MY XIAN FAMOUS SPICY CUMIN LAMB HAND-SMASHED NOODLES

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ONCE YOU GET THERE, WHATEVER IT TAKES FOR YOU TO GET THERE,

THE REST IS AS EASY AS BIANG

Does this recipe really need introduction?  If you have been enjoying, following, or even just been seduced from afar by the unstoppable uprise of this basement-stall to now 10 flourishing locations throughout New York, you would not be unfamiliar with the signature dish, from Xian Famous Foods.  The spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped (biang biang) noodles.

I have certainly been a fan.  More precisely, I have been enjoy Xian Famous Foods for the past few years, without actually stepping a foot inside any of their 10 locations.  Because I’ve been here, in Beijing, where “Xian famous foods” are not known as the name of a trending chain-restaurants, but in fact, a genre.  Those 4 Chinese characters almost recognized as their “logo”, are actually common here as a phrase that describes the local street foods of the city Xi-An.  Kind of like having a restaurant called “Texas BBQ”, or “Chicago Hotdogs”.  And on top of the usual suspects of cold skin noodles, cumin lamb burger (called “rou-jia-mo”), lamb offal soup… there is of course, the biang biang.

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There is no final consensus on the official character for biang.  It is less of a word, but more of a sound, in this case, referring to the sound of the noodles tapping on the counter as they’re being stretched out.  Their most distinctive characteristics are that they have to be hand-stretched, extra long and wide with assertive thickness, and therefore chewy, elastic and sturdy.  All in all, probably brings you to the inevitable conclusion that – there’s no fucking way I’ll ever pull this off myself.

But, you’re wrong.  This is actually, the easiest noodle-dough I’ve ever attempted.  The catch is, manipulating the right type of flour into the right consistency.

In a perfect world, aim for Chinese dumpling flour, usually available in Asian supermarkets, with a protein/gluten-level at around 10%.  It is an extra-fine ground flour with good water-absorbency, and thus ideal for producing a very smooth and elastic dough.  In an imperfect and desperate world, try substituting with Italian tipo 00 flour (I have actually tried with my tipo 00 without success, but you might have a more competent variety), but pay attention to the protein/gluten-level.  “Tipo 00” is an indication that the flour is an extra-fine ground, but it doesn’t tell you how much protein is in the flour to form gluten, so you might have to read the label to find out.   My suggestion?  Hunt down a dumpling flour.

Then once you have the right flour, it’s about mercilessly manipulating it into a blob of super pliable, stretchy, and borderline-stringy dough that will make the rest of the job, a walk in the park.  Forget hand-kneading.  Unless you have the arm-strength of Hulk and practice dough-kneading as a competitive sport, forget it.  To deliver the dough into a substance that practically stretches itself and beyond, you’ll need mechanical help.  Believe me, I’ve been there, 20 minutes in, and I was left with a stiff neck and a dough that was still slightly grainy and breaks like a teenager under pressure.  But with an electric mixer (or my hand-held mixer with dough-hooks), all it took was 5~6 min of brutal kneading, and I had a dough that curled like a gentle snake when it was pulled up and dropped down.  Once you get there, whatever it takes for you to get there, the rest is as easy as biang.

Because this dough wants to stretch.  It will stretch.  It stretches even without you trying.  Different from the usual practice of using flour to prevent sticking, this noodle uses oil (therefore it will stick to each other)(and therefore is best made to order).  Once you cut the dough into long rectangles, simply smack/smash/pound/bang (whatever verb you prefer) it down to a flat and wide strip, then lift it up from both ends and tap it against the counter as it stretches (biang… biang… biang…).  If your dough is right, if your dough is there, this will happen as naturally as an ice-cream will melt in your hands.  The only detail I omit, is the hand-ripping part.  How NY’s Xian Famous Foods does it, is that they rip the strip down the middle into two strands of noodles.  From what I’ve observed in Beijing, that is not how it’s necessarily done.  It will take a bit more skill, lead to possible failures and discouragements, and honestly, I don’t see how it enhances the texture of the noodles (it creates ruffles on the edges that are usually too soggy).  So there, I said you don’t actually need it.  But what you will need, is the worthy delivery to honor your work.

