How To Make Hand-Pulled Noodles: Kneading and Pulling

UPDATE February 8, 2009 – I’ve put together a Hand Pulled Noodle webpage with all this info in one place.

I thought about taking a bunch of pictures to show show to actually pull the noodles, but it’s better explained in a video. So I’ve broken the whole ordeal up into two parts. The first deals with how to knead the dough and what to look for to know that it’s time to pull some noodles. The second shows you how to pull the noodles, and how to get the most practice time out of your dough.

Part 1 is here:

You really have to work the dough to get it pullable withing 20 minutes. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you 30 or 40 minutes to get the dough there.

And Part 2 is here:

The pulling technique I show here works really well for small balls of dough. I have yet to pull noodles out of a big piece of dough, but I think it requires the whipping technique you see in so many of the other videos on the web.

Some further notes that I’d like to mention:

1. Once you’ve kneaded the dough to a pullable consistency, it’s do or die. If you decide you’re done practicing, just throw the dough away. I haven’t had good luck with dough I’ve put back into the fridge for next day. To clarify, I’m not saying you get one chance to pull noodles for each batch of dough you make. Just don’t try to pull noodles out of the same batch on two different days, and you’ll be alright. The dough seems to lose just a little bit of stretchiness after it’s been kneaded and then gets put back into the fridge.
2. I once took my dough to a high elevation on and tried to pull it there. I had trouble with it, and even when I brought it back I had trouble. I don’t know anything about dough and elevation, but it seems to have caused issues.
3. Keep at it! It’s not easy to get this right, and it takes a lot of practice. Don’t try to pull noodles from recipe that are greater than 300g until you’re confident in your abilities. Larger dough is quite a bit hard to pull evenly.

Some Cooking notes:

1. The noodles don’t need a lot of boiling time. Maybe 3 to 5 minutes max. The first time I was successful, I had them with a little sesame oil and some Magi sauce (close to soy sauce in flavor). The two recipes I’ve posted have good flavor, but the selling point on hand pulled noodles in the texture. YUM!
2. For summertime, serving the noodles cold is good too. Go to an asian market and get some Somen sauce ( a light soy flavored sauce). Cook your noodles like normal, and rinse them in cold water. Put them in a bowl with a few ice cubes, 70% somen sauce and 30% water. Very refreshing on a hot summer day :)

Best of luck to everyone!

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    15 Comments

    1. Jason & Jodee June 26, 2008 4:27 pm 

      luke that is so cool. it looks like magic to me. when are you going to make a batch for us? we’ll have to try and get together soon.
      maggie

    2. The Expedited Writer July 30, 2008 9:05 pm 

      Hi Luke,

      Thank you for the awesome instructions on how to make la mian. Now I know how they do it and don’t have to cheat with my pasta machine like how I did with my homemade rame! :) I am definitely going to try making my own la mian when I have the time to knead my dough for 30-40 mins on end! Thanks again :D

    3. Sean October 15, 2008 5:32 pm 

      Super bad!
      I have an appointment with dough via your recipe this Sunday. We are on parallel paths. I’ve only got twelve batches under my belt and was basing my recipe proportions on a commercial breakdown. Can’t wait since you’ve apparently cracked a/the formula! I’ve been using that same brand of (Korean) flour.

      Thanks!

    4. Luke Rymarz October 16, 2008 9:08 am 

      @Sean:

      Indeed, I believe I’ve only cracked A formula. I’m particularly puzzled about this magic ingredient you hear about on various other boards: “Kansui”. What puzzles me is that since lye water is relatively close to it in the proposed composition, why doesn’t it make the dough any different?

      Perhaps it’s a Chinese joke to see what people will put into their noodles? Is Kansui the headlight fluid of noodle-making?

    5. pumice stone October 17, 2008 12:34 pm 

      Dear Luke,
      Delighted that you’ve been so persistent and imaginative in figuring out these noodles. Have spent hours watching people make them in various places in Xinjiang, but have never managed to figure them out. In fact in our recent book Beyond the Great Wall, we have a whole essay about how we have failed to figure them out.
      Now we’ll post a link from our website to your great videos. We’re at http://www.immersethrough.com

      It strikes me that if we make a larger dough than the recipe you give, all that kneading work can yield more food. I mean, we can start by making a larger dough, and then divide it in order to do the stretching part of the process. Have you tried making a bigger dough?

      thanks for all your hard work, and the great videos!
      naomi duguid

    6. Luke Rymarz October 20, 2008 9:19 am 

      @Pumice:

      Yup, I’ve made a double batch before. Unfortunately, the larger the dough ball, the more kneading it needs.

      There are some tricks, though, and that’s why you see noodle makers in videos doing the whip-stretch technique instead of kneading it for 30 minutes. Not only does it look cool, but whipping and spiraling the dough give the gluten a really good workout.

      Then again, it’s possible there are things you can put into the dough to relax the gluten more. I’ve heard of powdered gluten relaxers, but have yet to try them. It might be time for some more experiments…

      By the way, I was searching around google.cn and found a video about hand pulled noodles. I posted about it here. I’m still working on getting it translated, but it might have some additional information in it.

