Preventing rice noodles from clumping
June 24, 2014 8:22 PM   Subscribe

A friend occasionally buys fresh (not dry!) rice noodles for stir-fries and such, and they always end up clumping together. The package is in Chinese, so no help there. The usual tricks don't help: being careful not to over-cook, adding a little oil after draining, tossing them gently with the rest of the stir-fry rather than stirring. Anyone have any tips?
posted by samw to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are they fully separating when you boil them? If not, throw them in some cold water and fondle them apart before transferring to the boiling water. Also, maybe try cooking them way less than you think they need, especially if they're going into a stir fry after that.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:38 PM on June 24, 2014

I'd guess a minute or less for fresh.
posted by rhizome at 8:46 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't know about rice noodles but regular noodles can be unclumped by a hot water rinse immediately after straining. Have a kettle of boiling water, dump the noodles back into the pot from the colander, add hot water, swirl once and back into the colander.
posted by sammyo at 8:52 PM on June 24, 2014

yep, separate them BEFORE cooking. Put them on a big plate and use chopsticks to separate them a bit.
posted by calgirl at 9:01 PM on June 24, 2014

If they're bring kept in the fridge before cooking, taking them out 10-15 mins earlier will make them easier to separate before you put them in the water.

Also, I always have problems if I use a pot that's too small. It's worth the extra few minutes waiting for the water to boil.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:34 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thirding that you have to separate them before cooking. It takes a while to peel them all apart, unfortunately. I've never tried swishing them in water to loosen them (sounds promising, though!). I don't boil them before putting them into the wok, since they are already soft and pliable and I think they'd just turn to mush. (There are some stiffer types that are sold as soup noodles, but I think you're talking about the soft stir-fry noodles that are folded up like a towel in their package, known as "chow fun" around here.)

Also, I find that if they are refrigerated they get very stiff and never soften up again even if they warm up to room temperature - when I try to peel them apart they just break into clumps. (Even though they are somewhat perishable, my favorite Chinese supermarket keeps them on the shelf, not in the refrigerated section. Try to cook them as soon as possible after buying them.)
posted by Quietgal at 9:49 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, don't buy ones that have been refrigerated. If you're talking about ho fun, they're often full of preservatives and will keep on the shelf for a while. Once they've been refrigerated they'll break. Buy off the shelf and separate dry before cooking. Too much moisture clinging to your noodles will also make them clump into a claggy lump.

In terms of cooking, they need high heat & very quick cooking. I think most of us don't have the firepower to cook them that quickly at home. I do mine on a barbecue hot plate, it's the hottest quickest option I've got. Chinese restaurants cook small batches over very high heat.
posted by stellathon at 10:17 PM on June 24, 2014

Oh, I also cover the pot right after putting in the noodles to bring the water back up to a boil ASAP. You have to stand right there and keep an eye on it because you only have a few moments before it will boil over. Reducing the amount of time the noodles spend just soaking in hot water helps a lot and is probably related to the heat issue mentioned above.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:37 PM on June 24, 2014

If this is ho fan / he fen, then yes -- you need to separate them before cooking. If the noodles are actually fresh, then they stiffen in the fridge, so will break when you try separating them. There are some supermarket varieties that stay soft though (maybe they add some additive?).

I would never boil this noodle or soften it in hot water (which makes sense for some other noodles) -- it's just too soft/mushy/delicate to begin with...

Then: small batches, super high heat, generous amounts of oil.
posted by yonglin at 5:15 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think fresh rice noodles of this type require any cooking prior to stir-frying. And when stir-frying it takes a lot of oil.
posted by slkinsey at 5:28 AM on June 25, 2014

Boil for just 1-2 minutes then transfer directly to a bowl of ice water and swish them around with your hands to separate. (This is what Cooking With Dog always does.)
posted by capricorn at 6:35 AM on June 25, 2014

When I order rice noodle soup to go at the Asian place down the road they assemble my soup whilst I wait. It's one of these open kitchen set-ups and this is what htey do. They take some of the dryish but fresh rice noodles out of the fridge, dump them in a colander type thing with some bean sprouts and shredded cabbage. Then they just place the colander in simmering water for a couple of minutes to allow it all to heat through, more than cook. Then they take it all, toss it into the soup container, top off with soup and a bit of onion, garlic and chillie paste and hand me my soup. They do not stir or manipulate beyond swishing the colander round in the pot with hot water every now and then, it's primarily about heating up. So I think you're probably way overcooking these by boiling and then stir frying.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:47 AM on June 25, 2014

Thanks all. I'll pass your tips along.
posted by samw at 9:50 PM on June 25, 2014

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