Monday, September 20, 2010

Rice noodles much?

You know when you hear a song and it sticks with you all day. Annoying, right? Food does it to me too. It's not so much an annoyance as an obsession and until I get my fix, everything else just tends to taste so blah. After watching the season finale of Top Chef, I couldn’t get stir-fried rice noodles out of my mind. I suppose I could have just picked up some takeout, but where's the fun in that?

I would say seventy-five percent of the questions I get are about stir-frying noodles. You wouldn't think it, but noodles can be tricky to work with and there's no real "right" way to do it. It takes practice so you can get to know your wok. For example, my wok tends to get hotter towards the front due to my heat source. I’ve learned that’s where I should drizzle in sauces to get good caramelization.

Stir-frying noodles also takes patience. You may follow a method to the T, but the results aren’t what you expected. Take heart! The outcome is so dependent on the kind of wok you have, the heat source you have available and the ingredients you use. Another example: I have a cast iron wok and it takes a good amount of time to heat up. I start by pre-heating it as soon as I start preparations for my stir-fries, which means it sits on high heat (on gas) for at least 10 minutes. It retains the heat very well, sometimes too well. When I make noodles, I often have to turn down the heat at some point to prevent the noodles from burning to the bottom. Your wok might not need much time to heat up, but maybe loses the heat faster. In that case you'd have to adjust your cooking method accordingly. (One suggestion is to have a pot of boiling water to quickly blanch your veggies and then transferring them straight to your wok. The hot veggies will prevent the temperature in the wok from dropping too much.)

The point is, it's great to get tips and ideas from other people, but most likely you'll go through some trial and error to find a method that works for you. Don't get discouraged if things don't work out perfectly the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Just keep at it, and eventually you'll get a result you're happy with.

That's it for my pep talk. Now you can practice with the recipe below. Enjoy!

Stir-fried Rice Noodles
Feeds 4
  • 12 oz dried rice noodles, soaked until pliable
  • About 2 links Chinese sausage, casing removed (or Chinese BBQ pork), sliced
  • 1/4 cup good quality dried shrimp
  • 1 pack deep fried tofu squares, sliced (or about 1 cup sliced chicken or pork)
  • 2 eggs, lightly scrambled (optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh green chiles, chopped, to taste (optional)
  • 4 green onions (whites only), sliced
  • 2 tbs kecap manis, (or more to taste)
  • fish sauce, to taste
  • fresh bean sprouts, to taste
  • Chinese chives (or green onion tops), cut into 2-inch segments
  • lime segments for serving

Get your wok nice and hot over high heat. Add some oil and quickly stir-fry the Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and tofu squares. The sausage is fatty and you’re trying to release some of the flavor in that fat. If you’re using fresh meat, cook until the meat is almost done. If you’re using eggs, add them and cook until just set. This step shouldn’t take more than 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer everything to a plate and set aside.

Add more oil to your wok if necessary then add the whites of the green onions, garlic and chiles. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds to release the aromas. Add the drained noodles and stir-fry until the noodles start to soften. Add the kecap manis and some fish sauce and the pre-cooked proteins. Keep the ingredients moving to prevent burning, adjusting the heat if necessary. Add a little more liquid (kecap manis, fish sauce or water depending on what you think is missing) if the noodles seem too dry. Stir-fry until the noodles are tender. Add the chives and bean sprouts, give a couple more tosses and you're done!

Serve immediately with lime wedges and more fish sauce on the side.

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