Chengdu Challenge #19: Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken (Ji Si Liang Mian)
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 vinegar, Sichuan 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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mix all the remaining ingredients for the sauce.
- 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.