Lamian is a type of Chinese noodles, hand pulled and made with only flour, water and salt. Some say it’s a lost art but I have to disagree, you don’t have to go very far in China to find restaurants or outlets specialising in lamian and it seems to me that these days, everywhere you look online, there’s a video of someone pulling some noodles! They do vary in thickness, from slightly wide and flat to extremely fine, so fine that it’s hard to believe they are hand made!
I first came across lamian some years ago in China and have been fortunate enough to have eaten different variations, including my favourite, made by the Uyghurs. The noodles themselves are fairly similar but it’s what they’re served with that makes the difference, I remember being completely bowled over by the combination of Chinese noodles and lamb stew – totally unexpected!
The Uyghurs are an ethnic group found in Xinjiang, northwest China, an area officially recognised as being autonomous, much like Tibet. The Uyghurs identify themselves culturally and ethnically with other central Asian cultures, for one thing, unlike the Chinese in China, the Uyghurs are muslims. Their cuisine is therefore a delightful mix of what is to their East, West and to some extent the North (Russia).
Born and bred Singaporean, noodles are second nature to me, we eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, as a snack, or for no reason at all! But this, fresh, handmade noodles served with a light but delicious, lamb and vegetable stew was an experience that haunted me, I had nothing else for days after! The Uyghur lady was so kind, actually, probably felt sorry for me, whatever her reason, she sat me down and showed me how she made the noodles and more importantly, the stew. That lesson has stayed with me all these years and while the stew is something I’ve made countless of times (marvellous with baguettes!), the fresh lamian noodles is a fairly new endeavour. Until recently, I’d resorted to shop bought, but that is now a thing of the past! I’ve made them every weekend now for a while and am definitely getting better at it!
Making Lamian at Home
There’s so much written out there about the dough for lamian – high gluten, low gluten, cold water, warm water, lye water, kansui, sodium bicarbonate – it boggles the mind! All I can say is this, if you are interested in trying your hand at lamian, the only thing that’s going to help is time & experience! I’ve used high gluten flour, regular plain flour and yesterday, “00” flour for the first time. Guess what? They all stretched fine for me. However, I must emphasise that at the time of writing this, autumn 2013, I am only a novice, and my “pull” isn’t as long as lamian masters, which some flours might not stand up to.
One of the key things I find that helps the stretch and prevents breakage, is resting, twice before the pull & I like to let the stretched noodles rest about 2-3 minutes if I find that they are resisting the stretch. The Uyghur method I learnt uses vegetable oil to coat and after the initial stretch, you coil the dough on a plate, rest again, then start the acrobatics. While I do prefer the oil to the flour method, I don’t always coil my dough. The dough also wants to be wetter than usual, something that took me by surprise, this also aids the stretch. Talk is cheap, right, so here’s the recipe, same ratio for all types of flour I’ve used. Start with regular old plain flour, as a base.
The pictures here are from my 3rd try at making lamian. I’m fairly happy with their thickness, when I make them these days, they’re marginally thinner.
- 540g flour (see above)
- 350ml warm water
- 1 tbsp salt, dissolved in water above
- large saucepan of simmering water on the stove
- chopping the vegetables in fairly similar sizes makes for easier eating & is aesthetically pleasing
- 500g lamb (leg is my favourite for this)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2"/5cm ginger, chopped
- 2 star anise "petals"
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 handfuls green beans, sliced
- 2 handfuls white cabbage or Chinese cabbage, sliced
- 1 red capsicum, sliced, not too thinly
- 1 yellow capsicum, sliced, not too thinly
- 2 tomatoes, quartered
- quarter tsp ground white pepper
- 1 litre lamb or beef stock
- 2 handfuls fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- Use a table top mixer with dough attachment if you prefer it to hand kneading.
- Place the flour & salt water in a large bowl and bring it all together with your hands or using the mixture until it comes away clean.
- Knead for about 15 minutes if by hand, 3 minutes on medium speed in mixer.
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, lightly oil your work surface and roll the dough out slightly with the palm of your hands. Start from the middle and work your way out, until you have a long, thick sausage about half a metre long, see pic 2. Leave it on the surface, cover with a damp tea towel & rest for 10 minutes.
- Grabbing each end of your dough, hit/bounce the middle bit on your surface a few times, without pulling on the dough. It's the weight & momentum that will pull and stretch your noodles, not your hands. Tip: don't pinch too hard at the ends, as light a touch as you can.
- When you can't stretch your arms further, fold the dough over in half (double over), hold each end & repeat the process. Keep doing this, i.e., fold and bounce, for as long as you think you can. If the odd strand breaks, don't worry about it, keep going if you think you can.
- When you can't or don't want to stretch any longer, place the noodles as they are in your hands, straight into the bowl of simmering water, increase the heat to bring the water back to boil, then simmer to cook your noodles for 4-5 minutes. The thicker your noodles, the longer the cooking time.
- Heat oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onions for about 3 minutes.
- Add garlic, ginger & star anise and sauté for 1 minute.
- Add lamb, turn heat up and brown for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the salt, give a good stir and follow with the stock. Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
- Add everything but the herbs for garnish and cook for another 30 - 45 minutes until the meat is cooked and very tender.
- Check and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Divide the noodles equally into 4 bowls and top with the stew, scatter the herbs over and serve immediately.
- I like to have a little bowl of pickled chillies or chilli sauce on the side for people to help themselves to, as this dish has no heat at all.