Ella Walker makes noodles over Zoom, with food writer and cookbook author Pippa Middlehurst.

There are far, far more variations of soy sauce than the average supermarket would have you believe. Your local newsagent will likely be better supplied, beaten only by the Technicolour cornucopia of your nearest Chinese supermarket.

I spend a good 20 minutes in mine - mask on, fishmonger at the entrance rattling through orders, intricately designed packets of instant noodles in towers where walls would be - just reading hundreds of soy sauce bottle labels, the umami of them pulsing from behind the glass.

It's tough not to scoop the lot into a basket and take it all home - which is likely what Pippa Middlehurst would do. "If I go to a Chinese supermarket now and I see an ingredient I don't have in my pantry, I want it, and I want to know what to do with it, and I want to know how it tastes," explains the Manchester-based food writer, and author of new cookbook, Dumplings And Noodles.

A paean to its namesakes, if you're brand new to pleating your own gyoza, and making bao, biang biang noodles and ramen, the book will have you escaping the limited condiments aisle in Tesco and Sainsbury's, and tracking down ingredients like Chinkiang black vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine, dried shrimps, shiro miso paste and doubanjiang (broad bean chilli sauce).

And once you've loaded up on those, Middlehurst will then have you making huge vats of your own chilli oil - hers is spiked with cardamom, fennel and ginger.

On Zoom, Middlehurst's tied up the corkscrew curls you'd recognise from her stint on Britain's Best Home Cook, which she won in 2018. A cancer research scientist, she's currently focusing on food full-time, writing recipes, running cookery classes, and is set to open a culinary community space, called Noodlehaus, this autumn.

She makes the idea of throwing a bowl of noodles together for lunch seem not only achievable, but wholly sensible. We make her charred broccoli soba - aka hangover noodles (please note, neither of us were hungover, but I can totally see that these would pretty swiftly rectify a hangover) - with a crispy fried egg on top (for adequate crispiness, Middlehurst says a wok is a must - and yes, you would be forgiven for looking at her Instagram page @pippyeats, and thinking she has a fried egg with everything).

Separately but together, we char branches of tenderstem broccoli, frazzle garlic and chilli in a pan, and douse soba noodles in soy sauce and Chinkiang black vinegar. The fried egg oozes yellow-yolk over pink-edged radish slices and angular slivers of spring onion.

While for quick meals, dried noodles are the go-to, in the book, Middlehurst also explains the science of hand pulling noodles and the graft required to make them, which she experienced at noodle school in China where she spent two solid days kneading dough, hour after hour ("I was so tired!").

Middlehurst's interest in Asian cuisines - she includes dishes from China, Japan and Taiwan in Dumplings And Noodles - stems from her granddad's pursuit of excellence. "It wasn't that he loved only Chinese food, but he loved fine things, good things, and he would pride himself on where to find the best restaurants," she remembers. "He smoked a pipe for a few years, but he didn't just smoke tobacco, he smoked organic tobacco; when he had a walking stick, he'd have it made by the best walking stick maker."

He would take Middlehurst and her siblings for dim sum at a restaurant stacked on top of a Chinese supermarket on an industrial estate: "We'd be the only Western family in there. It was really traditional, with Hong Kong dim sum trollies - he just always knew where to find the best of the best."

She found the supermarket as fascinating as the dim sum. "I was just so intrigued by all the ingredients and what they tasted like, and how they were used," she explains. "That giddiness and intrigue has never really left me."

Dumplings And Noodles by Pippa Middlehurst, photography by India Hobson, is published by Quadrille, priced £16.99. Available now.



(Serves 4)

350-400g steak (skirt, flank or sirloin), sliced across the grain into strips about 3mm wide

1tbsp cornflour

1tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

2tsp light soy sauce

15g dried mushrooms, soaked in 100ml boiling water

3 spring onions

About 400g thick dried wheat noodles

2tbsp neutral oil

3 garlic cloves, finely sliced

400g pak choi, leaves separated

For the seasoning sauce:

2tbsp light soy sauce

2tsp dark soy sauce

4tbsp oyster sauce

2tsp sesame oil

2tsp light brown sugar

A pinch of freshly ground white pepper

For the Sichuan chilli oil (makes 750ml, stores in the fridge for up to 3 months):

750ml neutral oil (such as groundnut or rapeseed/canola)

8cm piece of fresh root ginger (unpeeled), roughly chopped

White part of 1 leek or of 4 spring onions, sliced

1 head garlic, halved widthways

4 star anise

6tbsp Sichuan peppercorns

2tbsp coriander seeds

1 cassia bark stick or cinnamon stick

1 black cardamom pod

1tbsp green cardamom pods

4 bay leaves

2 cloves

1tbsp fennel seeds

100g Sichuan crushed chilli flakes

4tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

1tbsp fine sea salt

1tbsp light soy sauce


1. Make the Sichuan chilli oil: Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan to 85-90°C (185-195°F) and add the ginger, leek or spring onions and the garlic. They should fizz barely in the pan. If they fizz fiercely, turn down the temperature; you don't want them to colour or burn. Once the temperature is adjusted to your liking, add the star anise and three tablespoons of the Sichuan peppercorns, along with the coriander seeds, cassia bark or cinnamon stick, black and green cardamom pods, bay leaves, cloves and fennel seeds. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and leave the oil to infuse for at least one hour, or preferably two hours. Keep an eye on the oil, stirring every now and again and making sure the aromatics are not getting too brown.

2. After the oil has infused, the garlic and ginger will look slightly darkened, but not browned, and a little shrivelled. Let the oil cool slightly before straining out the solid ingredients. Grind the remaining three tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Mix these in a bowl with the Sichuan chilli flakes, then add to the sterilised jar in which you plan to store your oil, along with the toasted sesame seeds.

3. Carefully pour the warm oil over the chilli flakes. The flakes will sizzle, and the oil will turn a deep red. Once the oil has fully cooled, add the salt and soy sauce. Seal the jar with a lid and store in the fridge.

4. Tenderise your beef. Add to a bowl with the cornflour, rice wine and soy sauce, combine well and set aside to marinate while you prepare other elements of the dish.

5. Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning sauce in a shallow bowl or mug. Drain the rehydrated mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Chop the spring onions into 4cm sections, then slice these lengthways to make thin matchsticks.

6. Cook your noodles until al dente or according to the packet and then drain. Do not cook them until soft, as they will continue to cook in the wok. Rinse these with plenty of cold water until they are completely cool (this will prevent them from sticking), then set aside.

7. Heat your wok over a high heat and add one tablespoon of the neutral oil. Add the marinated beef and stir continuously for two to three minutes or until the meat has browned and is crispy looking. Remove the beef from the wok and set aside, then clean the wok.

8. Place the other tablespoon of oil in the wok and set over a high heat. Add the garlic and quickly fry until fragrant (20 seconds), followed by the pak choi and rehydrated mushrooms, cooking for another minute or two. Keep everything moving in the pan to prevent it from burning. Add your cooked noodles, followed by the seasoning sauce and the reserved mushroom rehydration liquid. Return the cooked steak to the pan. Toss everything well and cook for one to two minutes until the sauce is bubbling and slightly reduced. Add the spring onions and toss through. Remove from the heat and serve.