Chengdu Challenge #19: Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken (Ji Si Liang Mian)

sichuan-cold-noodles

White Cloud in a Perfect Storm~~

Fong Chong’s latest obsession is these Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken. It’s a regretfully boring name for something so singularly, aggressively tasty, so you’ll have to take my word for it—you really want to try this. Cold noodles with chicken totally deserves a more poetic name, like Ants Climbing a Tree, another beloved Sichuan noodle. Something like, perhaps, White Cloud in a Perfect Storm.

Or maybe not. But just don’t let the boring name fool you. Especially since cold noodles with chicken is quick and easy to make if you have a moderately well-stocked Sichuan pantry.

Cold noodles, or liang mian, are actually room temperature and are their own category of treat in Sichuan. Specifically, liang mian are cold wheat noodles, and liang fen are the cold noodles made from rice or various bean and vegetable starches. This just happens to be a fancy version with chicken.

This recipe calls for a couple of things we’ve already made for other recipes on this blog: concocted soy sauce and chili oil with flakes. If you will recall, these are the two ingredients that make up the sauce for dumplings in red oil (Zhong shui jiao). Here they are combined with several other flavor hits, including Zhenjiang vinegarSichuan pepper oil, lots of garlic and Chinese sesame paste.

This is not the ubiquitous Asian sesame noodles (which, in America, are annoyingly often made with peanut butter). The sesame paste is just one of the flavor notes, and not a particularly strong one at that. But it is key, as are all the other ingredients, because they all lend their own special zing to the final WOW.

What makes this sauce indefinably different when you taste it is the concocted soy sauce; its sweetness is mellowed by the other ingredients but its anise-ness is palpably present. Find the recipe for concocted soy sauce here. Use a basic chili oil with flakes or, my favorite, this crispy shallot chili oil. If you don’t have any Sichuan pepper oil, you can use a bit of ground, roasted Sichuan pepper.

Try to use Chinese sesame paste, which is dark and thick (set aside a few minutes for stirring this stuff up when you first open it). Tahini is not a great substitute, but it’s better than peanut butter!

Now for a quick detour to Chengdu, to shop for liang mian and its ingredients:

sesame

First let’s get some freshly pressed sesame oil and sesame paste

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Here is the contraption behind her that is making sesame paste

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Now let’s get some freshly made noodles

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Alternatively, here are some fast-food liang fen and liang mian, selling in a grocery store for about 50 cents

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And this woman is making street-food cold noodles; she carries her kitchen on the back of her bike

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She offers liang mian or liang fen, mixed with bean sprouts, fresh chilies, noodle-like seaweed strands and sauce made to order

It’s a singular treat to eat liang mian on the street in Chengdu, but it’s a dish that can also be approximated pretty well in your home. Here are a few of the ingredients you’ll need for the sauce.

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Sesame paste, Zhenjiang vinegar, homemade chili oil with flakes and concocted soy sauce.

The trick to making cold noodles is to coat them with canola oil after you cook them and spread them out on a sheet pan to dry so they don’t stick together. Not sure the pros would sanction this, but after I take them out of the pot, I rinse them with cool water to stop the cooking process and cool them down, then coat them with oil and spread them out. My Chengdu colleague Rose tells me that she sometimes turns a fan on them when she’s in a hurry.

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Nothing’s worse than a clump of sticky noodles. This fixes that problem nicely.

Then it’s just a matter of mixing everything together. For this version you also need to quick-boil some mung bean sprouts and poach a couple of chicken breasts. (Or use a store-roasted chicken.) The recipe I adapted from Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English has a photo of the dish with the chicken shredded in super-thin shreds. I have neither the skill nor patience for that, so mine are somewhat-thin hand shredded. The garnish can be scallions, cucumber, radish, fresh chilies or any crunchy thing you like.

The more I think about it, the more I like my poetic name for this dish. Liang mian is indeed a perfect storm of flavors.

