary.
I want to give credit where credit is due – I went through a lot of resources while trying to hammer out the details for this post, and I want to highlight a few gems that I think you should check out yourself. The wonderful website China Sichuan Food was the most useful one for me while I tried to sort out the technique, while the egg noodle recipe from Mummy I Can Cook clarified a few things and introduced me to the DIY sodium carbonate method.
Sometimes I think we forget that gluten isn’t a dirty word. Don’t get me wrong, some people straight-up can’t eat the stuff, but when it comes to making good noodles, bread, cake, and the like, there is nothing like it. The product of two proteins (gliadin and glutenin, in the case of wheat), the amount of gluten in a recipe has a lot of bearing on the final texture of that recipe. Too little gluten, and noodles fall apart easily. Too much gluten and they can become pretty over-the-top chewy. Chinese noodles generally aim to be chewy and springy, so lots of gluten is good. There are a few things going on in this recipe to encourage gluten development, including both ingredients and techniques. I’ll explain them below, as well as options and alternatives for those looking to experiment.
Wheat flours are not all created equal, and the different types can have affect the final noodles. You want to use a flour with a higher gluten content. The problem with this is that you can’t always tell this ahead of the fact, as different wheat varieties contribute varying quantities of gluten. As a general rule, bread flour is fairly high in gluten, while pastry flour is comparatively low. All-purpose flour tends to be somewhere in the middle. I’m lucky to have access to the wonderful locally-milled flours made by the Vancouver company Grain. I used a very finely milled 00 flour made from hard semolina wheat and it worked marvelously. It’s also got a nice pale yellow colour that works quite nicely, given that we’re aiming for yellow noodles anyway. Good quality unbleached bread flour will work quite nicely. If you only have access to all-purpose flour, you can still make this work fine, but you’ll need to double the kneading time to encourage more gluten formation.
If you’re gluten-free… well, kudos for reading this far, but non-wheat alternatives aren’t going to work well here. There are plenty of wonderful non-wheat noodles in the Chinese culinary pantheon, but that’s a subject for another article and another day.
Lastly, I strongly encourage you to work with a kitchen scale when measuring flour. Volume measurements are inconsistent between different flour types, and you’ll get better results here and in your baking by using weight. Inexpensive electric scales are easy to find and they save a lot of hassle in the kitchen. That being said, I’ve still given volume measurements in the recipe, though you may find that you need to troubleshoot a little bit more than you would with weight.
Eggs & Water
Take the eggs out of egg noodles, add more water, and you get basic Chinese wheat noodles. This flexibility means that you can actually play around with the egg and water ratios quite a bit.
I used three large eggs for this recipe. Extra-large eggs weigh, on average, about 5 grams more each (check this), so if you use them you may need to use about 15 ml (1 tbsp) less water. It’s not an exact science though, so don’t feel too shackled to the quantities. You can also use 2 eggs or 1 egg and increase the water, or a combination of egg yolks, whites, and water. All of these yield noodles with varying textures and flavours. Three-egg and all-yolk versions make for chewier and more egg-y tasting noodles (surprise surprise), making them well-suited to richer, saltier flavours. Fewer eggs makes for softer noodles with a milder, somewhat plainer flavour. Lye water makes a difference too, but we’ll get to that below.
Lye Water & Alkalinity
There’s really only one specialty ingredient involved in this recipe, and it’s optional, so don’t worry too much. Nonetheless, I thought I’d explain a bit about what lye water is, where to find it, how to substitute for it, and why it’s worth using.
Lye water is a simple solution containing potassium carbonate or a related metal hydroxide salt. When dissolved in water, these salts create a solution with a strong basic (alkaline) pH. Adding lye water to foods affects the pH of those foods, which can in turn alter things like texture, cooking properties, and colour. Adding lye water to noodle dough has several interesting properties. First, it tends to make the noodles chewier. Second, it deepens the yellow colour. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, it can in fact add a slightly egg-y taste and aroma to the noodles. Because of these last two properties, some so-called egg noodles are not made with egg (or with much egg), but with lye water. Japanese ramen noodles, for example, are generally made with lye water (called kansui in Japanese), This gives them their distinctive bite and yellow colour.
Lye water can be found at well-stocked Chinese and Asian grocery stores, generally in the vicinity of vinegars and the like. I can’t speak for all of North America of course, but where I live it’s quite easy to find. If you can’t find it, there are two options. First, it can be omitted. The eggs and lye water have similar effects on noodle dough, so while you may find that your noodles are a bit softer or need a bit more kneading without lye, they’ll still work wonderfully thanks to the eggs. The second option is a fascinating DIY one. All you need to do is bake baking soda. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s just a bit of simple chemistry. Simply spread a little baking soda on a flat plat or baking pan and place it in a low oven (about 200°F/95°C) for one hour. Baking soda is is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) and heating it causes it to decompose and give off carbon dioxide and water, forming sodium carbonate (Na2CO3). Both compounds are alkaline in solution, but unlike its cousin baking soda, sodium carbonate won’t give off carbon dioxide gas in your dough. This is important because we’re trying to increase the pH, not leaven the mixture. A small amount of homemade sodium carbonate (about 1/8 tsp) can be added as a dry ingredient to your dough to achieve much the same effect that you’d get with lye water.
