The inaugural issue of Lucky Peach Magazine, the hotly anticipated collaboration between Momofuku’s David Chang and McSweeney’s, is devoted to all things ramen. Included is a recipe for fresh ramen (alkaline) noodles – and it seems so ridiculously easy, either it’s culinary magic or the meanest practical joke ever. The recipe consist of AP flour, a few teaspoons of baked soda (bicarbonate of soda, baked for an hour at 250 degrees, turning it into sodium carbonate – an alkaline salt), and water. That’s it!
After pulsing the ingredients together in a food processor, I kneaded and rested the dough twice as directed. The dough is quite crumbly at first and requires a lot of kneading. And I mean ALOT. So important is this kneading process, that a Chinese person would not say ”I made” these noodles, but rather “I kneaded” them. This is perhaps why, unlike Italians, there is really no tradition for making noodles in a Chinese home, the work is simply too demanding.
The dough was thinned through an Italian hand cranked pasta machine, and cut the dough on the finest setting.
The smell of the cut noodles immediately takes me back to the days when there were still fresh noodle shops in Chinatown (one of which also did a side business in fortune cookies). I can’t really describe the smell –a sort of toasted wheat. It’s a scent I have not encountered since my childhood.
The noodles are boiled in plenty of unsalted water and here’s where recipe gets a little fuzzy. In my mind the noodles MUST be rinsed under cold water. As much as an Italian home cook never rinses pasta, a Chinese cook always does so – a Chinese cooking term called “running through the cold river”. This clears the noodles of any excess starch and sets the noodle for maximum chew and snap.
Keeping with the David Chang theme, I dressed noodles in a combination of his spicy Korean garlic chilli sauce and scallion ginger oil. It was completely delicious – everything you could hope for in a ramen noodle – buoyant and slick on the tongue with great clean flavours. Next time I’ll set the cooked noodles into some Chinese BBQ duck scented miso broth.
Harold McGee who originally put together the original recipe for the NYT, explains the science behind it all on his awesome website the Curious Cook. The alkaline conditions tighten the gluten bonds of the dough, creating the snappy chew and resiliency that Asian noodle lovers adore. At the same time, the noodles become a golden yellow, and taste eggier – despite the complete lack of eggs! It is culinary magic!