    7. Sean November 7, 2008 1:22 pm 

      @Luke,

      I think the kansui is an actual ingredient for the authentic item. There is a la mien wiki that references the alkaline water used to make the noodle in its native area. The liquid alkaline solution that is available is an ingredient for a peanut filled pancake and by the looks of it, gives interesting results for _that_ dish.

      The kansui powder is another matter. I’ve tried at length to find it but to no avail. I believe that it just isn’t imported to this country. It probably would be a big risk to ship an entire freight container not knowing whether a market exists for the product; regardless of what the FDA/USDA would make of it prior to shipping.

      I am going to try to get some university students to help me in my search—-I live near a substantial Chinese population.

      I’ve never heard of headlight fluid. Is that like a left-handed screwdriver or snipe hunt; a trick to mess with the n00bs?

      Regards,

      Sean

    8. Luke Rymarz November 11, 2008 11:19 pm 

      @Sean:

      I think you’re right about the FDA. People putting chemicals in their food is probably something they frown upon, but I need my noodles darnit!

      P.S. I made a recent post here. I discovered a chinese video detailing a hand-pulled noodle dish, and the translation (which I have yet to post) is basically 500g flour, 10g salt, 5g baking soda, which is really close to what my recipe calls for. The best translation I’ve gotten for kneading so far is “After shaping, let sit 15
      minutes before pulling.”

    9. Verent December 28, 2008 6:30 pm 

      Awesome…I think my problem this whole time has been not kneading the dough enough. Thanks to your instructional videos though, I now know that my dough recipe is fine, its just the time i need to put into it. Thanks!

    10. bjorn January 3, 2009 5:36 am 

      Hi Luke

      Thanks so much for the instruction video! I´m going out flour shopping…

      Have you experimented with stocks and soups also? Would love to check.

      Take care

      Bjorn, Norway

    11. Luke Rymarz January 13, 2009 11:13 pm 

      @Bjorn:

      I’ve yet to put any real time into making a solid soup recipe to go with these noodles, so I can’t make any recommendations. I’d love to figure out how to make a nice ramen-like soup, though. mmmm!

    12. Roliewyn February 6, 2009 1:13 am 

      Dear Luke,

      I’ve watched countless videos and have read just as many forums/blogs on noodle making; I stumbled upon your blog and have learned a great deal to get started. I’ve tried for three days now and I think I have the dough pliable enough to pull.

      Problem. It seems my dough is TOO loose that I can’t pull fast enough before it really thins out. If I add more flour, I have to knead it more to the right consistency.

      What success I have, however, is when I work water/oil into the dough as I’m kneading with the whipping (bang on table) technique. Beating it up really expedites the process, and I mean go to town with it, heh… q(^_^)p

      What can I do to maintain that elasticity without the dough thinning TOO much when I pull?

    13. Janet June 18, 2009 9:43 am 

      Dear Luke,

      You are right about kansui: It is not some secret ingredient that is essential for making pulled noodles. It does give the noodles a characteristic texture, flavor, and color, but my current goal is to produce even noodles. For that purpose, baking soda is an adequate substitute. The only secret here is — practice!

      BTW, I tried an experiment with kansui and bread flour (this was before hearing that low-gluten flour was the way to go). I put a lump of dough into a dish of kansui. Thirty minutes later, the dough had absorbed all the kansui and was hard!–as hard and brittle as if it had dried out. Broke instead of stretching.

      Janet

    14. confusybloops July 7, 2009 12:40 pm 

      As for making a noodle soup, my family usually uses chicken stock or beef stock. Basically, fill the bowl halfway with whatever stock you want, add about a teaspoon of soy sauce and another of black vinegar (or however much you want, it's really a matter of taste preference), some MSG (which really isn't bad for you and tastes delicious), salt and sugar. As far as herbs go, I usually put diced green onion in it, cilantro, and garlic. Finally, I add sesame oil (enough to put a thin layer of oil on the top, though less is clearly better for your heart). My family is from the Szechuan province, so we also add chili oil (if you want something spicy), and heated vegetable oil can also work.

    15. Ivy September 1, 2011 2:06 am 

      Excellent clip. *Thumbs up*

      Seeing the discussions about lye water, I thought I can make some clarifications. Lye water is an authentic ingredient in traditional noodle making. Chinese noodles put a lot of emphasis on how “tough” the noodles were and the more “tough” or elastic the noodle is, the better is the noodle considered to be.

      Lye water is used for helping gluten development in the noodle making process. Thus, the more lye water you add, the tougher you will have to knead the dough. The action the lye water does is increasing the pH so that more gluten can form. Such is done to increase the “toughness” of the noodles, which is “desirable” depending to your taste. Chinese chefs often say “Alkaline is the bone of the noodle, while salt is the tendons” – the two gives the noodle its unique texture and their respective amounts has a great impact on the texture of the noodles produced.

      (@Janet it is definitely the wrong way to put the dough in alkaline, baking soda definitely can be a substitute. What traditional Chinese uses is some kind of ash from the remnants of burning certain herbs -> add water = alkaline solution/kansui/lye water)

      Most Chinese recipes also use high-gluten flour in noodle making for the same reason (Usually, it’s about half high gluten flour and half all purpose flour). Typically, the flour mixture used for Chinese noodles has a protein content of approximately 10.5-12%.

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