Rice noodles are a mainstay in almost all Asian cuisines. Made with only two ingredients: rice flour and water, they are naturally gluten-free. If you have never had rice noodles before, they are thin and long (some can be flat), semi-transparent, lighter in taste, with a springy and slightly chewy texture.
Rice noodles are delicious but can be tricky to cook, as they cook considerably faster than wheat flour pasta. When overcooked, noodles will turn to literal mush. If you are able to master the cooking process, cooked rice noodles are delicious in cold salads, stir-fries, or hot soups. Read below to learn how to cook rice noodles and everything you need to know!
The Different Types Of Rice Noodles
Rice noodles are found in many Asian dishes, but not all rice noodles are the same. Different countries have different names for them, depending on the size and shape of the noodles. In the United States, however, they're all generally labeled "rice noodles," "rice vermicelli," or sometimes "rice stick noodles."
In grocery stores in the United States, you'll find most rice noodles dried. You'll be more likely to find the fresh rice noodles option in the refrigerated section of Asian markets. They have typically been steamed, so they are about halfway cooked and can be added directly to dishes without being cooked or soaked in water.
There are four common types of rice noodles, categorized by width.
- Very Thin: These noodles are similar to angel hair pasta and might even be labeled as such.
- Thin: Thin rice noodles are about 1/8 inch wide. They can be rounded like spaghetti or flat like linguine. These are sometimes labeled as "pad thai" rice noodles.
- Medium: Also labeled as "pad thai" noodles, these are flat rice noodles at 1/4 inch wide or a little wider.
- Wide: The widest rice noodles available are similar in width to pappardelle pasta.
How To Cook Rice Noodles
The tricky part about cooking dried rice noodles is that there is no one set way. You'll settle on your favorite method as you start cooking rice noodles more regularly. You'll also notice that some brands of rice noodles cook faster than other brands. With practice and experience, you'll settle on the exact right way to cook the exact rice noodles you prefer. We've listed below the two basic ways to cook dry rice noodles.
Soaking In Boiling Water
This is the only method that fully cooks the rice sticks. This works well if you are using them in a cool noodle dish and won't be cooking them further when adding them to other ingredients. This method is the recommended method for cooking wide flat noodles. Unlike wheat noodles, rice noodles aren't boiled in with the water over direct heat. Rather, they're allowed to soak in boiling water as the water cools.
- Bring a pot of water to boil, then turn off the heat.
- Add rice sticks to the pot. Alternatively, pour the boiling water over the noodles in a separate, wide, heat-resistant bowl. Be sure that the noodles are covered completely, and swish the bowl a bit to separate them.
- Let the noodles soak for 6 to 10 minutes. Check on them! They need to be tender but still chewy. You'll know they are done when they are completely limp.
- Drain the noodles and rinse briefly under cold water.
If you want a chewier noodle, you can pre-soak them in lukewarm water before cooking them in boiling water. Soak them until they are just barely pliable, drain, and finish cooking them in boiling water for an additional 2 minutes. If you are planning on stir-frying the noodles, make sure they are not perfectly cooked to start. You will want slightly undercook noodles. Otherwise, they will turn to mush when stir fry.
Soaking In Lukewarm Water
This method partially cooks the rice noodles so that they are somewhat soft but still hard on the inside. If the noodles will be added to a pad Thai, as spring rolls fill in, or other stir-fries, this is the way to go. The noodles will finish cooking in the stir-fry dish.
- Place the noodles in a large bowl or pot, being careful not to break them.
- Cover the noodles with lukewarm water and allow them to soak for 10-20 minutes until they just start to separate. Check your water temperature! Lukewarm water should be warm to the touch but not steaming.
- Drain the noodles and rinse briefly under cold water.
If you are precooking your rice noodles to have on hand for later use, toss them with a small bit of sesame oil to prevent them from clumping together.
Add To Soup
Many Asian soup dishes contain rice noodles. The best way to add rice noodles to a soup dish is to add uncooked noodles directly into the broth and it is completely submerged. However, you want to add the noodles just when the soup dish is close to being done. If you put in the noodles too early, they will easily become overcooked.
A Few Tips To Cook The Perfect Rice Noodles!
How Do I Know If My Rice Noodles Are Done?
Take a bite! You're looking for an al dente texture - tender, slightly chewy, and pliable enough to wrap around your finger. Over soaked noodles will be soft, mushy, and stick together with a gluey texture. They'll often fall apart when added to hot dishes.
Do I Have To Rinse With Cold Water?
Not necessarily, but it has a purpose. Rinsing rice noodles will stop the cooking process so that they don't continue to soften past the point you wanted. The cold water will also remove excess starch, which will keep your noodles from having a sticky, starchy texture.
How Do I Use Fresh Rice Noodles?
Usually found in the refrigerated sections of Asian markets, these rice noodles have been partially cooked. If you're going to use them in stir-fry dishes, they'll finish cooking in the pan. If you'd like to use them in a cold dish, you'll want to finish cooking them. You can use either method above, but for much less time.