Springy noodles seasoned with a tangy, spicy, savoury sauce, Liang Pi (Cold skin noodles) is one of the most popular street foods in the north-west of China.
A few days ago, I chatted with my friend Heddi (blogger of Cuisine Helvetica) about childhood snacks. Her memories involve lot of sweet treats, whereas mine are all about savoury food.
I told her that after school I often ran to a little street food stall with my friends and spent my pocket money on a bowl of Liang Pi (凉皮, aka cold skin noodles), a tangy, savoury, cold dish available all year round in my hometown. It was very satisfying! (By the way, I’m organizing Culinary Tours of China in which I will guide you to explore authentic Chinese street food like this dish).
Unusual noodles with springy texture
Although translated as “cold skin noodles” in English, Liang Pi is very different from regular noodles. The mixture of flour and water is steamed into a thin “pancake” then cut into strips. Springy and elastic, Liang Pi has a very unique and appealing texture.
As a popular street food in north-west regions of China, Liang Pi has numerous versions in terms of flour type (wheat or rice), preparation method and sauce. You could easily find two different types of Liang Pi in two neighbouring towns.
Local debates about which one tastes best are endless. For me, they are all scrumptious in their own way and I always enjoy searching for new inspiration on how to prepare it in my own kitchen.
The traditional “dough rinsing” method
The most common type of Liang Pi is made of wheat flour. Traditionally, a very particular method is applied in preparation:
- Make a dough with flour and cold water.
- “Rinse” the dough in plenty of water until it becomes much smaller and the water turns white (saturated with starch). Remove the dough and leave the cloudy water to rest overnight.
- The following day, spoon out the clear water that appears on top then steam the remaining paste little by little in shallow plates. I have to admit that the “rinsing” part is quite labour-intensive!
The simple way: just mix flour and water
However, don’t be intimidated by the “authentic” method! What I share with you is a simpler version which skips the entire dough making and rinsing process.
Mix flour and water then leave to rest. That’s it! The finished texture is almost as good as the traditional Liang Pi (just a little bit less elastic if you like).
Since I started cooking it this way, Liang Pi becomes a regular treat in our Red House and I’m trying to make it part of the “snack memory” of my own children.
Tips on cooking it more efficiently
When the flour and water batter is ready to use, you need to pour it into a shallow tray (a few spoonful at a time) then leave the tray floating on boiling water to steam. To make this procedure less time consuming, I have two tips for you:
- Use a non-stick tray. You only need to coat it with a thin layer of oil for the first sheet of noodle. The following ones won’t stick to the surface (Find out how to choose the right tray in recipe box below).
- Use 2 trays to rotate. A smooth workflow of steaming and cooling will save you half of the time required (More detail on how it works in recipe box below).
Three indispensable ingredients to season
There are many ways to season a bowl of Liang Pi. However, three ingredients are indispensable:
I have written a post on how to make Chinese chilli oil in which I include a comprehensive version and a simple version as well.
Make spiced water to enhance the flavour
In addition, I like the idea of “spiced water (香料水)” which is widely used for Liang Pi in the region where I grew up (the centre of Gansu province in China).
Cook Chinese cinnamon (cassia cinnamon), star-anise, bay leaf, fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn in simmering water for a few minutes then leave to cool. This “spiced water” will give the dish a more sophisticated taste.
I also like garnishing Liang Pi with vegetables (e.g. cucumber, bean sprouts, fresh chilli, etc.) and herbs (e.g. coriander, spring onion, garlic sprout, etc.) to make it healthier and more visually appealing.
Liang Pi: Cold skin noodles (凉皮)
For the noodles
- 300 g all purpose flour, 2 cups
- 700 ml water, 3 cups
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil, for greasing the pans
For the sauce
- 1 piece Chinese cinnamon/cassia cinnamon
- 1 star-anise
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pinch fennel seeds
- 10 Sichuan peppercorns
- 120 ml water, ½ cup
- 1 teaspoon corn starch/potato starch, mixed with 1 teaspoon of water
- 1 pinch salt
- 1-2 tablespoon black rice vinegar
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon Chinese chilli oil, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
You also need:
- cucumber, cut into thin strips or grated
- coriander, chopped
- fresh chilli, chopped (optional)
- sesame seeds
Prepare the batter
- Mix flour, water and salt until smooth. Through a sieve, pour the mixture into a bowl then cover with cling film. Keep refrigerated for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Remove the bowl from the fridge. You will see a layer of clear water on top. Carefully spoon out the water, then stir the batter very well.
Steam the noodles
- Brush a thin layer of oil onto a small, light baking tray / sheet pan (see note 1). Pour in some batter to thinly cover the tray.
- Bring water to a boil in a wok (or a deep frying pan) over a high heat. Gently place the tray on the water to float. Cover with a lid. Cook for around 2 minutes until you see bubbles appear and the noodle is not sticky when touched by hand.
- Remove the tray and float it on cold water (e.g. in a sink) to cool. Peel the noodle off the tray then transfer to a chopping board. Brush a thin layer of oil on its surface. Repeat the procedure to finish the rest of the batter. Lay noodles one on top of another (see note 2).
Make the dressing
- Put Chinese cinnamon, star-anise, bay leaf, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorn and water in a sauce pan. Simmer for 5 minutes then add corn starch and water mixture. Remove from the heat when it becomes a bit thick. When completely cool, discard all the spices then add black rice vinegar and minced garlic.
Assemble the noodles
- Slice the noodles into strips of desired width then put into serving bowls. Garnish with cucumber, coriander, fresh chilli (if using) and sesame seeds. Pour the cooked sauce, Chinese chilli oil and sesame oil on top.
- They should be small enough to fit into your wok (or deep frying pan);
- They should be light enough to float on the water;
- They should not have a loose base (e. g. if you use a quiche tray).
- It’s better to use a non-stick tray. You only need to brush oil once. If your tray does not have a non-stick coating, you will need to brush it with oil each time before you pour in the batter.
Several of my readers have noted that my blog posts made them feel nostalgic. I can definitely relate to that sentiment. But the good news is that many of my childhood (or hometown) related foods can easily be cooked at home. It always gives me great pleasure to share my recipes with you all.
Have a wonderful day!