Rice noodles are a common ingredient in a lot of Asian dishes. Dried ones are a great and convenient pantry staple to have on hand, and they're gluten-free so that means you can use them in a variety of ways. But you've probably experienced some disappointment with rice noodles because if they're not cooked correctly, they can turn to completely inedible mush, seemingly in a matter of seconds.
It can be so confusing if you're just starting to cook Asian dishes that require rice noodles, such as pad thai or maybe a soup or stir-fry. When it comes to cooking these noodles, there is no one-size-fits all solution, because rice noodles, like Italian pasta, come in different sizes that cook at different rates. And sometimes those packages are confusing because the directions are in a language that's unfamiliar, or sometimes don't have cooking instructions on them at all.
So, you may have questions. Do you have to soak noodles before cooking? Do you soak rice noodles in hot or cold water? We have answers. Here's how to prepare rice noodles perfectly. These foolproof ways work every time for these three different sizes of rice noodles—vermicelli, flat rice noodles, and the wider, broad flat noodles that are often found fresh, and used in dishes such as pad see ew.
- 1 package dried vermicelli (angel hair)
- 1 package dried flat rice noodles (pad thai)
- 1 package fresh wide flat rice noodles
- Room temperature water
These are the thinnest of all rice noodles. They are popular in Vietnamese and Thai cuisines and can be used in salads, stir-fries, and soups. Vermicelli has a coarse texture and is not as smooth as other noodles, which gives them an al dente texture.
Prepare a deep bowl filled with room temperature water. Add the vermicelli to the water and soak for 3 minutes until it becomes opaque.
As they soak, you can use your hands to pick the noodles apart to loosen them.
Strain the noodles. You will notice that they don't stick to each other.
You can use them within a few hours of rehydrating them in stir-fries or salads by simply adding them to your pan or bowl. If you add them to a stir-fry, you can use your spatula or tongs to carefully separate the noodles as you finish off your dish. These noodles keep well in dry dishes that don't have too much sauce or liquid. They also keep their texture well, even as leftovers.
If you want to use them in a noodle soup dish, bring your broth to a boil, add the noodles to the dish, and quickly turn off the heat. Serve immediately.
Flat Rice Noodles (Pad Thai Noodles)
Prepare a bowl filled with room temperature water. Add the pad thai noodles to the bowl. Soak for 10 minutes. If the noodles are longer than the bowl, slowly bend them as they soften in the water so that they are eventually all submerged under the water.
Strain the noodles and run your fingers through them to prevent sticking. You can use a neutral oil like rice bran oil to coat the noodles if you won't use them right away.
Do not boil these noodles if you want to use them in stir-fries as they will get too mushy when you add them to the wok. You can add some water to your wok as you continue to cook your dish so that the noodles can gently cook in the steam.
If the noodles look like they are sticking even after coating them in oil, do not worry. They will separate again once you add them to the pan.
If you are making noodle soup, blanch the noodles in hot water just enough to soften them, but do not leave them in boiling water for more than 2 to 3 minutes. This will allow you to control the texture of the noodles, especially if you are not going to serve them right away.
If you are cooking noodle soup at home and plan to serve it straight away, you can boil the soaked noodles directly in the broth.
Fresh Wide Flat Rice Noodles
Rice noodles can also be found fresh and coated with a thin layer of oil. They are round often in the refrigerated section of Asian specialty grocers or large supermarkets with extensive selection of Asian foods. They are ready to use as you need them, and can be added to stir-fries or soups.
Fresh rice noodles are more delicate than dried noodles and can be added to any dish in the final seconds of cooking. You can even turn off the heat altogether to make sure not to overcook the fresh rice noodles. We suggest that you toss your noodles carefully with a spatula to avoid overmixing.
How Do You Keep Rice Noodles From Sticking Together?
You may find yourself in a situation where the noodles are ready ahead of everything. If you're concerned about cooked noodles sitting around and sticking together, use a little bit of rice bran oil. Drizzle a bit over the noodles and gently toss them to distribute the oil. It should help prevent them from sticking together.