Monday, July 28, 2008

Recipe Redux

It was recently brought to my attention that there may be a problem with one of my recipes. After a little troubleshooting, we figured there was some confusion about the type of noodles to use. When there is a special ingredient in a recipe, I normally try to take a picture or post a link so people are somewhat familiar with the item if they want to go purchase it. If there’s any question about an ingredient or substitution or if you have a suggestion, please don’t hesitate to contact me by leaving a comment or emailing me at blazinghotwok(at)gmail(dot)com. I want people to enjoy discovering a new recipe and not get discouraged or frustrated because something didn’t work out!

Okay, sometimes us food bloggers take stuff for granted and assume people know what we are talking about. Or sometimes we aren't good at clarifying, which appears to be the case with the rice noodles. So, it seems only appropriate I explain a little about the rice noodles I use. If you are familiar with the different types, I won't blame you for not reading on. However, maybe you could do me a favor and check out the recipe in question and let me know if it's easier to follow. I put in new tips.

From left to right: semi-fresh rice noodles, rice sticks, fresh rice noodles

I typically use one of three kinds, which can make it a bit confusing. Sometimes they can be interchanged, however, one may be more appropriate than the others for a particular type of recipe. As an example, think about spaghetti alla carbonara. You can substitute fettuccini or linguine, but it wouldn’t work very well with rigatoni, would it? When substitutions can be made, I will indicate it.

For some recipes the best rice noodles to use are the fresh ones, also known here in the States as chow fun noodles. I like to use these noodles for pad se ew, pad kee mao, and chow fun. These noodles are sold in sheets so you can cut them into any width you like. Sometimes they are pre-cut into strips. Both types have been oiled to keep the layers from sticking, although I wonder if that really helps. They can be kind of hard to separate when cold and it’s a little easier if they are at room temperature. Fresh means they are found in the refrigerated section.

There is another type of semi-fresh rice noodle that I like to use for dishes like pad Thai. They are pliable, but not soft. Unlike the fun noodles, they are not oiled and come vacuum packed. They technically don’t require pre-soaking, but they can be hard to separate when hey are cold. I like to put the noodles in lukewarm water while I separate the strands. If you don’t loosen the strands well, they will stay clumped up when you stir-fry them. Make sure to drain them well before using.

Lastly, there are the rice sticks. These are the dried rice noodles commonly used for noodle soups. They are also great to use for pad Thai if you don’t have access to the semi-fresh noodles. If you plan to use them for anything other than soup, they must be soaked. For soup, I simply boil them. The soaking time depends on the brand, the temperature of the water and the age of the noodles. You’ll want to soak them so they are semi-soft, but not completely soft, otherwise they will turn to mush when you stir-fry them. Be aware that dry weight is not the same as hydrated weight. Just to test the difference between the two, I softened 9 oz of dry noodles by pouring boiling water over them for 8 minutes, rinsing with cold water, then draining well. Even before weighing them again, I could see they had expanded a lot, and sure enough, the hydrated weight was just over a pound and a half!!

Before I post a recipe, I generally try it out a couple of times to make sure the results are consistent or to work out the issues from the first attempt(s). Still, mistakes can happen so I wanted to revisit the recipe in question: pad se ew. It’s basically stir-fried rice noodles with egg and soy sauces. Nothing fancy, but quite delicious, especially when dressed up with various condiments. As I said in the original post, this is a fairly versatile dish because you can add whatever vegetables and protein you’d like. For this dish, I always use fresh rice noodles because that was the type of noodle mom always used. However, I wanted to try using the rice sticks because everyone has access to these and I wanted to compare the results.

The top picture is the redo and the bottom picture is the original I did in January. The noticeable differences were color and texture of the noodles. The fresh noodles have a “chewier” texture and are a little thicker and oilier. I definitely prefer the fresh noodles, but using the dry noodles worked out fine. I want to note that the lighter noodles were by no means bland, but I don't think they fried up as well due to less oil. But if you're worried about fat content, using rice sticks is probably the way to go.

There was some concern the sauce proportions were not sufficient for the 1 ½ pounds of noodles, but actually they were okay. I always make a double portion of sauce because heaven forbid there's not enough sauce and I'm running around trying to get ingredients together while the food is cooking. A double portion makes about 7 tbs and for this amount of noodles, I used 4. If you have extra sauce left over, spike it with some chili garlic sauce or sambal and serve as a condiment in case people want to spice up the dish a bit.

Now that you've read this far, I should just tell you I updated the original recipe with notes just so everything is clarified. Enjoy!


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I use fresh rice noodle sheets and don't bother cutting them up as they break apart when I stir-fry them anyway. I also use a combo of oyster and hoisin sauces b/c they stick better than soy sauces. I know see-ew means soy sauce, but what can I say? I like having a sauce that sticks and soy sauce doesn't do it for me. :P

Dee said...

WC, I think that the sheets tend to take thin sauces better than the rice sticks. I certainly prefer the texture of the fresh noodles better.

Manggy said...

Can I say they both look really good? :) I like dried noodles because of the convenience, plus I keep them forever in the pantry, and there's no pressure to use them up yesterday :)

Anonymous said...

It's tough to get everything right in a recipe the first time around. Thanks for the rundown of the different noodles--very helpful.

Heather said...

Hi, Darlene, I just found you via Just Cook It. Weird, we're both scientists by day, live in Portland, have computer geek husbands and food blog? I can't figure out why we're not best friends. (^_-)

I agree with Mark, dried rice sticks last forever, but there's really nothing like fresh rice noodles.

Dee said...

Heather, not to freak you out, but I lurk your blog on a regular basis! Norm pointed me in your direction. I was especially in awe of your pig roast!

Wandering Chopsticks said...

OMG! I just realized, I beat Manggy to comment first. I think I need an award. ;) BTW, I wanna hear your hard-boiled egg story.

Jason said...

So good to know, I always wondered what the difference between them was. I always use dried, but will have to check out the fresh ones.
I also nominated you for the Brillante Weblog a
Award, congrats!

Dee said...

WC, I'll try to work the story into a post soon.

Jason, thanks so much! I feel really honored.

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Paula said...

I love how you show the difference between the two types in your photos! Great info, too! Teaching posts like this are great!