Learn how to cook rice noodles for all your favorite stir-fry, soup and cold noodle salad recipes!
Rice noodles are an essential and absolutely delicious ingredient in almost all Asian cuisines, made from just two ingredients: rice flour and water.
I love rice noodles for their slightly chewy, springy texture. Also because they taste a bit lighter than noodles made from wheat flour.
Cold rice noodle salads often have a salty, umami dressing with a kick of citrus and vinegar, like cold rice noodle salad with peanut lime dressing. Long, thin rice noodles are delicious in soup, and we all love rice noodle stir-fries like Pad See Ew and Drunken Noodles.
Cooking rice noodles is slightly different than cooking other types of pasta. Instead of boiling the noodles, dried rice noodles are simply soaked in hot water to hydrate. If used in a stir-fry, the hydrated noodles are then briefly cooked again in a very hot wok or skillet.
The tricky part about cooking rice noodles is knowing how long to soak the noodles. Keep reading for specific, helpful tips about how to cook rice noodles for all your favorite recipes.
Types of Rice Noodles
Rice noodles are an ingredient in basically all Asian cuisines. They are sold fresh and dried. In most grocery stores in the United States, dried rice noodles are most common. In Asian markets you’re more likely to also find fresh rice noodles in the refrigerated section.
Each country has a variety of names for rice noodles, depending on the size and shape of the noodles. However, in most grocery stores in the US they are labeled simply as “rice noodles” or “rice stick” noodles.
The main difference between all types of rice noodles is the width of the noodles.
The packaging rarely says exactly what size the noodles are. Luckily, the packaging is usually transparent so you can see the noodles for yourself! The brand “A Taste of Thai” has a good visual of all 4 widths of noodles that they sell.
4 common types of rice noodles
- Very thin: Similar to angel hair pasta, these noodles might also be labeled as “vermicelli” or “angel hair.” They're used in this recipe for Singapore Noodles.
- Thin: About ⅛-inch wide, might be rounded like spaghetti or flat like linguine. Sometimes these noodles are labeled as "Pad Thai" rice noodles.
- Medium: Often labeled as “Pad Thai” or "Stir-Fry" noodles. The noodles are closer to ¼-inch wide, similar to linguine. Sometimes medium-width noodles are a little wider, more like fettuccine.
- Wide: Similar in width to pappardelle pasta, used in dishes like Pad See Ew.
Although not traditional, you can also find brown rice noodles in grocery stores.
How to Cook Rice Noodles
There is no single "right" way to cook dried rice noodles. There are several different but similar methods, and when you start cooking rice noodles fairly regularly you'll settle on a method that you like best.
I've also noticed that some brands of rice noodles soften faster than other brands. If you find a brand you like, keep buying that brand and soon you'll figure out exactly the right soaking time for your favorite rice noodles.
Here is the most common method for cooking dried rice noodles, often the method listed on rice noodle packages:
- Boil a pot of water, then turn off the heat
- Add rice noodles to the pot, or pour the boiling hot water over the noodles in a wide bowl, covering them completely
- Swish the noodles around briefly to separate
- Soak the noodles for 6 to 10 minutes, until tender but still chewy
- Drain the noodles
- Rinse briefly under cold water
Many home cooks and chefs have slightly different methods that they prefer.
Other Cooking Methods:
Hot water, longer soak: Some recipes, like this one for Pad Thai, use hot tap water (not boiling) and soak the noodles for up to 30 minutes. The noodles cook slightly slower, making it less likely they'll get too soft.
Cold water, longer soak: Use cold water and soak the noodles even longer. This could take several hours or more but you're less likely to end up with over-soaked noodles.
Quick Boil: Boil the noodles for 2 to 6 minutes, then rinse in cold water. Careful with this method, as the noodles can easily over-cook.
Tips for Perfectly Cooked Rice Noodles
First, take a bite of the noodle. If the texture is hard or very firm, the noodles haven't soaked long enough. The texture should be tender and pleasantly chewy, al dente and just pliable enough to easily wrap around your finger.
Remember, the noodles will soften a bit more when they are cooked in a stir-fry. If soaking noodles for a stir-fry, error on the side of leaving them more firm than soft.
Rice noodles that have been soaked too long will have a texture similar to over-cooked Italian pasta - soft and mushy. Over-soaked rice noodles tend to stick together with a gluey, gummy texture. They might also fall apart when stir-fried, leaving you with short pieces of noodles rather than long noodles.
It's a matter of preference, but I always do. Rinsing rice noodles briefly after they are soaked removes starch and makes the noodles less likely to have a sticky, starchy texture. It also cools the noodles and stops the cooking process, so they don't continue to soften once taken out of hot water.
Soaked and drained rice noodles are stir-fried for just a minute or two in a hot wok or non-stick skillet. The noodles are stir-fried just long enough to soak up the sauce.
Don't stir-fry too many noodles at once. If cooking more than 6 ounces of noodles, add the noodles to the wok in two separate batches. This way, all the noodles will get enough time cooking directly against the hot wok.
Are Rice Noodles Gluten-Free?
Yes. Check the ingredient label, but rice noodles should only have two ingredients: rice flour and water.
Rice Noodle Cookbooks
There are lot of great cookbooks with authentic rice noodles recipes. Here are a few of my favorites:
More Information About Asian Noodles
When I want to learn more about rice noodles and other types of Asian noodles, I love reading these blogs:
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