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Fancy chicken liang mian

Chengdu Challenge #18: Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken (Ji Si Liang Mian)
Author: 
 
Adapted from Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English, published in 2010 by the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (450 grams) dried thin wheat noodles (or equivalent fresh noodles)
  • 4 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 2 chicken breasts (about ¾ pound)
  • 4 to 5 scallions, cut in sections
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, smashed
  • ¼ cup concocted soy sauce (see recipe on The Mala Project or substitute 1 tablespoon Chinese dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons water)
  • ¼ cup Chinese light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup chili oil with flakes
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
  • 2 tablespoons Zhenjiang vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook until al dente, then drain in a colander. Rinse them with cool water and drain well. Mix in enough canola oil to lightly coat the noodles then spread them out on a sheet pan or other clean flat surface to dry.
  2. Bring another large pot of water to a boil and add mung bean sprouts. Boil briefly, just to barely cook them, then remove and drain well.
  3. Add chicken breasts, scallions and ginger to a pan and bring to a boil. Boil for three minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave chicken to finish cooking in the hot water for about 15 minutes. Check for doneness, and remove from water when cooked through. Let chicken breasts cool, then shred thinly.
  4. Mix all the remaining ingredients for the sauce.
  5. Compose the dish in one large bowl or as individual portions in smaller bowls. First mix the noodles and bean sprouts. Then add sauce to your liking. All the noodles should be well-coated with the sauce. Do not add sauce all at once, because you may have more than you need. (Believe me, you will find something to do with the leftover sauce.) Top with the chicken slivers and any garnishes, such as chopped scallions, chopped chilies, cucumber strips, radish strips, etc. Serve at room temperature.

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6 Responses

  1. Xianhang Zhang says:

    I’m very particular that my liang mian not have a hint of surface starch. My ideal for liang mian is they they should slip effortlessly past each other with not a hint of friction so I have a particular way of preparing them. I’ll cook the noodle and then wash in cold water until the noodles are cool to touch and the water is clear. I’ll then drain them in a colander and let them sit for 15 minutes. Inevitably, they’ll form a giant clump at this point and I’ll wash them again until the noodles are completely loosened and then drain them again. If need be, I’ll even wash them a 3rd time or until they can sit in the colander for 15 minutes without any stickiness on the outside. Only then will I add just a few drops of sesame oil and oil the noodles.

    When I had liang mian as a kid, I remember being obsessed with adding thin matchsticks of cucumber to the noodles. There was something about the cool crunch of the cucumber contrasting with the noodles that was so good. I kept on adding more and more cucumber each time until eventually it was basically half cucumber, half noodle. My mother ended up making the dish a lot at home because hey, anything that had your kids demanding more vegetables was a win.

    If you can, try and find the finger sized persian or japanese cucumbers vs the larger english cucumbers. They’re far more reminiscent of the cucumbers you find in China and way more delicious.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Glad to know I’m not the only one who rinses them. And I like that you can add whatever you like—such as a ton of cucumber—to these noodles. I’ve also had them with (instead of chicken) crunchy toppings like fried/roasted soybeans, sesame seeds and peanuts and with pickled toppings like yacai or quick pickled vegetables (pao cai). Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Bill says:

    I love a good cold noodle dish! Great pictures of the market too!

  3. Alex Carr says:

    Are the proportions correct here, a half a cup of soy sauce altogether? Or are you suggesting pure light soy sauce as an alternative to the concocted soy sauce? I ask because the proportions here are wildly different than anything else I have seen.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Alex,
      This is a good question, because the recipe does make a lot of sauce. I went back and triple-checked the original recipe in the Sichuan culinary institute’s cookbook. It actually calls for 3.5 ounces EACH of concocted soy sauce, soy sauce and chili oil for 500 grams, or a bit over a pound, of noodles. I reduced the amounts to 2 ounces, or 1/4 cup, each.

      But as I mentioned in the recipe, I do recommend adding the sauce to the noodles a bit at a time, to your liking. You may indeed have some left over. But it keeps well!

      There are as many recipes for cold noodles as there are cooks, and this one is definitely based on soy sauce, while some others are based almost entirely on chili oil.

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