Working the Dough
There’s nothing terribly complicated at play here, but I will reiterate a couple of key points while explaining the reasons behind them.
When you first start to mix the wet and dry ingredients, you’ll see right away that it’s a rather dry dough. Don’t be tempted to add more water too quickly – the mixture will come together more and more as you begin to hand-mix it in the bowl. As you can see in the photo above, the very dry and flaky first step should work into a pretty nice, even ball with a bit of work. If you’re having trouble getting dough to hold together, add water about 1 tsp at a time.
Once you’ve got the dough formed, the rest of the operation is all about the gluten. (Side note: possible t-shirt slogan…). First, we vigorously knead and work the dough before letting it rest for about 30 minutes. After this step, we bash the dough with a rolling pin for about 5 minutes, then let it rest for another 30 minutes. Lastly, we roll the dough out in a fairly unidirectional fashion, making a long rectangle rather than a large square of dough. All of this is done to encourage gluten formation and elongation, leading to better, chewier noodles. As mentioned above, if you’re using all-purpose flour or a similar moderate-gluten flour, you may have to knead the dough a little bit longer to get the same results.
Looking for a visual aid? The photo above shows the dough after initial mixing (top left), the first kneading (top right), flattening (row two, left), and second kneading (row two, right). The dough is then rolled out, and cut.
Hand-rolling vs. Pasta Machine
Regardless of the method you use to finish the noodles, you’ll follow the same steps until the final stages. In the name of experimentation, I tried out both methods, and they’re both quite achievable. The pasta maker was certainly easier, but honestly, it was the machine’s cutting ability I liked most. The thin cutting blades on my pasta maker sliced thin you mian style noodles in mere seconds, saving me the trouble of working by hand. Hand rolling the dough isn’t tricky though, and I explain and illustrate the cutting methods below.
If you have a pasta machine, definitely use it. It’s easy, uniform, and it takes the guesswork out. The process is pretty much the same as you’d use for any pasta – feed the flattened dough through the machine on progressively thinner settings until it reaches the size you want, then cut by hand or using the cutting side of the machine. If you’re looking to achieve a classic Chinese noodle thickness, stop thinning the dough on the middle setting of the pasta maker (#3 on mine). I won’t go over the details of this method here, as they’re outlined in the basic instructions below.
No pasta machine? No worries. A rolling pin does a great job, and is not particularly difficult. Once you’ve worked the dough, cut it in half and stretch it out by hand into a short, rough cylinder and start rolling it the long way. Roll out to a uniform thickness (about 3-4 mm thick – see the image above for an idea), and don’t worry about trying to stretch the dough from side-to-side too much. The gluten is pretty well-formed at this point, and you’ll find it a lot easier to just roll the dough out in the direction it wants to go, rather than trying to force it into a broad sheet.
If you’ve got a pasta maker, you can use the cutting rollers to finish your noodles. If you want to hand-cut your noodles, keep reading.
Once you’ve thinned the dough into a long sheet, cut it into manageable lengths. Liberally dust the surface with flour or cornstarch, then carefully fold the sheet up into a roll as shown in the image below. With a long sharp knife, carefully cut the sheet into noodles of any desired thickness. This method is easiest with thicker noodles (e.g. mee pok), but if you’re careful and you work with a good knife, you should be able to manage thinner noodles just fine.
Regardless of the cutting method you use, toss the finished noodles in a little flour or cornstarch and set them aside in loose bundles.
Ideally, you want to use the noodles right after making them. Realistically, the best thing to do is to cover them with plastic wrap and use within an hour or so. If you have extra noodles or you’re making them in advance, cover loose bundles with plastic wrap or place them in airtight bags and freeze them. Take care not to pack them too tightly when refrigerating or freezing, as they’ll stick together and form clumps. If you’re making oil noodles, you can toss the finished noodles with a few teaspoons of cooking oil (or a lightly flavoured oil, if you want to go that way), then refrigerate or freeze.
Drying the noodles is another great option, assuming you have the setup. You can dry loose bundles of noodles in a dehydrator or very low oven. The noodles are done once they’re brittle and completely dry. Dried noodles will take longer to cook than fresh, so bear this in mind when working with them.
Fresh noodles will keep in the fridge for a day, and in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Dry noodles will keep for at least 6 months.
Now for the really good stuff. Chinese egg noodles are fantastic in all kinds of dishes, but I particularly like them in stir-fries and soups, where their texture and richness are real boons. To prepare the noodles, bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil (Chinese noodles are already salted), add the noodles, and cook until soft but still dense and chewy (about 2-3 minutes). Drain the noodles and (optionally) rinse or dunk them in cold water to get rid of excess starch, then add them to soups, stir-fries, etc.
