How to make Yibin Burning Noodles?
we wanted to show you burning noodles,a much-beloved dish from the town of Yibin in southern Sichuan.
It’s got a hit of nuttiness, some complexity in the form of their local fermented mustard greens, yacai, and of course, a good bit
But the reason it’s called ‘burning noodles’ actually doesn’t really have anything to do with chilis or scovilles the character ran, or burning, directly translated means to ignite.
How To Make Yibin Burning Noodles?
It refers to the fact that this is decidedly not a soup noodle dish.
So much not a soup noodle dish, in fact, you could theoretically take a lighter to the noodle and actually scorch the thing.
As for why?
You can actually find this sort of explicitly not-soup noodle dish up and down the upper reaches of the Yangzi River.
Probably the most famous might be Wuhan’s hot dry noodle, the dry referring to, well, that’s it’s not a soup noodle.
Go a bit further up and you can find Wanzhou’s zajiang noodle , and after that get to Chongqing’s mala xiaomian – which was, in the past, also served dry, not in a soup like it is today.
And of course, once you arrive at the Yangzi’s highest navigable point, Yibin, you’re greeted with burning noodles.
Now all of these cities are places historically defined by the Yangzi river trade, which back in the day was an infamously harrowing journey in the river’s upper reaches.
Even well into the steamboat age, the journey had to be completed with the assistance of two men – men that would literally pull
barges upstream with their bare hands their work chants, called ‘haozi’, ringing through the perilous gorges.
So there’s always been this sort of fluvial toughness to people there.
It’s likely these river towns that were the first in China to use chili pepper extensively, it’s got one of the strongest winter swimming cultures in the country and I think it’s probably no coincidence that much of China’s underground punk and heavy metal scenes centers around Wuhan and Chongqing.
As for why these cities all have dry noodles?
The sources are… super super murky.
It could really be any number of things, but the explanation we liked best was that the people working on the docks wanted to be able to grab a bowl of noodles and go.
A rocky boat isn’t exactly the best place for a soup noodle after all.
But history aside, to get started with Yibin burning noodles, you’ll need noodles.
Fresh alkaline noodles to be exact.
Now, living here in China, we can generally just waltz to the market and pick up fresh alkaline noodles, but I know many of you living outside China aren’t so lucky.
So while you can totally sub in something like a proper ramen noodle, for the sake of completeness let’s show you how to make
some Sichuan-style alkaline noodles.
To make this though, you’ll need an ingredient called jianmian that is, sodium carbonate.
Note that sodium carbonate is a much, much stronger base sodium bicarbonate, that is, baking soda.
It’s got a pH of about 11.5 compared to baking soda’s 8.5 – pH being a logarithmic scale and all, you’d need an exponentially
more baking soda to have the same effect.
You should be able to buy some online, but barring that, you can also spread some baking soda out on a tray and bake it for one hour at around 150 centigrade.
At temperatures above 80 Celcius, baking soda decomposes, forming water vapor, carbon dioxide, and the sodium carbonate that you’ll need.
Either way, mix a half teaspoon of sodium carbonate with 125 grams of water, then drizzle that into 300 grams of bread or noodle flour.
You’ll want the noodles to have a significant bite to them, which’s why we’re using a high gluten flour and making a pretty dry
dough – for those of you keeping score, we’re at about 42% hydration, but we’ve seen some recipes go even lower than 40.
So now while this would obviously be done by hand traditionally, your narrator– am truthfully not the most experienced noodle maker ever so I’ve going to make my life easy and use a stand mixer with the hook attachment.
So let that go for eight minutes on speed two, or alternatively knead by hand for the same duration.
After that time, you’ll see that the dough’s still looking crumbly.
Don’t panic, just knead it all together, and let that rest for a half an hour.
Now, second untraditional thing– we’ll be using a pasta maker today.
Again, you can totally roll this out thin by hand, and if you’d like to see how, check out our Zhajiangmian video up here.
That said, a pasta maker’ll be a bit easier, and noodle workshops in China these days generally use machines anyhow.
So toss that through the pasta maker at the widest setting, then pass it through again at the third smallest setting.
Then thoroughly flour both sides of the dough, and fold three or four times.
Now grab a knife, and slice that dough into noodles.
You’re looking for something that’s about two millimeters wide, though with hand-cut noodles it’s totally normal to have some
that end up a little thinner or thicker.
Separate out the noodles, flour them up, and use them anytime within the next day or so.
So besides the noodles, what makes a burning noodle a burning noodle are its toppings.
It’s loaded up with crushed toasted peanuts and sesame seeds, a generous bit of sliced scallions, and of course yibin yacai .