Succulent lambs and cumin, lots and lots of cumin, no news there, is gonna taste real good.  But what pushes this dish over the edge, is the ass-kicking spiciness from fresh red chilis, dried chili flakes and ground cayenne.  Together with minced garlic, grated ginger, onions, ground coriander, ground sichuan peppercorns, fresh herbs and seasonings, it makes a dark, oily and intense sauce that will coat every slippery surface of those wide and chewy, hand-smashed noodles.  Then don’t you dare, don’t you dare not serving it with the ultimate chili oil that will change everything you think you know about pain and pleasure.  Drown it!  Drown it then down it!  And don’t bother wiping your face because the next thing you know, it’s dug into the plate as you lick it clean.

Don’t thank me.  Because the next time I see you, with swollen lips and a drop of sweat down your flushed cheeks, I’ll see through the dazedness of your eyes, and silently there is, satisfaction.  And we’ll both know.   You’re welcome.

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Serves: 2

OK, I know what you’re thinking, like this is the longest ingredient-list you’ve ever seen, and so, forget this shit.  NO, don’t!  You see, that’s the thing with a mixture of spices.  It tends to stretch out into the realm of intimidation, but really, it’s just a mixture of things you add all at once!  Not to mention, a lot of them being repetitive in the recipe (the marinate and the seasonings have a lot of overlaps).  To demonstrate that it really is a lot simpler than it looks, I’m doing something I’ve never done before in recipe-writing, which is that I organized the ingredients in groups, in the order they will be implemented.  So this way, the instruction will read a lot simpler, and you’ll realize that it’s not complicated.

Then, in terms of flours.  I’m using a wheat flour in China called “dumpling flour”, which is very fine ground and contains a bit more protein (forms more gluten) than American all-purpose flour.  To substitute it if unavailable, I would say try Italian tip 00 flour with proten/gluten-level at 10% (my tipo 00 didn’t work out but yours might).  Which brings me to something that I can’t stress enough: MEASURE BY WEIGHT.  1 1/2 cup of this dumpling flour measured 218 grams instead of 187 grams from online-conversion for all-purpose!  You can see how big of a difference that is!  So please.

The recipe is for 2 servings, and I would not try to cook more than 2 servings at once, or you’ll end up with a bulk of mess all stuck together in your skillet.

UPDATE 2014/03/05:  If you absolutely must hand-knead, try kneading vigorously for 10 min, then let the dough rest for 2 hours, then knead again for another 10 min, then let rest again for another 1 hour before cutting.  The time allows the dough to develop the extra gluten that it needs.

UPDATE 2015/8/20:  I’ve removed “Italian tip 00” from the list of suggested flours because I discovered that the protein content in Italian tip 00 is actually/typically much lower than dumpling flour or bread flour.


MY XIAN FAMOUS SPICY LAMB AND HAND-SMASHED NOODLE:

LAMB AND SEASONINGS:

  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
  • 8.1 oz (230 grams) lamb, sliced
  • Marinates:
    • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 tsp coarsely ground cumin (from above)
    • 1 tsp corn starch
    • 1/2 tsp extra dark soy sauce (for color)
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
    • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
    • 1/8 tsp ground sichuan peppercorn
  • Seasoning A:
    • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
    • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • Seasoning B:
    • 4 tbsp canola oil
    • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 2 tsp grated ginger
    • 1 large Asian red chili, diced (not spicy)
    • 1 1/2 tbsp coarsely ground cumin (from above)
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cayenne
    • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
    • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    • 1/8 tsp ground sichuan peppercorn
  • Seasoning C:
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp rice wine, or sake
    • 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
    • 1/4 tsp light brown sugar
    • 1/4 tsp MSG
    • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Seasoning D:
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • Serve with the best chili oil ever

HAND-SMASHED NOODLE: (strongly recommend measuring by weight)

  • 218 grams (1 1/2 cup) Chinese dumpling flour, or bread flour
  • 2 grams (1/4 tsp) salt
  • 126 grams (1/2 cup) water + 15 grams (1 tbsp) for adjustment

Toast the cumin seeds on a skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they start to pop and smell fragrant.  Immediately transfer to a stone-mortar or spice-grinder before they burn.  Grind them into a consistency that resembles coarsely ground black pepper, then set aside.

TO PREPARE THE LAMB AND SEASONINGS:  Scatter lamb-slices flat on a chopping board in 1 single layer, then “tap” them all over with a sharp knife, aiming at scoring/tenderizing the meat without cutting through.  Do this thoroughly.  It allows the marinate to penetrate, and gives the lamb a more interesting texture.  Then mix the lamb with the “marinates”, using your hands to really distribute the seasonings evenly.  Let marinate for at least 2 hours.

