La Mian: Hand-Pulled Chinese Noodles
Making Hand-Pulled Noodles
How Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles Are Made
A centuries-old technique has come down to us for hand-pulled noodles. What are they exactly and how do they differ from other noodles? Chinese hand-pulled noodles truly could be said to be a work of art. Instead of making noodle dough in a machine or feeding the dough through a noodle cutter or rolling it out and having to cut it into individual strips, La Mian noodles are formed by hand, through a system of steps: pulling, twirling (counterclockwise, then clockwise), flipping the dough in the air, slapping it down and stretching out the dough.
The noodle dough is then cut into portions. The end pieces are set aside or discarded because the gluten in these is not aligned. Each larger piece of dough is now ready to be made into Chinese noodles. It is pulled out and doubled over, then pulled out again and doubled over. As the dough is subjected to this process, noodles keep forming in long strands, and as the dough is stretched out and joined, more noodles emerge, perfect and ready to be cooked. The number of noodles produced depends on dough length and how many times the already formed noodles are doubled over.
How is all this possible? La Mian noodles are made from a specific type of dough that needs heavy kneading, to create just the right consistency, so the dough becomes very stretchy but doesn't tear. Through the process of slapping, dropping, twirling, folding, stretching, the gluten fibers align.
This hand-pulling technique, used to form very long strands of noodles without having to cut them, goes back centuries. While this method does eliminate some steps, it takes skill and arm strength to work with sizable pieces of dough.
And Magic Happens
Each dough portion is rolled into an oblong and then pulled out to arm's length. The dough is spun so that it twists and is then looped, joining the two ends, thus the dough is now split. Fingers are inserted into the newly formed loops to keep the dough sides from sticking. The dough has to be pulled out again and stretched, then looped, as necessary (with flour added to keep the dough from sticking). With each stretching and looping action, numerous dough strands (noodles) form.
Soup and Chinese Noodles
What's in a Name
Lā means to pull or stretch, while miàn means noodle.
What is the Noodle Dough Made Of?
As touched on, the gluten has to align for the dough to become stretchy but one can't just use regular noodle dough. The dough used for hand-pulled Chinese noodles is made with cake/pastry flour, enriched flour, sesame oil, water and an ingredient called pung qui, an alkaline that helps to make the noodles springy. Other recipes for La Mian may include baking soda and this can be used if one can't find pung qui. The gluten fibers are aligned by different methods, as mentioned above, with each noodle maker developing his preferred techniques.
While the noodle dough can be kneaded by hand, because it requires heavy kneading and a long kneading time, some modern chefs use a Kitchen Aid, which does the brunt of the work and cuts down on preparation time. Using an appliance with a dough hook can make the whole process easier and faster. Traditional Chinese dough makers, however, still do the entire process from start to finish, without the use of a mixer.
However the dough is prepared, once it's mixed, it has to be stretchy, to avoid tearing when working with it and pulling on it.
A Stretchy Dough Allows for Pulling and Forming the Noodles
Dropped into Soup or Stir Fried, These Noodles are Wonderful
These noodles are usually added to soup but they can also be added to stir fry, with a flavorful sauce as an accompaniment. Another method is to stir fry sliced vegetables, strips of beef or chicken, and add a soy sauce-based sauce.
Has to Be Seen to be Believed
In the videos below, watch as noodle makers transform a lump of dough into long even noodles and all without rolling out the dough and having to cut it. In the first video, after thoroughly working the dough, at about the three-minute mark, he forms it into noodles.
In a Restaurant
Arm Strength Needed
As can be seen in these first two videos, making noodles by hand isn't an easy undertaking. This ingenious traditional method still requires time, effort, and skill.
Cutting Down on Kneading Time
In this next video, Chef Tom makes noodles but cuts down on part of the process by mixing his dough with a machine. As mentioned, this type of dough requires a long kneading time, so using a machine cuts way down on the labor involved.
A Modern Method
Different Methods Used to Form Chinese Pulled Noodles
- Slapping--Some methods utilize no twisting and the dough is slapped to aid in evenness of dough.
- Dropping--Dropping the dough help to elongate it.
- Twisting--Other methods use twisting of the dough to develop the gluten fibers.
- Stretching--Thicker dough portions are grabbed and stretched out to ensure evenness as noodles form.
- Lengthening--Some Chinese noodle makers swing out the noodle dough to increase its length beyond the span of their outstretched arms.
Want to Try Making Your Own Hand-Pulled Noodles?
2 cups cake flour or part regular flour and part cake flour
1 tsp. salt
A shake of baking soda
A little oil
Warm water to make a moist dough
Combine ingredients in bowl and knead for 20 minutes. This step is critical to the dough becoming elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for another 20 minutes.
Follow the steps outlined in the videos: rolling, dropping and twirling the dough until, when you pull a piece, it doesn't tear; then continue working to form noodles.
Cook in boiling water for 2 minutes and toss with a little oil, to prevent noodles sticking.
You may have to try this a number of times to master making hand-pulled noodles or attend a class on how to do this, as it takes skill and practice.
Beef La Mian
Why Hand-Pulled Noodles?
An All-in-One Method
Back to Basics
No rolling out
No need for a noodle cutter
No need for a machine
Noodle Making Class
Ancient Method, Before Electricity, Before Machines
Long before electricity, this ancient method of making noodles would have served people well. They could make their noodles by hand and drop them into a pot over a fire, so it can be seen why this method would have developed, long before mechanization.
Hand-Pulled Noodles Have a Distinctive Look
Have You Ever Tried Making Hand-Pulled Noodles?
Chinese Soup With Noodles
No Machines Needed
Knowing how to make noodles is an essential skill. Delicious noodles can be made by hand, foregoing the need for hand-cranked machines or electric noodle makers.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, noodle making is an art, and down through the centuries, noodle makers have perfected the craft to save on time and cut down on the steps and labor needed. La Mian is a method that eliminates cutting out noodles by hand-pulling them instead. For those who aren't ready to try hand-pulling, in my article Homemade Noodles--How to Make Your Own Pasta From Scratch, I discuss tricks for cutting out long strips of noodles quickly and effortlessly. Whether you pull them or cut them, either method can be used to produce delicious homemade noodles that one can make without a machine.
© 2011 Athlyn Green