Check out the Asian section of your grocery store and you’ll probably see an array of cellophane packages filled with rice noodles of all shapes. These simple noodles made from rice flour and water have a subtle flavor and an appealing springy-chewy texture, with just a slight slipperiness. They add body to lots of Asian-inspired dishes including stir-fries, soups, curries, and salads.
What to buy: Also called “rice sticks,” rice noodles come in various thicknesses: very thin ones (“rice vermicelli”); and flat, thicker ones that come in small, medium, and large widths, the widest being about the width of fettuccine. While vermicelli are often called for in soup and salad recipes and the wider ones in stir-fries, the sizes are pretty much interchangeable.
How to cook: I find that the easiest way to cook rice noodles is to just treat them like regular dried pasta and boil them (some packages call for soaking, but I don’t find it necessary). Put the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water and stir to unclump them. For thinner noodles, I start checking for doneness after about 2 minutes, even if the water hasn’t returned to a boil. Thicker ones will take 3 to 6 minutes to cook. Do check often, as different brands cook at different rates.
As soon as the noodles are tender, I drain them and immediately rinse with cold water to wash off any starch. Then I fluff them and leave them to drain well in a colander, fluffing every few minutes to be sure they stay loose. (If you skip this step, you’ll end up with one big tangle.) Now they’re ready to drop into a hot soup just before serving, to toss into a stir-fry, or to use as a light base for a salad of fresh greens and herbs.