Gluten free, noddles, pastas, wrappers and buns

Most of the pasta that we know are commonly made with wheat or durum flour. Their making is mainly made possible by the presence of gluten in the dough.

Since 7000 years Asians have been making pasta without the holding properties of gluten, only using starch and water. They’ve, also, been making wrappers and steamed bun dumplings in the same way. But, how do they do it?

Starch noodles are usually made of pure starch from mung beans or sweet potato in China or rice in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Korea. The first step, for this type of noodles making, is to cook a small amount of pure dry starch with water to make a sticky paste that will bind the rest of the starch into a cohesive dough. Then the paste is mixed with the rest of the starch and more water to form a dough with a 35 to 45% moisture content. This dough is pressed through small holes, in a metal plate, to form the noodles.
They are immediately boiled to gelate all the starch and form a continuous network of starch molecules throughout. Then, they are drained and held at the ambient temperature for 12 to 48 hours before being air dried. During this holding period, the starch molecules will fall into a more orderly arrangement or retrograde*. The dry noodles are, therefore, firm and strong. Never the less, not all of the starch molecule will retrograde, allowing the noodles to absorb hot liquid and swell and become tender without the need for an active cooking.
Starch noodles are translucent because they are a uniform mixture of starch and water with no particles of protein or intact starch granules to scatter the light.

Rice noodles are made by soaking some high starch content rice in water, grinding it into a paste and cooking it for a short period of time only (to avoid the complete gelation* of the starch). This paste is, then knead to form a dough. It is then extruded through the small holes of a metal plate to form the noddles.
Here again, the noodles are cooked (by steaming) immediately to gelate the starch throughout, cooled and held for 12 hours at the ambient temperature to allow the retrogradation process. Finally, they are air-dried, excepted for the Chinese Chow fun type of noodles.
Because rice noodles contain some protein and cell-wall particles, inherited from the grain of rice, that scatter the light ; they are opaque rather than translucent.
Asian noodles come under various names depending on their origins. There are few of them : in China, lai fen or chow fun ; in Vietnam, banh pho ; Thailand, kway teow and in Japan, harusame which means “spring rain” ; a lovely name don’t you think?

Rice paper or Banh trang in Vietnamese, are thin paper like that are used as wrappers for the making of Nem ra or Cha gio. They are traditionally made by soaking and grinding rice, soaking it again, pounding it into a paste and spreading it into a thin layer, steaming it and then, drying it.
Rice papers are re-hydrated briefly in luke-warm water, then used immediately as wrappers that can be eaten either fresh or fried.

Bun dumpling is an Asian speciality that mainly comes from the Chinese traditional cooking. It is, also, made with rice or rice flour. Rice based bun dumplings are made by soaking, cooking and pounding sticky rice to form a paste that will be used the same day.
Then rice flour based buns are made by using sticky rice flour mixed with a little water. Then knead into a dough of soft consistency (it would remind you the texture of cake icing), and used quite quickly as it would dry out within the hour.
Such dough are used as a recipient for a meat or fruit stuffing, then fried or steamed. They can also be mixed with various spices such as aniseed or red bean paste then wrapped in lotus leaf to be steamed.

* Starch gelation and retrogradationprocess occurs when a starchy cereal is cooked. Under a microscope starch looks like compact and organized long chains of granules called amilopectine. When starch is cooked in a wet environment, water penetrates the granules and separates the chains from each other. At same time, the granules will swell and soften. This is the gelation process.
When the cooked cereal cools down, the starch chains slowly re-bond to each other in tighter, more organized associations, and the granules becomes firmer and harder. This is the retrogradation process.
There is quite easy experience to demonstrate this processes : mix some flour with some water you will get a “glue” kind of paste called a gel. Then, cook it. It will take a different shape and texture, it becomes thicker. Then, let it cool down, the mix becomes hard.
The same process happens when you bake a cake.