Monday, July 8, 2013

Birthday noodles from Mr. Yi

The story is that the calligrapher Yī Bĭngshòu 伊秉綬 was stationed in as a bureaucrat in Guangdong when he had guests over for dinner. That night a Cantonese classic was created as a result of things suddenly going wrong... 

His cook was in such a hurry that he dumped some cooked noodles into a pot of boiling oil; there was nothing the cook could do about his error, so he simply some seasoned poured broth over the fried noodles before serving them. Much to everyone’s surprise the guests were enraptured  by this dish, and before long this became known as “noodles from the Yi residence,” or Yifu mian.

Easy to prepare ahead of time, all that is needed is a last minute whirl in hot stock. They are so time-saving that these are now credited as being the precursor to today’s instant noodles.

The only problem is finding good Yifu noodles, even in a busy Chinese supermarket. The good news is that all that is required is a simple egg dough, which can be cut as thick or thin as you like. I prefer ones that are about ¼-inch wide—sort of like fettuccini—which turn into nice, chewy strands in the final dish.

From fettuccine to...
These are then fried in a couple of inches of oil until they puff up and are more than double in size, so you end up with what looks like a mountain of pasta. These can be packed into resealable plastic bags and stored in the fridge for whenever you need a fast dinner.

These also make a terrific bowl of birthday noodles. In China, the traditional celebratory dish is not cake and ice cream, but rather soup noodles with an egg on top. The egg symbolizes birth, and the noodles (which should be thin and as long as possible) signify longevity, with the width representing long life (shòu) because it sounds the same as the character for thin (shòu ).

Yifu noodles
Yīfŭ miàn 伊府麵
Serves 8 (recipe can be cut in half)

4 large eggs
7 tablespoons warm filtered water
4 cups regular Korean or Chinese flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling out the dough
Boiling water as needed
2 cups oil for frying
... a Cantonese masterpiece

8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
10 to 12 ounces firm, white-fleshed fish
¼ cup rice wine
1 pound yellow chives
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
¼ cup finely shredded fresh ginger

6 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided into 4 cups and 2 cups
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce, divided in half
¼ cup rice wine, divided in half
2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided in half
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided in half
2 tablespoons sugar, divided in half
2 tablespoons black vinegar, divided in half

¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Boiled noodles
1. Lightly beat the eggs in a large work bowl and add the water, then use chopsticks to mix in the flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it until smooth. Cut it into 4 even pieces, cover the dough with a damp cloth, and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

2. Working on one piece of dough at a time, roll a piece out into a squarish shape that is around 9 by 12 inches. Dust the dough thoroughly with flour and roll it loosely up. Then use a sharp knife to cut the roll into pieces about an eighth of an inch wide. Unroll the pieces, toss them with more flour so that the noodles do not stick to each other, and cover with a towel. Repeat with the rest of the dough until all of it has been turned into noodles.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and have ready 2 colanders, a large work bowl, chopsticks, and a Chinese spider or slotted spoon; place both colanders in the sink. Shake a large handful of the raw noodles to separate them and knock off most of the flour before adding them to the boiling water. Stir the noodles continuously to keep them from sticking to each other, and as soon as the water is about to boil again, use your chopsticks and spider to remove them to the large work bowl. Dump the noodles into a colander set in the sink and run cold tap water over the noodles to cool them down, and then toss them into the other colander to drain completely. Repeat with the rest of the noodles until all have been cooked, cooled, and drained. Shake the colander a couple of times to remove as much water as possible.

4. Place a large platter next to the stove, cover it with a clean paper bag or paper towels, and have chopsticks and a Chinese spider ready. Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high until a chopstick inserted into the oil is immediately covered with lots of bubbles. Fry about a tenth or less of the noodles at a time, as this keeps the oil hot and allows the noodles to fry quickly. Grab a handful of the noodles and lower them gently into the hot oil. Immediately use your chopsticks to stir them around in the hot oil, as they will start to puff up and double in size. Turn them over and continue to fry them until they have hardened, but have not yet browned. Repeat with the rest of the noodles, continuing to fry them in small batches, until all have been fried. The noodles can be cooled off completely and stored in resealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to a week or so.

5. About 30 minutes before serving this dish, prepare the toppings and the stock: cut the shrimp horizontally in half (so that you have 2 large shrimp-shaped pieces per shrimp) and slice the fish into pieces about ¾-inch wide; you can keep the skin on, if you like. Place the shrimp and fish in a small bowl and toss with ¼ cup rice wine. Pick over the yellow chives, removing any withered or slimy leaves, trim off the stem ends, and wash them carefully before draining them, shaking them dry, and then cutting the chives into 1-inch lengths. Heat the wok over medium-high and add the oil; swirl it around and add the ginger. Let the ginger sizzle for a couple of seconds until it smells great, then raise the heat to high and add the drained shrimp and fish. Toss them in the oil for a few minutes until the shrimp is pink and the fish is opaque. Scoop the shrimp and fish out into a medium work bowl, leaving most of the oil in the wok. Return the wok to high heat, add the chives, and toss them around until they are barely wilted, then scoop them out on top of the shrimp and fish.

6. Without bothering to rinse out the wok, return it to high heat, add 4 cups of stock and half of the soy sauce, rice wine, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and vinegar. Bring this to a full boil and then add all of the fried noodles. Toss the noodles in the stock, and cook them over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until all of the stock has been absorbed. Empty the noodles out onto a rimmed serving platter.

7. Put the remaining 2 cups of stock into the wok along with the remaining soy sauce, rice wine, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and vinegar. Bring this to a boil as well, and then add the shrimp, fish, and chives. Bring this to a boil, taste and adjust seasoning, and then toss in the cilantro. Toss these together and pour over the noodles. Serve immediately.

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