If you’re familiar with Dan Dan noodles or some other classic Sichuan dishes, you’ve probably heard of yacai – pickled and fermented mustard green.
Yacai famously comes from yibin, and is, unfortunately, one of those ingredients with no real subs.
While not all Asian supermarkets abroad seem to carry it, the good ones do, and it’s always available online.
You could potentially play around with some other Chinese preserved vegetables, but honestly?
Yacai’s so fundamental here that if you can’t find it I’d probably just recommend making something else.
But then together with those toppings, the noodles are also mixed with a heavy dose of a Yibin-style chili oil called Xiang you it’s probably equally as fundamental to the dish as the yacai, so let’s start there.
So this oil starts with toasted chili powder, traditionally a mix of two parts erjingtiao, so here, 20 grams; and one part heaven facing chili, so for us, 10 grams.
I do know that Sichuan erjingtiao are really tough to buy outside China though, so feel free to sub those with some arbols or cayennes.
So then toast your chilis in a dry wok over a medium-low flame for about five minutes, the chilis’ll be done once they’ve deepened
in color and started to smell really nice.
After that, snip the chilis into about one centimeter long slices, leaving the seeds but tossing the stems and pulse the chilis
into a powder.
Now of course, if you’re looking for shortcuts, feel free to just use a good chili powder here instead of making it from scratch ,it’s just that most chili powders sold in Sichuan are toasted chili powders, and I’m not sure if that’s true with something like Western-style cayenne pepper.
Then to make the chili oil for this dish the most proper would be a base of Sichuan caiziyou, which’s a sort of virgin rapeseed oil.
It is aggressively unavailable in the West, so if you can nab some use Indian mustard seed oil instead, it’s basically a direct sub.
Just go peanut oil but no matter what heat up 60 grams worth til it begins to smoke, or about 230 centigrade.
Keep it there for a minute or two, then shut off the heat.
This process remove the pungency of the raw rapeseed oil, and’s also an important step in using Indian mustard seed oil as well.
Once it’s cooled down a touch, to about 210 Celcius, add in 25 grams of crushed ginger, one whole walnut, a half a cinnamon stick,
two-star anise and a teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn.
This lower the temperature, so fry those for about five minutes over a low flame, or until the oil’s reached about 150 degrees.
Then take out the clunkier spices, and strain that into your chili powder.
Give it a good stir, then pour in 60 grams of melted lard and if you’re keeping veg, feel free to swap the lard with some
cooked peanut oil.
And with that, your Xiang you are done you can use immediately in a pinch, but this chili oil’s always better the next day.
Now for the peanuts and sesame.
If you can buy unsalted roasted peanuts feel free to use those, but we’re using raw, so we’ll be toasting those over a medium
flame for about twelve minutes, or until the peanuts are cooked through and charred on the outside.
Then to peel, a cool technique is to rub the toasted peanuts between your fingers, then lightly blow the peanuts to get off the peels.
Much faster than going one by one.
Then to crush, let’s go with the classic home-cooking technique of tossing the peanuts in a bag, then rolling over them with a big
Tsingtao beer bottle.
After about two minutes, the peanuts should be pretty crushed in the end you’re looking for something that’s about this consistency.
Then for the sesame seeds, toast them over a medium-low flame for about five minutes, or until they start to deepen in color and
you can hear a couple popping.
Then give them a super-light pound in a mortar to just barely break them open, and, alternatively feel free to use the beer bottle method.
Then mix them in with the peanuts, and now we can make some noodles.
So fresh noodles cook real fast, so be sure to have everything handy.
One traditional tool that’s used in Yibin is one of these things vendors’ll toss the noodles in after cooking and vigorously
strain them you could do the same thing with a standard strainer, but something conical like a chinois would probably be most effective.
So toss the noodles in, here 150 grams for one portion, and cook until they’re just past al dente, or about one minute for this
sort of fresh noodle.
Then toss the noodles in your strainer of choice, give it a few vigorous shakes, then toss in a bowl.
Now immediately go in with your liquid ingredients two tablespoons of your Yibin chili oil, one teaspoon toasted sesame oil, and one teaspoon light soy sauce and give that all a thorough mix.
Then top with two tablespoons of your peanut/sesame mix, two tablespoons yacai, two tablespoons of sliced scallion, and either a quarter teaspoon of MSG or a half teaspoon of chicken bullion powder, up to you.
And with that, your Yibin burning noodles are done nothing left but to mix it up, and devour.
So like many beloved dishes, ranmian also has its own variations – in one style where the xiangyou doesn’t have chili in it, and
then the chili [flake] itself is added in later, separately [with the toppings].
And then there’s another version which’s called tangran – sugar ranmian– which contains sugar, and lard.
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