Today we're going to watch Mr. Shi make noodles.
It's pretty easy to find cooking schools in Beijing that will teach you about famous dishes, restaurant food, and specialty cooking. (For a range of perfectly executed traditional dishes, I highly recommend Chunyi Zhou at Hutong Cuisine). But finding someone to teach basic home-style cooking, the kind of dishes you couldn't order in a restaurant without getting a weird look from the proprietor, is a little more difficult. Our friend Mrs. Zhao has been giving Nick and I a primer in the kinds of foods she cooks every day at home, which I've found to be very fresh, seasonal, and completely made from scratch. Prepared or preserved foods are in general much more expensive here than fresh foods that can be picked up inexpensively at the market.
Mrs. Zhao is from a village in Henan, which she says is a place where they eat wheat instead of rice. "In places where people eat rice, there's just rice," she said. "But in places where we eat wheat there's steamed buns, stuffed buns, pancakes, noodles, and more. There's all kinds of things you can do with wheat."
Today Mrs. Zhao's husband, Mr. Shi, came over to make some food. When people come over to show us how to cook something, usually they just start cooking and I try to watch, ask questions and take notes as they go along. But sometimes they just jump in and get to work. Today, for instance, I was just putting the pork in the refrigerator, and I turned around to discover that Mr. Shi had magically generated a ball of dough in the time it took me to turn around.
Mr. Shi's had a lot of practice making noodles, and he didn't bother measuring anything. For anyone else who wants to try it, the recipe involves equal parts flour and water (one and a half cups of each, in this case). No sugar, no yeast, no salt. Just flour and water. Mix it together with your hands until you have a big, soft ball. If it's too sticky, add more flour. Then, proceed like Mr. Shi:
Mr. Shi kneads the flour by pushing the dough away from himself with the heel of his hand, then lifting it back towards himself and pressing again.
After kneading it as a ball for awhile, he stretches it out and makes it a long, fat snake about the size and shape of a boa constrictor. He continues kneading along the snake in one-hand increments, pushing it away from himself and then back towards himself again.
He then brings the snake back together into a coil, kneads it back into a ball, then lays the ball out flat on the cutting board. He smears the top with peanut oil, then covers the whole thing in plastic and lets it sit for 10 minutes while he prepares the rest of the food.
After the dough has been allowed to sit 10 minutes, he slices thin strips off the edge, leaving the rest of the dough covered.
The thin strip is rolled and pulled into a long, thin snake, more like a garter than a boa this time.
Finally, he flattens the noodle with his thumbs until it's about an inch wide.
Then he tears the noodles into 3" pieces and boils them quickly until they're tender and chewy but not mushy, about a minute and a half. He boiled them in batches, preparing the next bunch of noodles in the brief interlude while the other noodles boiled. He removed the noodles from the pot with a strainer and plunged them immediately into cool water to stop them from cooking, removing them immediately so they didn't get cold.
The noodles then went into bowls for serving. I'll show you what he did with them in the next post.