Maybe you’ve experienced the frustration of cooking pad thai, only for the noodles to turn out soggy and clumpy. Or perhaps you’ve attempted to make pad see ew with fresh rice noodles, only to end up with broken bits. And let’s not even get started on the overwhelming variety of noodle options at the Asian supermarket. Sound familiar?
In this article, I’ll provide you with all the essential information about different types of rice noodles used in Thai cooking. Moreover, I’ll share expert tips on how to cook them perfectly every time, without any mush or clumps.
But first, what are rice noodles anyway?
Dried rice noodles and fresh rice noodles are made from rice flour and water. However, fresh rice noodles also contain additional starches and additives to enhance their durability and shelf life.
Unlike pasta or wheat noodles, rice noodles are gluten-free and have a tender texture. This tenderness makes them a bit more challenging to work with, as they can quickly go from cooked to mushy. So, forget about aiming for al dente with rice noodles; we’re looking for perfectly cooked noodles.
Different Types of Rice Noodles:
Despite the wide array of options available, rice noodles can be divided into two main categories: fresh and dry.
Note: Glass noodles, bean threads, and cellophane noodles are often mistakenly considered rice noodles. The Thai/Chinese versions are actually made from mung bean starch, while the Korean ones are made from sweet potato starch.
Cooked fresh rice noodles (ho fun): These tender noodles with a slight chewiness are highly popular in dishes like pad see ew. Also known as “ho fun” in Cantonese, they are primarily made from rice flour but may have other starches like tapioca mixed in.
Fresh rice noodles are ready-to-eat products that can be tossed with seasonings, meat, and veggies. They are perishable and vary in size and texture from one city to another. You can even try making your own fresh rice noodles at home!
Choosing the Right Noodles for the Job
When it comes to noodle soups, opt for smaller rice noodles like vermicelli or medium-sized ones. Since rice noodles don’t have much flavor on their own, the broth is where the flavor comes from. Smaller noodles offer more surface area for the broth to cling to, resulting in a better balance of noodles and broth.
Fresh wide noodles (ho fun) can also work in soups, as they are more tender and less dense than their dried counterparts. In Thailand, you’ll find two types of fresh wide noodles: one for soups, which is thinner and delicate, and one for stir-fries, which is thicker and sturdier to prevent breaking in the wok.
How to Cook Rice Noodles without Making Them Soggy, Clumpy, or Broken.
Cooking rice noodles isn’t difficult, but many people misunderstand how to handle them properly. The number one mistake that leads to soggy stir-fries is precooking the noodles before adding them to the pan.
When stir-frying rice noodles, the abundance of sauce, meat, and veggies releases moisture. Rice noodles are quick to overcook, so if you add them to the pan already cooked, they will likely become overcooked by the end of the process.
Here are some essential tips to cook rice noodles perfectly:
1. Do not boil dried noodles. Soak them.
Instead of boiling dried noodles, soak them until they are fully rehydrated before stir-frying or blanching for noodle soups. Soaking allows the noodles to hydrate evenly, and the heat from the pan will cook them using the water already absorbed. This ensures even cooking and minimizes the chance of overcooking.
2. For stir-fries, add soaked noodles directly into the pan.
Once the noodles are soaked, they are ready to be added to the pan. Depending on the amount of liquid in the sauce, the pan’s heat, and other factors, you may need to add a little extra liquid. Follow a trusted recipe to ensure the right amount of liquid for the dish. If unsure, start with less water and add more as needed.
3. Push, flip, and toss. Don’t stir.
To prevent breaking delicate rice noodles, such as freshly cooked ones, avoid using a spatula to stir them haphazardly. Instead, use a flipping motion or push the noodles from the edges inward. By doing so, you maintain the integrity of the noodles and avoid cutting them into smaller pieces.
4. Use a wooden spatula.
Metal wok spatulas can inadvertently chop your noodles, so opt for a wooden spatula that won’t damage them.
5. Use a nonstick pan or a well-seasoned wok.
To prevent sticking, especially with fresh rice noodles, use a nonstick pan or a well-seasoned wok. Scraping noodles off a sticky surface can lead to breakage.
6. Don’t overcrowd the pan.
Crowding the pan with too many noodles is a common mistake that results in soggy and mushy noodles. Overcrowding traps moisture, causing the noodles to steam and overcook. To avoid this, cook pad thai in small batches, and delicate fresh noodles should be cooked one portion at a time. Street vendors often cook noodles individually for a reason!
Additionally, always use high heat when stir-frying noodles to maximize liquid evaporation and prevent excess moisture in the pan.
7. For soups, blanch soaked noodles briefly.
For noodles in soups, blanch the soaked noodles in boiling water for just a few seconds. This ensures that they remain slightly al dente, as the heat of the broth will finish cooking them. The cooking time will vary depending on the noodle size and brand.
To take your rice noodle cooking to the next level, here are some pro tips:
- Experiment with different types of rice noodles to discover your preferences.
- Adjust the amount of liquid in stir-fries based on your desired consistency and personal taste.
- Watch video tutorials to master the flipping motion and other techniques for handling rice noodles.
- Enjoy the process of cooking and exploring new noodle recipes.
Remember, cooking rice noodles perfectly requires practice and patience. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to achieve delicious and well-cooked rice noodles every time. So, why not spice up your next homemade Thai dish with perfectly cooked noodles?
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