Flat rice noodles – bánh phở
These noodles made are available at NamNam retail counters. Made from rice flour and water, they are white, becoming translucent when cooked. The noodles have no real flavour of their own, but they absorb other flavours well. The dried noodles cook up to a terrific chewy texture that is nearly as good as fresh. Depending on how they will be used, the dried noodles may be soaked first and then stir-fried or plunged into boiling water.
If available, try fresh bánh phở, stocked in the refrigerated sections of Chinese, Thai and Viet markets. The extra thin variety (1.5 mm wide) and requires only a brief dunk in boiling water before serving. The uncooked noodles will keep well for a week in the refrigerator. You may also find wide fresh rice noodles that are the same as wide Chinese Fun noodles. Often labelled bánh hủ tiếu (the Viet term for Chinese rice noodles), they are just another type of bánh phở.
Round rice noodles – bún
A Viet kitchen would be incomplete without bún. Rice vermicelli noodles (bún) are round rice noodles. They are white in color and soft with some elasticity. Most Vietnamese abroad keep these round rice noodles in dried form in their cupboard, though fresh ones are sometimes sold at Viet and Thai markets.
The dried rice noodles, imported from Vietnam, are available in NamNam retail counters.
Noodle boiling basics
Many recipes in NamNam call for boiling noodles, which must be done correctly for a successful dish. The first step is to pick the right spot. You need one large enough to hold lots of water and with sufficient space in case the noodles foam up.
Fill the pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Unlike cook Italian pasta, you don’t need to salt the water. While the water is heating, put a large colander-it needs to be large, so the noodles drain quickly-in the sink for draining the noodles. Put a small inverted bowl or cup at the bottom to prevent the cooked noodles from gathering and clumping as they cool.
When the water is boiling, add the noodles. As soon they go in, stir them with chopsticks to separate and submerge all the strands, and then occasionally swirl them around again as they cook. Most Asian noodles cook fast, so as soon as the water returns to a boil, begin watching the pot.
As soon as the noodles are done, drain them in the colander. Flush with cold water to stop the cooking and rinse off the excess starch. Pick up the colander and give it a few sideways shakes to expel the excess water. Once the noodles are cool, fluff them with your fingers to achieve the wholesome texture of them being tender yet still firm and chewy to the bite.
Noodle soup tips
Making Asian noodle soups is an art form that merits a cook’s time and attention. There are no convenience products or shortcuts, so be prepared to give over a few hours to put a soup together. Here are some tips to help you make and appreciate good noodle soups.
- To create a great soup, you must first create a great broth. Avoid an over boil when preparing the broth or it will turn cloudy. Leave a bit fat in it for richness; otherwise, you will have a fat-free, healthful broth that lacks the necessary mouthfeel. When adjusting the seasonings in the broth, shoot for an intense savouriness. Remember, the other ingredients are not heavily seasoned, so the broth should be saltier than what you are normally accustomed to. If you find that you have gone too far, just dilute it with little water.
- Delicious soup also requires noodles that are warm. They should be cooked or reheated as you assemble the bowls. The phở recipes require blanching raw noodles in boiling water. For other soups, the noodles are cooked ahead of time, and you can reheat them in boiling water or in the microwave oven. When blanching or reheating noodles in boiling water, use a large pot and big strainer to dunk and drain the noodles efficiently.
- Serving noodle soups requires a number of last-minute steps, so get ready as many elements as you can in advance. For example, make the broth a day ahead. Before serving, set the table and put out all applicable garnishes and condiments, enlisting a family member or friend to help you.
- At the table, eat the noodle soup with gusto. Approach the bowl with a two-handed technique. First, wielding chopsticks in one hand and Chinese soup spoon in the other, stir up the soup to distribute the flavours. Then, taste and adjust the flavours with condiments and/or garnishes. Dip and wiggle thin slices of hot chilli in the broth to release their oil, and then leave them in if you dare. Strip fresh herbs leave from their stems, tear up the leaves, drop them into your bowl. A squeeze of lime gives the broth a tart edge, which is especially nice if the broth is too sweet or too bland; if the greater savoury depth is needed, a shot of fish sauce will remedy the situation. Many people pour hoisin sauce and Sriracha chilli sauce directly into their bowls of phở, but a well-prepared broth suffers from such additions. Finally, feast the soup with both utensils, using the chopsticks to pick up the noodles and the spoon to deliver broth and other goodness into your mouth. Add more garnishes as you eat, and slurp to show the cook your appreciation.
- Bank your effort by freezing leftover broth for another day. When you have a craving for noodles soup, you will be able to assemble it with a lot less work.