In 4 separate bowls, combine all the ingredients in each individual “Seasoning A”, “Seasoning B”, “Seasoning C” and “Seasoning D”.  Set aside.

TO MAKE THE HAND-SMASHED NOODLE:  In a stand-mixer bowl (or with a hand-held mixer if it comes with dough-hooks)(hand-kneading not recommended), add  Chinese dumpling flour, salt and water.  Start mixing on low then gradually increase the speed to high, and knead for 5 ~ 6 min.  The dough will feel shaggy and a bit dry in the beginning, but as the flour absorbs water and glutens start to form, it will become extremely smooth and elastic at the end.  It will be sticky but pulls away cleanly from the bowl during mixing.  You should be able to “tap” the dough quickly with your finger without it sticking, and pull it slowly upward into 12″ (30 cm) long without breaking.  If the dough breaks, either it’s not kneaded sufficiently or it’s too dry.  You’ll have to try both ways (try kneading it for another 3 min first, before adding more water) to get it to the correct consistency.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for at least 1 hour.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment, set aside.  Prepare a small cup of canola oil within your reach.  Oil your hands well, then transfer the dough onto an oiled surface.  Roll out into an approximately 1/2″ (1 cm) thick, rectangular shape, then cut into 10  long strips.  Separate and lightly oil each strips so they don’t stick back to each other.  Take 1 strip and lay flat on the counter, then with oiled palm, start smashing/pounding the strip outward into a long, wide and flat noodle.  Don’t worry about evenness or straight edges because it doesn’t matter.  Now pick up the noodle on both ends, lift it and gently tap it on the counter while stretching it out slightly.  You don’t have to try hard.  The noodle WANTS to stretch out and gravity will pretty much do the job for you!  Lay the noodle flat, without any foldings, on the parchment-lined baking-sheet.  Repeat with the rest (lay a new parchment over the top once you run out of space).

Carefully not to make the noodles too thin or they will lose their desired texture (you shouldn’t be able to see through it).

TO COOK:  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile, heat another large deep skillet/wok over high heat.  Mix 2 tbsp of canola oil (not in the ingredient list) into the marinated lamb to lubricate/separate them, then add to the hot skillet as spread out as possible.  Let caramelize for 30 sec without moving, then start sautéing just until they are no longer pink.  Add “Seasoning A” and cook just until it starts to soften, then transfer to a bowl.

Add 4 tbsp of canola oil from “Seasoning B” to the same skillet until hot, then add the rest of “Seasoning B”.  Cook until fragrant without burning the garlic, then add “Seasoning C”.  Turn off the heat while you cook the noodle.  Add the noodles, one by one, into the boiling water.  Cook just until they float to the surface (it will take less than a min), then drain/transfer to the skillet.  Turn the skillet heat back on high, then add the lambs/onion and gently toss everything together.  Finish with “Seasoning D”.

Serve immediately with chili oil, and I’d like to sprinkle a bit more ground cumin on top.

  
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66 Comments

  • Hi Mandy!
    In reality, tipo 00 doesn’t mean that it’s fine ground.. it means that it’s ultra-refined, the most refined flour you can find in Italy. I mean, the one that has the smallest amount of brand in it. After that there are tipo 0, then tipo 1, tipo 2 and wholemeal. Usually you can find easily tipo 00, tipo 0 and wholemeal, but I have never seen the others in a supermarket.

        • mh, good question. For high-gluten I usually use manitoba flour… but I think that it has 14% proteins. One has also to remember that not all proteins are gluten-forming ones, though. I guess that tipo 0, tipo 1 and tipo 2 may have more proteins if compared to a tipo 00, but I have never tested. It should be so, though, because they keep more bran. I should check.
          Speaking about fineness, I think that our wheat flours are all fine! Also, when I was in Austria I got surprised because I could find the same flour both fine and grittier, with the same consistency of rice flour, let’s say. That’s why I guess we only have fine flours… speaking about wheat flours, of course. Except for semola di grano duro, of course, but that’s another thing.

          • I totally agree. In Italy, Austria and Germany (even though it’s so close) we have different types/labels of flour. It’s crazy that this is still such a regional thing. In Austria it’s hard to find the Italian Typo 00 and I heard that there are different flours of typo 00 (for pasta, for pizza,…) which makes quite a difference. Not to mention: No one in Europe knows what bread flour or all purpose flour is – because we don’t have these terms.

