Fried noodles are a perfect way to create a hearty, quick, and healthy one-dish meal. This recipe introduces an optimized workflow and numerous tips for creating a great noodle dish with minimal effort.
I have come across quite a lot of complaints on foodie forums, that creating a great Asian fried noodle dish requires too much effort. This is only half true.
I agree, Asian stir fried dishes generally involve longer ingredient lists, more chopping, and more attention than, say, a casserole dish. But what you can do is to optimize your workflow to create a delicious dish with minimal effort and ingredients to bring out the best flavor.
How to make great fried noodles in less time
- Use rice noodles instead of wheat noodles
Although there are many types of noodle in Chinese cuisine, and although different recipes call for very specific noodles, I found that rice noodles are the perfect option for a quick weekday meal, because you can skip the process of boiling water and you’re unlikely to ruin the dish by picking the wrong type of noodle.
- Prep the rice noodles properly
To prepare rice noodles properly, make sure you cut them into shorter sticks before soaking. If you’re using a wok and steel spatula, you can chop the noodles during the stir fry, but if you’re using a nonstick skillet with tongs (like I do in this recipe), you’ll need to do this step before cooking, so the noodles won’t get too tangled.
Soak noodles in hot water for 5 to 7 minutes, until al dente. Drain and rinse them with cold water, to stop the cooking process. You can add a few drops of oil and toss the noodles, so they won’t stick together.
- Use plenty of green onion
Chinese cooking often requires ginger, garlic, and green onion. This means a lot of cutting and extra prep time. To shorten the ingredient list, you can skip the garlic and use plenty of green onion (using 6 to 8 green onions in a stir fried dish for two is the proper amount). You can skip ginger too, but I recommend you to use it whenever you can.
- Read this post on how to prep and freeze ginger, so you can shorten your prep time even further.
- A great sauce does not require too many ingredients
You can create a great fried noodle sauce by using the right amount of soy sauce, sugar, and salt. I used the combination of light and dark soy sauce to add a nice brown color to the noodles, but you can simplify this by only using one type of soy sauce.
If you want to make your noodles even more flavorful, you can skip the salt and use 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce or use hoisin sauce, instead.
The other way to add flavor to the sauce is to make homemade chicken stock using leftover bones (you might need to dilute it with water since homemade stock can be very thick). It makes the dish much richer than it would be if using store-bought stock.
- Use animal fat to immediately make your noodles super rich
Like I mentioned in the soy sauce fried rice recipe, using a bit of animal fat (chicken fat, duck fat, or bacon fat) will create a super rich flavor. It is not necessary in this recipe, but if you happen to have some animal fat in the fridge, don’t forget to use it!
- Use ground meat and mustard greens to shorten the cooking time
Many fried noodle recipes require you to cook the meat and vegetables separately so that each ingredient will be properly cooked (such as this beef chow fun recipe). I tried to shorten the process in this recipe by using ground meat and mustard greens, which don’t need to be taken out of the skillet.
Ground meat is less prone to becoming overcooked than sliced meat. However, I do find it very helpful to do a brief marinade to make the meat tender and more flavorful. If you’re using ground turkey, pork, or beef, you can skip the potato starch, because these eats contain more fat and will stay tender during cooking.
- Do not add too much of the ingredients
Proportioning a well-balanced fried noodle dish is like choosing pizza toppings – less is more. If you crowd your pan with too much stuff, the noodles will easily become mushy and/or flavorless, because crowding the pan takes so much heat out of the metal that the ingredients don’t get seared properly.
- Use an efficient workflow
The order should be: soak the noodles => marinate the meat => mix the sauce => prep and chop the herbs and veggies while soaking the noodles => stir fry
It might take a bit more time if you’re cooking this dish for the first time, but once you get used to the process, prep should take you ten minutes and cooking five minutes.
– How to make this dish gluten-free
Use gluten free tamari soy sauce to replace the soy sauce and skip the potato starch in the marinade. Like I mentioned above, you can create tenderer meat by using ground turkey, pork, or beef. I found ground chicken to be too lean. Skipping the cornstarch will result in tougher chicken.
– How to make this dish vegetarian
To make the dish vegetarian, skip the ground meat and use rehydrated shiitake mushrooms instead. Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock.
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15-Minute Fried Noodles
- 1/2 pound (220 grams) wide dried rice noodles
- 1/2 pound (220 grams) ground meat (beef, chicken, pork, or turkey) or shrimp
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or Japanese sake, or dry sherry)
- 1 teaspoon potato starch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil (or animal fat)
- 6 green onions , chopped into long slices (separate the white and green parts)
- 1/2 tablespoon ginger , grated
- 2 cups mustard greens , chopped
- Cut rice noodle threads into 8-inch (20 cm) lengths with a pair of scissors (*see footnote 2) and transfer them to a large bowl. Add hot tap water to cover. Be sure to submerge the rice noodles. Let sit for 5 to 7 minutes (*see footnote 3), until tender. The noodles should be flexible but remain al-dente (*see footnote 4). Drain. Add a few drops of vegetable oil and gently toss a few times.
- While soaking the noodles, prepare marinade, sauce and cut veggies.
- Combine ground meat (or shrimp), Shaoxing wine, potato starch, and salt in a small bowl. Mix well.
- Combine chicken stock, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Mix well.
- Place all the ingredients and a pair of tongs (or pair of chopsticks) next to your stove.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet (or a wok) over high heat until hot. Add ginger and half the green onion (all the white parts). Cook and stir until it starts to sizzle.
- Add ground meat. Cook and stir until the surface is slightly charred, but not cooked through yet.
- Add mustard greens and the rest of the green onion (all the green parts). Cook and stir for 30 seconds.
- Pour in sauce. Stir a few times. Add rice noodles. Toss and stir with a pair of tongs, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Remove skillet from stove. Carefully taste the noodles. If the noodles are still a bit tough, you can return the skillet to the stove and pour in 3 to 4 tablespoons chicken stock (or water). Continue tossing and stirring until the liquid is absorbed.
- Transfer everything to serving dishes.
- Serve immediately.
- The dark soy sauce will add a nice dark brown color to the noodles. You can use 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce instead of using the combo of light and dark soy sauce. The noodles will be seasoned correctly, just with a lighter color.
- By cutting the noodles into shorter lengths, they won’t be tangled together during stir-frying and will be easier to eat.
- The soaking time varies depending on the noodles and on the temperature of the water. If you’re using boiling water, the soaking time might shorten to 3 minutes. I used the hottest water I could get from the tap in this recipe and it took 7 minutes.
- It is OK if the noodles are still a bit tougher than they should be. You can fix this during stir-frying, by adding a bit more chicken stock (or water) and cooking until the noodles are tender. On the other hand, if you soak the noodles for too long, they will be more prone to stick together and will turn mushy after cooking.