Noodle Shop Secret for Springy Noodles: Pre-Steaming

If you have ever eaten good wheat-based soup noodles or pan-fried noodles at a Chinese restaurant or noodle shop, one thing that you cannot help but notice is the texture of them. In soup, they are always springy, flavorful and firm, never mushy or overcooked, and when they are pan fried, they are toothsome on the inside, crispy on the outside and absolutely delicious. If soft fried for lo-mein, they always have a bite to them without being undercooked, and are resilient without being crunchy.

There is a secret to making good fresh (store-bought or homemade) Chinese wheat noodles better, and it is simple–so simple anyone can do it.

All you need is a bamboo steamer, a pot of boiling water and about ten to fifteen minutes of time, and you can pre-steam your noodles so that their fresh flavor is enhanced and preserved, and so that they are impossible to overcook into pallid mushiness. If you want, you can take fresh noodles, steam them, and then after they are cooled, you can pack them into plastic bags for your freezer or refrigerator. In the freezer, they will keep for two months, while in the fridge, they will keep for two weeks–much longer than they would otherwise. Or, if the weather is dry, you can allow the steamed noodles to dry completely to the touch in the air, and then pack them into airtight plastic bags to be used within three to four months.

To use pre-steamed noodles, you just cook them as you would normally–but be aware that to boil steamed noodles, either dried, thawed frozen or refrigerated–that they take a little longer to cook than they would if they were pre-steamed. They will cook in about three to four minutes, using my method for boiling noodles outlined here.

After they are boiled, they can drained and used in lo mein, topped with sauces, or made into a cold noodle dish, just as if they were plain boiled noodles. The difference being, however, a superior texture and flavor, all managed with just a few extra minutes of cooking time–which can be done hours, days, weeks or months ahead of time.



Steamed Fresh Noodles

Method:

For one pound of fresh homemade or store-bought Chinese noodles (plain or egg noodles–it doesn’t matter which), bring water in a wok or a large pot to the boil. Divide your noodles into two portions, and spread each into a round nest in the bottom of a bamboo steaming basket. (If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can improvise by using a plate, a pot with a lid and an empty food can with the bottom and top cut off–you put about an inch and a half of water in the pot, put the can in the center standing up on its end, arrange the noodles on the plate and set it on the can. You need to make sure the can is shorter than the pot by at least one inch. Then, when the water boils, you put the lid on the pot and steam as directed.)

Fluff the noodles and loosen them as shown in the photo above as you arrange them, but make certain that the nests are not any taller than one inch. After they are arranged, bring the water in the pot or wok to boil, and set the two steamers, stacked on top of each other with the lid on the top basket, on top of the boiling water–make certain that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the basket, and steam.

For homemade noodles, steam for ten minutes. For store-bought, steam for fifteen minutes. When they are done, they will be slightly darker in color, and shiny, and they will have a dense, springy texture. After you take the baskets off the pot, open them up, and remove the noodles, fluffing them with your fingers. Arrange each portion into a circular nest on a plate to cool and dry–be careful, because the noodles are quite hot when they first come out. (My fingers could take the heat, but if yours cannot, use chopsticks or tongs to remove them to the plates.) You don’t want them to cool in the baskets because they will stick together.

After they are dry and cool, each nest can be packed away in plastic bags and frozen or refrigerated, or they can be set on the counter to dry thoroughly, then packed in an airtight bag in a cool dry place.

Or, they can be used in any noodle recipe immediately.

8 Comments

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  1. Thank you, Barbara, this series is SO GOOD! I am anxiously anticipating your thoughts on rice noodles.

    I have so far not been successful in my search for wheat noodles, even in a fairly reputable Chinese market here in Atlanta. Would this be due to Southern/Northern differences? Or are wheat noodles ever called something different?

    Comment by katie — August 22, 2007 #

  2. Re: my last comment, I meant differences in Southern/Northen Chinese markets. Not because I am in Georgia!

    Comment by katie — August 22, 2007 #

  3. My father, when he owned a Chinese restaurant, would steam the noodles using a microwave. He experimented with different cook times until he got the texture he wanted.

    Thanks for the great articles. I really enjoy reading them!

    Comment by Jeanne — August 22, 2007 #

  4. [...] Tigers & Strawberries » Noodle Shop Secret for Springy Noodles: Pre-Steaming – How to make good fresh Chinese wheat noodles with just the right texture [...]

    Pingback by Sculpin » My del.icio.us bookmarks for August 18th through August 22nd — August 22, 2007 #

  5. Katie–are you having trouble finding wheat noodles fresh or dried? Or are both eluding you?

    You will see them marked “plain noodle” both in dried or fresh versions if it is a wheat noodle with no egg in it, and “egg noodle” if it is a wheat noodle with egg. They may not mention the wheat on the package until you look at the ingredients list on the back–there will be one in English–it may just be in very small print.

    Try looking for them that way. For fresh noodles, try looking for lo mein noodles. For thin dried wheat noodles, try “long life noodles.”

    I am sure they are there–they are used often in Chinese cookery. Keep trying–and if all else fails, print out some of my photos and take them to the markets with you. If you cannot find what is in the pictures, take them to counter and ask. I have found that photos often help if there is a language barrier involved.

    (Of course, in my local Asian market, we had a funny language barrier moment–I asked for lop cheong–Chinese pork sausages, and the lady who owns the store laughed as she got them, and told her husband what I asked for and then said, “No one else would know what you meant.” I was pronouncing it the Cantonese way–which is the Chinese language I have the most experience in–whereas all Chinese speak Mandarin–and only southerners speak Cantonese. Its all the Hong Kong movies I have watched undubbed for years, I figure. I am more attuned to the sounds of Cantonese than Mandarin.)

    Jeanne–that is interesting to know about the microwave. I wonder how it worked. I might have to try it!

    Comment by Barbara — August 23, 2007 #

  6. I have just purchased bamboo steamer baskets. Do I need to soak them in water before I use them?

    Thank you

    Comment by Pat Kenney — October 3, 2007 #

  7. It used to be so easy to find noodles in Lower Mainland, B.C., Canada. It’s much harder in Arizona!

    Comment by Shiloh Autumn — May 12, 2008 #

  8. Dear writer,

    Where can I find a commercail steamer for steaming 500 kg of fresh noodles?

    Comment by Al — November 6, 2009 #

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