Noodle obsessions? I’ve had a few, from carbonara and cacio e pepe to sesame and soba. But nothing gets me quite as slurpy as liáng pí (cold skin noodles), which I first tried at the original Xi’an Famous Foods in Flushing, Queens. I loved everything about the dish: the spring-back texture of the noodles, the slick green veggies, the loofah-like wheat gluten sponging up the sauce. And that sauce! Red and oily, hot and numbing, vinegary enough to make those veggies think they were in a salad.
I’ve found a pretty good version at Shan Shaan Taste in Chinatown’s Richland Center. But once I realized I could make a facsimile of the sauce by goosing my favorite condiment — spicy chile crisp — I began trying to re-create liáng pí at home, with a little help from the Xi’an Famous Foods cookbook.
Finding the noodle itself isn’t easy. The thing is, liáng pí must be fresh: The starch is washed from a ball of dough, which is then flattened and steamed like a thin crêpe, ready to cut into ribbons. What remains is a clump of gluten to cube. I couldn’t get fresh liáng pí at 88 Marketplace, the well-stocked new Chinese market in Bridgeport, so I went home with a variety of substitutes. The springy sweet potato pappardelle recommended by the market staff were a passable substitute, but in the end the dried dao xiao mian (knife-cut noodles) were more to my tensile taste. For the wheat gluten, the packaged version I found ended up like sodden hardtack, so I took advice from the Woks of Life blog and subbed in fried tofu puffs (the Phoenix Bean brand is fantastic). But if the noodles require creative thinking, the dressing is as easy as it gets. As I tossed it all together with a final splash of vinegar and watched the chile oil stain the noodles, I was back in Queens.
John Kessler’s “Almost Liáng Pí” Noodles
(makes 4 servings)
In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup spicy chile crisp (available at H Mart), 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar, 1 crushed garlic clove, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 4 cups dao xiao mian noodles (available at 88 Marketplace), following package instructions. Add 2 cups bean sprouts to the water for the last 30 seconds, then drain noodles and sprouts and cool under cold running water. Cut 6 fried tofu puffs (available at H Mart) into thirds, and peel and julienne 1 cucumber. Coarsely chop a half bunch of cilantro (include some stems). Toss everything together in a large bowl, then adjust the flavors to your liking with salt, sugar, black vinegar, and light soy sauce.