  • OMG. This is.. amazing! I’m speechless!!! I LOVE xi an hand smashed noodles. There’s a little hole in the wall place in Boston, but it’s only open until 6 pm on the weekdays and closed on the weekends! It’s rare that I can dash over before it closes, as I work during the week. Now, Mandy, you’ve given me the chance to make it at home. Thanks :)

    • Are you talking about Gene’s Chinese Flatbread in Chinatown? There’s one that’s open in Woburn too, (far from downtown Boston, but much closer than Chelmsford, where it used to be!) and it’s open later and on the weekends as well. =)

  • Hi Mandy great looking post…Im wondering if you might be able to provide a link to an online source for the dumpling flour that is available in the USA.. I have looked around but I am not exactly sure what Im looking for. Thanks I cant wait to try this it looks incredible…

  • Thanks so much for the recipe. I am a huge fan of wide, chewy noodles like this. I fell totally in love with the hand pulled noodles when I was in Xian. Btw: bread flour is a good substitute for dumpling flour, it’s very elastic and streches easily ;-)

    • (I can’t reply anymore to your comment above, so I reply here :-P)
      Yes, I can remember thinking wtf?? when I saw written “doppelgriffig” on a flour bag :-D
      Now I need a lecture on German flours… Going in Germany in a few days :-/ I have to start again from the beginning!!!

      • Haha. I thought the same. They even have different terms in all German speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). “Doppelgriffig” is very coarsely ground flour and used for example for cheese spaetzle. Good luck!

  • Nominated your blog for the 2015 Blog Awards- I was a bit flummoxed about the category to choose and decided to go with ‘Best New Voice’. All the best! Knock ’em dead!

  • Questions: How about pastry flour? Would that work? Also are you familiar with southern slippery dumplings. Sort of a really thick noodle. Is that similar to your noodles? I imagine your being more on the dense and chewy side. Finally, your pack of flour – does it say “Chinese Dumpling Flour” on it? I sometimes make a run to the international grocery and might try to find it there.

    Thanks!

    • Sal, pastry flour sounds low gluten? Like cake flour? Definitely not cake flour because it won’t have enough gluten. Yes my flour says “Dumpling flour” in Chinese, which is “餃子粉”. You can look for these characters if you want to be sure. But if all else fails, try using bread flour as some ppl suggested?

      • Thanks – I will. I saw the post by Dave. I think I am gonna just wing it with the AP. How bad can it be considering? : ) Thank you for the Chinese spelling. Thoughtful and needed sometimes.

  • Hi Mandy,

    We are going to have a cooking party this weekend and make this amazing looking dish with some friends. How do you think the dish would be without MSG. I try really hard to avoid it.

    Maureen

  • I just made this and it was AMAZING. I don’t have a stand mixer so I just found ultrawide fresh wheat noodles at the Chinese grocery store. And I skipped the MSG just added a dash of oyster sauce for extra umami. And I used a heaping spoon of sambal instead of cayenne and Asian chili because they only have red jalapeños here and they are not the same thing. Such an incredible recipe, my tongue is still tingling! Xx

  • I made this last night using Gold Medal all purpose flour in a food processor with the plastic dough blade. I used the suggested weights and am happy to say the noodles came out great…. The dough was super supple and very easy to strech. Be sure to let it rest a couple hours. Am still on the search for dumpling flour!

    • Dave, if you like a chewier texture, try lowering the water ratio a bit. Today I tried these noodles in soup form, and because it’s in hot liquid, the noodles could use a bit more sturdiness.

  • This looks amazing…and I hate the fact that I only found out about Xian Famous Foods recently (right around when I started my prep- read: competition diet) and so it’s been waiting rather impatiently on my “MUST GO TO IMMEDIATELY” list for 2 months now…and still has another month to wait.

    -Kelsey

  • Great recipe! Thanks so much. Love your blog. I made this tonight, and my approach was to roast lamb breast (slathered in sichuan peppercorn and cumin dry rub) which rendered out some of the fat, and made for a great crispy exterior. Intensely flavorful. Secret ingredient was laoganma brand spicy chili crisp hot oil. Yum.

  • Hi Mandy!
    I was so hopeful when I saw the photo, because I am looking for a similar noodle recipe. Sadly I had to realize your consists of wheat. Have you ever made similar noodles with (some sort of) rice flour? They taste fantastic, yet I haven’t found a recipe so far. (any hints highly appreciated)
    Besides I wanted to tell you how much I love your grey plates. Which brand are they and is it possible to get them online?
    Keep up the great work!!!!!!

  • This looks unbelieveably good. I used to think your lu rou fan recipe was the one I most craved, but this is the new champion.

