Rice noodles are a versatile ingredient used in many Asian dishes. However, there is some debate around whether you need to cook them before stir-frying or if you can add them straight to the wok. Here are some quick answers to common questions about cooking rice noodles:
Do you need to soak rice noodles before cooking?
Most rice noodle packages recommend soaking the noodles in hot water for 5-10 minutes before stir-frying or other cooking methods. This helps separate and soften the noodles. However, some people skip soaking with thinner rice vermicelli or noodles that have already been boiled.
Should you boil rice noodles first?
Boiling is the most common initial cooking method for fresh, wider rice noodles. Bringing a pot of water to a boil and cooking the noodles for 1-2 minutes is usually sufficient to cook them while retaining some firmness. Dried rice noodles also need boiling first.
For pad thai and other stir-fried noodle dishes, boiling ahead of time ensures the noodles are partially cooked and won’t be gummy or sticky when stir-fried. It also removes extra starch.
Is it okay to skip pre-cooking and add rice noodles raw?
Thin rice vermicelli and bean thread noodles can sometimes be added raw directly to soups or stir-fries. The moisture and heat from the cooking liquid or wok will soften them sufficiently.
However, most rice noodles need some pre-cooking for the best texture in finished dishes. Adding them raw risks them not cooking through fully or absorbing too much liquid and becoming mushy.
How do you prevent rice noodles from getting sticky?
Rinsing rice noodles with cold water after boiling helps remove excess starch that causes stickiness. Tossing them in a bit of oil or sesame oil before stir-frying also helps separate noodles.
When stir-frying, continue tossing noodles over high heat until any clumps separate and moisture evaporates. This prevents gummy, sticky noodles from being stuck together.
What is the active cooking time for rice noodles?
The active cooking time for previously boiled fresh rice noodles in a stir-fry or soup is just 1-2 minutes. Overcooking will make them mushy and soft. Thinner noodles require even less time.
Even without pre-boiling, very thin dried rice noodles may only need 1-3 minutes in soups or stir-fries to soften sufficiently before being ready to eat.
Most rice noodles need brief pre-cooking in boiling water before stir-frying or using in soups and other dishes. This ensures they cook fully while still retaining the right firm, chewy texture. Proper soaking, boiling, rinsing and tossing during cooking prevents stickiness and mushiness.
Common Rice Noodle Varieties
There are many different types of rice noodles used in Asian cuisines. Here are some of the most common varieties:
These very thin rice noodles are sometimes called rice stick noodles. Often used in soups, spring rolls, and stir-fries, they soften quickly without much cooking.
Pad Thai Noodles
Pad thai noodles are made from rice flour and water. They are flat and medium-wide. Their soft but slightly chewy texture stands up well to stir-frying.
Flat Rice Noodles
Wide, flat rice flour noodles are used in dishes like char kway teow and Chow fun. Their broad surface soaks up sauces and stir-fry flavors.
Round Rice Noodles
Thicker, round rice noodles are common in Vietnamese pho and other soups. They are white or made with rice lightly cooked to a tan color. They have a very soft texture.
Glass noodles are made from mung bean or other starch sources, not rice. They are named for their clear, glass-like appearance and are very thin and delicate.
Rice Noodle Nutrition
Rice noodles are high in carbohydrates but low in fat and protein. A 1-cup serving provides:
Rice noodles offer a gluten-free alternative to wheat-based noodles. They provide a source of energy, as well as some minerals like iron and magnesium. However, rice noodles lack the protein, fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients found in whole grains.
Selecting and Storing Rice Noodles
When purchasing fresh or dried rice noodles, look for ones made only from rice flour and water without any added preservatives or additives. Check that they don’t contain any holes or tears.
Unopened packages of dried rice noodles can be stored in a cool, dry pantry for up to a year. Once opened, they will last several months. Store fresh noodles in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Some tips for storing opened packages of rice noodles:
- Keep them in the original packaging or transfer to a sealed container.
- Fold over top of package to seal out air.
- Place in coolest, driest area of pantry or cupboard.
- Press out excess air in bag before resealing.
Check for any mold, sliminess, or foul odors, which are signs noodles have spoiled before the best-by date. Discard rice noodles at the first sign of spoilage.
How to Prepare Rice Noodles
Use these basic steps for prepping and cooking rice noodles:
- Soak: Place dry noodles in hot or boiling water for 5-10 minutes if indicated on package.
- Boil: Boil fresh or dried wide rice noodles for 1-2 minutes.
- Rinse: Drain boiled noodles and rinse with cold water.
- Toss: Toss noodles with a bit of oil to prevent sticking.
- Stir-fry: Stir-fry over high heat for 1-2 minutes to evaporate moisture.
- Add to soup: Add soaked or pre-boiled noodles to soups and cook 1-2 minutes.
Avoid overcooking rice noodles as they can quickly become mushy. Test taste and texture frequently as you prepare them.
5 Delicious Rice Noodle Recipes
Here are 5 flavorful recipes for enjoying rice noodles:
The classic Thai street food with rice noodles, chicken or shrimp, peanuts, and a sweet-tangy tamarind sauce.
Vietnamese noodle soup made with fragrant broth, rice noodles, beef, and fresh herbs like basil, lime, and bean sprouts.
Stir-fried curried rice vermicelli with shrimp, chicken, vegetables and scrambled eggs in a spicy soy sauce.
Char Kway Teow
A popular Malyasian fried noodle dish made with wide rice noodles, shrimp, Chinese sausage, eggs, bean sprouts and soy sauce.
A Chinese dish of broad, flat rice noodles stir-fried with beef, vegetables, and soy sauce for a savory umami flavor.
Tips for Stir-Frying Rice Noodles
Stir-frying is a quick and easy way to use rice noodles in everything from pad thai to chow fun. Here are some tips for great stir-fried rice noodles:
- Use high heat and keep noodles moving to avoid sticking.
- Toss and flip noodles with a paddle or scooping motion.
- Add a bit of oil to the noodles to prevent clumping.
- Stir-fry in batches if needed to avoid crowding the pan.
- Remove noodles once they lose their raw look and moisture evaporates.
- Add sauce ingredients like soy sauce at the end off heat to avoid over-darkening.
The intense heat of a wok or skillet is ideal for getting rice noodles fully cooked but still al dente, without becoming mushy or gooey. Keeping noodles actively moving ensures they cook evenly.
How to Substitute Rice Noodles
Don’t have the right type of rice noodles on hand? Here are some possible substitutes for common rice noodle varieties:
|Rice Noodle Type
|Bean thread noodles, somen noodles
|Pad thai noodles
|Flat rice noodles, linguine
|Flat rice noodles
|Pad thai noodles, fresh chow fun noodles
|Round rice noodles
|Soba noodles, udon noodles
|Cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles
The best subs preserve the rice noodle texture but may require adjusting cook times. For a gluten-free dish, check that substitutions are also gluten-free.
Rice noodles require brief pre-cooking in boiling water followed by a quick stir-frying or adding to soups. Soaking, rinsing, and tossing during cooking prevents stickiness. Allowing time for excess moisture to evaporate keeps noodles from getting mushy. With the right preparation and cooking, rice noodles can add their unique chewy texture to many Asian dishes.