Like many items on a Chinese-American menu, Singapore Noodles aren't actually of the provenance that its name implies. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a dish called "Singapore Noodles" on a menu in most of Asia, much less in Singapore itself. So how did it get its name?
Well, it's probably based off a Singaporean rice vermicelli dish called Xing Zhou Bee Hoon which is a stir-fry of rice noodles with shrimp, pork and vegetables. The big difference is that it's not seasoned with curry powder. Singapore Noodles may not be a traditional dish, but it is a delicious one, and the spindly, vibrant, curry-flavored impostor has found its way into the hearts of food lovers across the English speaking world.
Why this recipe works
- The noodles are rehydrated with boiling water and are then soaked in cold water until you use them. This ensures the noodles cook quickly, and it keeps them from sticking together.
- The shrimp and pork are marinated with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and potato starch. This not only seasons them, the starch locks in moisture, which ensures the proteins stay plump and juicy.
- Use a pan with a lot of surface area, this ensures your pan stays hot enough, so you're stir-frying and not steaming your vegetables. A wok is best in theory, but most home stoves don't put out enough energy to effectively use a wok. Unless you have a wok burner, I recommend using a very large frying pan instead.
- The vegetables are only minimally stir-fried. This ensures they stay crisp and retain their vibrant colors.
- Although everything is stir-fried until the noodles are added, once the noodles go in, they're steamed with chicken stock seasoned with fish sauce and oyster sauce. This not only seasons the noodles to the core, but it also keeps them from clumping up.
What are the ingredients for Singapore Noodles?
As you might expect in a dish this colorful, it does require a fair number of ingredients, but none of them should be too hard to find.
- Rice vermicelli - The noodles for this dish are very thin rice noodles, which are usually labeled rice vermicelli, bee hoon, or maifun.
- Shrimp - While any size shrimp will work, I like to use ones that are Medium Large (36/40) or smaller. That's because shrimp that are too large will won't play well with the wispy noodles.
- Pork - Any tender cut of pork will work. Alternatively, you could also use chicken, beef, or lamb.
- Soy Sauce - Just your run-of-the-mill Kikkoman will work. It's purpose is to season the proteins.
- Shaoxing Wine - This is Chinese rice wine. Although it is not too sweet, it is aged, which gives it a wonderful caramel flavor. If you can't find it, a dry sherry will work.
- Potato Starch - By including starch in the marinade for the proteins, it helps lock in their moisture, preventing them from getting dry and chewy as you stir-fry them.
- Chicken Stock - Rice Vermicelli needs a liquid to cook properly. You could use water, but chicken stock adds much more flavor to the noodles.
- Fish Sauce - Fish sauce can be a little stinky, but the curry powder masks any fishy funk, and the fish sauce adds boatloads of umami. If you don't want to use it, soy sauce is a suitable alternative.
- Oyster Sauce - Oyster sauce adds loads of umami as well as a mild sweetness. When shopping for oyster sauce, look for one that lists oysters as the first ingredient (many brands don't include much oyster). My favorite oyster sauce is made by a Thai brand called Megachef.
- Eggs - Eggs not only add extra protein, but they also soak up the flavor of the sauce like a sponge.
- Garlic - I used one giant clove of garlic, but feel free to add more garlic to suit your tastes.
- Ginger - Together with the garlic and curry powder, the ginger is a key flavoring component of this dish. Be sure to mince it finely as ginger can be a little stringy.
- Onions - I used regular yellow onions, but red onions or shallots work just as well.
- Bell Peppers - I like using a mix of red and green bell peppers not just because of their color, but because the green ones taste like peppers, while the red ones are more sweet and fruity.
- Bamboo - Thin strips of bamboo lend a nice crunchy texture to the dish.
- Bean Sprouts - These add a nice crisp texture, and because of their long thin shape, they blend in well with the noodles.
- Curry Powder - Use a Southeast Asian curry powder with lots of turmeric. This is where the noodles get their vibrant yellow color.
- Scallions - I use some scallions to garnish my Singapore Noodles, but cilantro is another tasty garnish for this dish.
How to make Singapore Noodles
Because Singapore Noodles (or any stir-fry for that matter) come together very quickly, it's imperative to have all the vegetables prepped and ready. Otherwise, your food is going to burn while you're running around your kitchen. I know it's no fun having extra dishes to clean up, but this is one dish you want to set up like a cooking show, with all the ingredients prepped and in bowls so that they're at hand when you need them.