  • Wow these look amazing!! I was just wondering not a major lamb eater, what do you suggest as alternatives (possibly vegetarian options as well??) Thanks

  • Hiya this looks delicious I was wondering what do you think would be a good substitute for the lamb (vegetarian / white meat/fish???). Thanks xx

  • I just made these! Thank you for this superb recipe. Xi’an Famous Foods was my favourite restaurant in New York and I really miss it now that I don’t live there any more. I was delighted by how close this dish tasted to the “original”, especially on a first attempt. To be honest I expected that the noodles were going to fail for me somehow, and I was mentally prepared to eat it with rice instead, but everything worked.

    One note to other amateurs: if you’re using a Magimix with a dough blade to knead – as I did because I don’t own any other type of mixer – you shouldn’t leave it running for anywhere near as long as 5-6 minutes. Just wait until the dough agglomerates into one lump, which takes barely a minute. After that, the dough will start to break down and dry up (I suppose because the Magimix runs so fast and so hot). So I did some extra kneading by hand instead.

  • I made this two days ago and I’m already planning when I can make it again. Holy shit. This was a dish I thought I gave up once we moved away from New York, and now I can make it at home?!
    Life is awesome.

  • Upon seeing this post, I drooled a bit and determined to make it at home. As a longtime lurker, I had never posted my comments before. However after I had my amazing meal by using this recipe, I must tell you this dish brought me back to China! The lamb were so delicious and perfectly marinated thanks to your marinade. Thank you so much for this incredible flavor!

  • Thank you mandy for a wonderful post, i made this the other week and it was DEEEEELISSSSHHH. I couldn’t get enough of it and wish i’d made more. Question – if i’m making in advance, do you think i can lay the noodles out and cover the day before? Or do you think this affects the dough?

    Thanks, as ever – amazing posts, i don’t know how you do it!
    G

    • Grace, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m not sure how you will keep the noodles after they are shaped? I suppose you can keep them laminated between parchmention papers on a sheet-tray, then place inside the frige. But If you want to make the noodles ahead, I would suggest pressing each doughs into flat oval shapes, then rub with oil and stack them with parchment in between, and keep inside air-tight containers. Then do the smashing/pulling before cooking.

  • I stir fried the seasoned meat with onion, and both my 5- and 3-year-olds loved it (though they had to drink a lot of milk because it was kinda spicy)!

  • Hi! Love this recipe and can’t wait to try it. Wondering if I can make the noodles and refrigerate them on the sheet as well as the lamb (separately, of course), and add them together the next day or two? Thanks!

    • KG, I haven’t tried doing that before but if you lay the noodles flat, not touching each other, then stack them with parchment paper in between each layer, then plastic wrap, then refrigerate, then I think it should be fine. The lambs definitely can be made before hand. Or better yet, marinate it the day before and cook it before serving.

  • hi mandy… when i was small, my mum used to make noodles with “cabbage” flour, probably around 10-12% protein. bread flour may be to elastic and it tends to spring back. if you leave the dough for 30 minutues (or longer) to let the gluten to develop, less time and effort is needed for kneading.

  • I made this finally after staring at the recipe for a year, and it was absolutely amazingly incredibly good. If this is helpful for others – I live in the US and used Gold Medal bread flour. I kneaded the dough in a stand mixer for ~15 minutes and was nervous when it never became completely stretchable as described in the recipe. However, after the dough rested for an hour it became very stretchable and easy to work with. I thought this made an enormous amount of food for two servings – it could easily feed three, I think.

  • Hey, I really like the plates that you served this dish on. Any info on where they’re from? Thanks!

  • Thank you so much! I just stumbled upon your blog while I was looking for a cumin spiced noodle recipe. I have just come back from Vancouver and happen to have all the spices. My son and I always have the noodles at Peaceful restaurant along with the scallion pancake wrapped beef….so you know I’ll be checking to see if you have that! Anyway, gotta go back for bowl number two, my lips are tingling. Looking forward to reading more. Thx
    Sharon

  • Oh wow- Finally made this and it was everything I had hoped. I was making it for the whole family so I thinly sliced an entire leg of lamb and quadrupled the recipe. Everything came out perfectly and it was easier than I thought. Really fantastic flavors all playing harmoniously together. I made the noodles with King Arthur bread flour and they were very easy to mix and shape. They were sturdy and soaked up all the luscious juices in the pan with the lamb. What a wonder of a recipe! Thank you.

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