Soy Sauce Fried Noodles
Alright, let’s end this epic how-to with a simple little dish to test out your awesome new egg noodles, shall we? This recipe is my take on a classic and beloved simple noodle stir fry. As the name suggests, it’s all about good noodles and good soy sauce. If you’re looking to keep it super-simple, you can omit the egg too, and just use the sauce and green onions. It’s a fantastic little side, and a perfect dish to go along with dumplings, barbecued pork, or a little wine chicken. It’s also really good for eating out of a container in front of an open refrigerator at midnight – not that I speak from experience or anything.
I’m planning to write this up as a mini-recipe post at a later date (I think I’ve earned a mini-post after this one), so if you’re looking to keep up to date on all of the recipes, guides, and features here on Diversivore, be sure to subscribe for email updates.
- 2 tbsp thick soy sauce (soy paste) or 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce mixed with 2 tsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 eggs, whisked
- One bunch of scallions, greens and whites separated and sliced into 4 cm (~2 inch) pieces
- 1 cm of ginger, sliced into thin strips
- 1 clove of garlic
- 4 servings of egg noodles, boiled and drained, but still warm
- Combine the soy sauces, sugar, and sesame oil in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat a wok (or large, heavy pan) over very high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil and swirl the wok to cover the bottom.
- Add the eggs slowly to the wok, stirring quickly to yield small pieces of egg.
- Add the white portion of the scallions, ginger, and garlic to the wok and stir fry for about 1 minute, or until the scallions are tender
- Add the scallion greens to the wok along with half the sauce and stir-fry for about 30 seconds
- Remove everything from the wok, setting it aside in a bowl.
- Add the remaining oil. Allow the wok to heat back up.
- Add the noodles to the wok and stir fry for about 1 minute, stirring continuously.
- Add the egg and vegetables back to the wok. Add the remaining sauce and stir fry for an additional minute or so.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
As with all stir fries, the key to success is keeping things REALLY hot while keeping them moving in the pan. If you’re looking for stir-frying tips, I’ve got a handy little guide to help you master it.
Note: One serving is approximately 55 g, or 1/12th of the total recipe.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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- 450 g high-gluten flour (e.g. bread flour) (~3 cups), plus extra for rolling/dusting - see note
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 large eggs whisked
- 60 ml water (1/4 cup)
- 5 ml lye water (kansui) (1 tsp) see note for substitution or omission
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whisked eggs a little at a time, then add the water and lye water. Stir until the mixture is relatively well combined. Note that it should look quite dry.
Use your hands to combine the ingredients in the bowl. Knead the dough until it forms a tight and smooth ball. Do NOT be tempted to over-moisten the dough by adding more water. While it is a drier mix, it should eventually come together.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Flatten the dough out by pounding on it with a rolling pin for about 5 minutes (or even a small heavy pot, if need be). You're not trying to thin the dough so much as you're encouraging the formation of gluten. Once you're finished, form the dough back into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for another 30 minutes.
Before proceeding with either noodle-making method, cut the ball of dough in half (or even quarters). Set one half aside and re-cover with the plastic wrap, to be used after making the first batch of noodles.
Use a rolling pin to progressively flatten the dough into a rather thin sheet (~3 mm thick). To encourage stretchier, chewier noodles, work with the natural direction of the dough - i.e. don't be afraid to let the dough roll out as an elongate rectangle, rather than trying to work it into a square.
Dust the surface to the dough with flour, then fold it over on itself carefully to form a sort of roll with multiple layers (see photo above).
Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into strips of noodles. Hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and push down cleanly though the dough, rather than drawing the knife through in a slicing motion. Toss the noodles with a little extra flour and set them aside in loose bundles.
Repeat with remaining dough portions.
Cut the dough in half, or even in quarters. Cover the unused portions with plastic wrap and set aside.
Feed the dough through the largest opening on a manual or electric pasta maker. Repeat on progressively smaller settings until the dough is about 3 mm thick (I found the #3 or middle setting worked best).
Use the noodle cutting side/attachment to cut the dough into the desired size. Toss the noodles with a little extra flour or cornstarch and set them aside in loose bundles.
Repeat with remaining dough portions.
Lye Water - Also called kansui, or jian shui, this is a solution of (usually) potassium carbonate in water. It's quite alkaline (basic pH), a property that contributes to both the colour and texture of the finished noodles. It's fairly easy to find at well-stocked Chinese and Asian grocery stores. You can omit it and just use eggs, though the texture may be slightly softer. A DIY substitute can also be made easily by heating a tablespoon or two of baking soda in a low (200°F/95°C) oven for an hour. This yields sodium carbonate, which you can use instead of lye water. Substitute about 1/8 tsp of sodium carbonate for the lye water in this recipe.