The first thing you need to do is rehydrate the rice noodles. I've found that the best way to do this is to soak them in boiling water just long enough so that they aren't brittle anymore. Once they've become flexible, you can drain them and soak them in cold water until you're ready to use them. This not only ensures that they're fully rehydrated, but it also keeps them from sticking together.
For the proteins, I like to marinate them in a combination of soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. This guarantees that they are well seasoned, and by mixing in a little starch, it locks in the moisture.
For the sauce, you just need to combine the chicken stock, fish sauce, and oyster sauce and set it aside.
When all of your prep is done, I start by heating a large frying pan over high heat and then scramble the eggs. To keep them from getting tough and rubbery, I transfer the eggs to a bowl while I stir-fry the other ingredients.
Once the eggs are out of the pan, add the remaining oil, as well as the garlic and ginger. You want to infuse the oil with the flavor of the aromatics, but it's important not to brown these yet; otherwise, they'll burn by the time the proteins are cooked.
Next up is the shrimp and pork, which get added to the pan and spread out into a single layer. This allows you to brown them a bit on one side, creating that wonderful wok-charred flavor. Then you can toss them in the pan to flip them over and cook the other side.
When the proteins are mostly cooked through (they don't have to be fully cooked yet), add the onions, peppers, bean sprouts, and bamboo. You want to keep them moving around the pan constantly to make sure they cook evenly. In addition to stirring with a spatula, I also toss them with the pan. If you're not confident with your tossing skills, you can use two spatulas and toss them like a salad.
Once the vegetables are partially cooked, add the curry powder and continue stir-frying. The high temperature not only releases the flavor of the spices, but it's also important to thoroughly cook the turmeric to keep it from being bitter.
Finally, the noodles get drained and added in with the scrambled egg and sauce. If you've ever tried to stir-fry rice noodles, you know that it has a tendency to stick together and clump up. By adding a lot of liquid, you're essentially steaming the noodles. The noodles are done when all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Other Chinese Takeout Recipes
- 160 grams rice vermicelli dried (a.k.a. mai fun or bee hoon)
For shrimp & pork
- 130 grams small shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- 130 grams pork loin (sliced into strips)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon potato starch
- ¾ cup low sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 10 grams garlic (minced)
- 10 grams ginger (minced)
- 85 grams onion (½ medium, sliced)
- 85 grams red bell pepper (½ pepper, sliced)
- 85 grams green bell pepper (½ pepper, sliced)
- 140 grams bamboo (julienned)
- 110 grams bean sprouts
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 scallions (finely chopped, for garnish)
- Put the Rice Vermicelli in a heat-proof bowl or tray and pour boiling water over it until the noodles are submerged. Use tongs or chopsticks, separate the noodles so that they don't stick together. When they are no longer brittle, drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Put the noodles back in the bowl and cover with cold water to finish rehydrating them.
- Put the shrimp, pork, soy sauce, and Shaoxing in a bowl and mix once to combine. Add the potato starch and mix very well. Let these marinate while you prepare everything else.
- In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock, fish sauce, and oyster sauce.
- Heat a large frying pan over high heat until very hot. Add 2 teaspoons of oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the egg, and scramble vigorously to make chunks of egg. Once the egg is fully cooked, transfer it to a bowl and set aside.
- Return the pan to the stove and add 2 tablespoons of oil along with the garlic and ginger. Fry this for a few seconds until it's fragrant, but do not let it brown yet.
- Add the marinated shrimp and pork and flatten so that it's in a single layer. Let this brown on one side until the shrimp is half-way cooked. Flip everything over and brown the other side.
- Add the onion, red and green bell peppers, bean sprouts and bamboo. Stir-fry, alternating between tossing the ingredients in the pan and stirring vigorously until the vegetables are a bright color.
- Add the curry powder and stir-fry until fragrant.
- Drain the noodles and add them to the pan, along with the egg. Pour the sauce mixture over the noodles and use chopsticks or tongs to toss the noodles like you would a salad. The Singapore Noodles are done when there is no liquid left in the pan.
- Garnish with the scallions and serve immediately.