How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

Different Types of Rice Noodles:

Rice noodles can be easily separated into two main categories, despite the wide variety available at the store: fresh and dry.

Dry rice noodles are made from ground up rice (a.k.a. rice flour) and water. The mixture can be steamed into a big sheet, dried, and cut into “rice sticks,” or they can be extruded into round noodles. To see a Thai rice noodle factory in action, check out my short documentary here!

Similar to the variety of pastas, there are also variations in dry rice noodles:

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

  • Thai Rice vermicelli or Sen Mee in Thai. The tiniest rice noodles, these thread-thin noodles work well in stir-fries and soups like this pad see ew vermicelli. These should not be mistaken with Vietnamese rice vermicelli, which are covered in more detail below.
  • Size small (2 mm wide) or sen lek. These are my favorite Southeast Asian noodle soups, though stir-frying them is also an option, like Vietnamese pho and Thai boat noodles.

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

  • We use medium-sized (3 mm wide) noodles for pad thai; in fact, we refer to them as sen pad thai in Thai. They can also be used in noodle soups.
  • Some use these for pad thai, but the size large (4 mm wide) isn’t really available in Thailand, so it may be for export only. These are best used for stir fries only; they’re too big for noodle soups.

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

  • These extra large (9 mm wide) noodles, also known as sen yai, are designed to be a shelf stable version of the fresh rice noodles (seen at the bottom) that you associate with pad see ew, rad na, and drunken noodles; they are also not available in dried form in Thailand. These are best used in stir fries.
  • Vietnamese rice vermicelli or sen kanom jeen. Though it shares a name with the previous one, this kind of noodle is completely different. Vietnamese rice vermicelli are thick and round, similar to spaghetti. Similar to pasta, they are cooked by boiling them in hot water for a variable amount of time, then rinsing them in cold water to get rid of extra starch. Though they aren’t served hot like other foods, you can still make a lot of different dishes with them, like cold rice noodle salad, a nutritious lettuce wrap, or kanom jeen, which is essentially Thai pasta!

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

*It’s common misconception that glass noodles, bean threads, or cellophane noodles are a kind of rice noodles. Actually, the Korean ones are made of sweet potato starch, while the Thai/Chinese ones are made of mung bean starch.

Asian grocery stores usually have fresh rice noodles in the refrigerator area, usually next to all the tofu. There are two main types:

These are the soft, somewhat chewy noodles that have become cult favorites in meals like pad see ew. In Cantonese these are called “ho fun”. Although tapioca starch or rice flour are frequently added, rice flour is the primary ingredient in these.

All you need to do is toss this freshly cooked and fully cooked product with some seasoning, meat, and vegetables. Because they are typically made locally due to their high perishability, the size and texture will differ greatly between cities.

Check out my video tutorial to make your own fresh rice noodles if you want to make these at home!

Preparing Fresh Rice Noodles for Cooking:

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

Before cooking them, you’ll want to peel apart the noodles. However, cold noodles frequently adhere to one another and are difficult to separate without shattering. If so, try your best to chop them into chunks, place them on a plate, and microwave them for about a minute.

Remove them, check to see if any of the noodles are hot and soft enough to peel, then do so and set aside. After a minute, put the hard noodles back in the microwave and continue until all of the noodles can be separated. I usually need to microwave one pound of noodles for three to four minutes.

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

Additionally, you might notice that the vacuum-packed bags of rice noodles in the refrigerator resemble dried noodles quite a bit. Consider these to be a semi-dried variation of the previously mentioned small and medium dried noodles. The majority of restaurants use these noodles because they don’t need to be rehydrated before use.

1. Do not boil dried noodles. Soak them.

To make noodle soups or stir-fries, all dried noodles just need to be soaked until completely rehydrated.

We prefer to soak rice noodles instead of boiling them because they can easily become overcooked. After soaking, which enables the noodles to hydrate uniformly, the heat from the pan cooks the noodles by utilizing the water that the noodles already contain. This minimizes the possibility of overcooking and produces internal cooking that is uniform.

Using the following guidelines as a guide, soak them in room temperature water (note that times may differ between brands).

  • Rice vermicelli: 5-15 minutes, depending on the brand. While Erawant takes up to 15 minutes, Wai Wai brand is smaller and only takes five.
  • Small size: 20-30 minutes.
  • Medium size: 50-60 minutes
  • Large size: 90 minutes to 2 hours
  • Since they are typically used to replace fresh rice noodles, the XL size is a bit of an exception. To soak them, use hot, just off the boil water, and then drain and rinse under cold water. By now, these should be partially cooked and prepared to be placed in the pan.

When you pick up the noodles, they should fall to the ground entirely and not defy gravity. They’re not ready if they’re still attempting to maintain their original shape.

How To Cook Rice Noodles In A Wok

6. Don’t crowd the pan

Although packing the pan full of food is never a good idea, when it comes to noodles, this is probably the most frequent cause of soggy, mushy noodles. The noodles get overcooked because of the moisture that is trapped by crowding, which steams and boils the noodles. Overcooked noodles are too soft. too soft noodles break into bits.

This is the reason I emphasize so much that the freshest noodles should be cooked one portion at a time and that you should only make pad thai in batches of two servings. Street vendors cook them one order at a time for a reason!

Speaking of which, when stir-frying noodles, you should always use high heat to maximize liquid evaporation and avoid having too much moisture in the pan.

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