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Jan 2, 2012 09:07 AM

Soaking Rice Noodles for Pad Thai

I've searched through several CH posts and read through several "authentic" Pad Thai recipes. I'm left confused about the best way to soak the ban pho (rice noodles). I've seen directions that call for soaking in hot tap water for 20 minutes, soaking in cool or lukewarm water for 40 minutes, and soaking in cold water for 1 hour. Can someone tell me which directions I should follow? Or will each of these yield pretty much the same result? Thanks!

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  1. To muddy the water(er, not intended), I bring my water to a boil, take it off the heat and throw the noodles in for about 10 minutes or until soft.

    I'm replying to subscribe to the thread - I'm curious to hear how wrong I am to do it this way. (I am always wrong on Chowhound.;)

    2 Replies
    1. re: shanagain

      I soak mine in lukewarm water probably around an hour tops. It shouldn't be too soft at this stage (which is why I don't boil or use hot tap water) otherwise the noodles won't be able to absorb as much of the flavouring liquid.

      Check out the texture of the noodles at 5:45 in this YT video. I'd say the noodles are very very al dente.

      1. re: shanagain

        That is exactly what I do and for just about the same amount of time. I taste at 10 and let them sit longer if needed but as mine usually sit in the skillet for 5 minutes or so, not much longer.

      2. Ok, let's just be clear here, we are talking about the dry rice noodle, right? Not the fresh one, right? The fresh one does not require soaking:

        As for the soaking time, it is really about the texture. Soak the noodle until it is tender and not hard.

        Similar (not the same) as Shanagain, I often do not have the patience for waiting hours. So I do a very light cook in boiling water. So for me:

        1) I soak the dry noodle until it is somewhat tender
        2) then put it in boiling water for <1 minute.
        3) take it out. If necessary, stop the residual cooking by running cold water or put it in a cold water bath.

        This should partially cooked it, but not fully.

        By the way, if you can get hold of the fresh ones, then I would try those.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Hi, ChemicalK. Happy New Year! Yes, those are the dry noodles I was talking about. The package says, "Rice Stick - Premium Quality - Banh Pho Thuong Hang." I prepared Pad Thai yesterday and ended up soaking the noodles for about 20 minutes in hot tap water. They were just fine. I have a feeling there are many different ways to end up with acceptably soft noodles. But I also have a feeling it'll be a long time before I need to refer back to these soaking suggestions. The Pad Thai was good, but in my opinion, not worth the time and effort that went into it. I made the sauce from scratch, and the dish called for many ingredients I'll probably never use up (palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind, dried shrimp, dried Thai chiles ...). I don't mind spending time cooking when the end result justifies it; that just wasn't the case with this Pad Thai.

          1. re: CindyJ

            "The Pad Thai was good, but in my opinion, not worth the time and effort that went into it."

            Happy new year to you too, CIndy. Do you mean the dish you made does not taste as good as those from the restaurants and therefore does not justify the work? Or do you mean Pad Thai in general is just not worth the effort because it is much easier to eat out?

            I made the Vietnamese Pho several times. At the end, I get better and better, and thought I got comparable results as the restaurant quality. Unfortunately, it is a lot of works. Whenever I make a big stock of Pho soup with fresh Pho noodle, I ended up eating Pho for like 3-days straight (breakfast, lunch and dinner). As you can imagine, it can get tiresome. At the end, I just think it is easier to order Pho when I want it.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              No... my Pad Thai was good -- better, even, than I've had in most restaurants. But it's not that kind of a "wow factor" dish where the nuances of homemade set it so far apart from what you can get in a restaurant. So I guess I'm saying it's not worth the effort because it's much easier to eat out.

              I made Pho a while ago, and like the Pad Thai, it was really labor intensive. (In fact, I remember posting a gazillion questions about THAT preparation, too!) I don't know of any local restaurants that serve really good pho, but it's also not one of those dishes that I miss if I don't have it for a long time.

              That said, I find the preparation of many Asian dishes to be labor intensive -- all that cutting and chopping just to get the many ingredients ready -- but I've found several recipes that absolutely justify the time and effort (probably most of them from Grace Young's cookbooks).

              1. re: CindyJ

                "So I guess I'm saying it's not worth the effort because it's much easier to eat out."

                Got it.

                "I find the preparation of many Asian dishes to be labor intensive"

                True, but let's just say some are worse than others. Oyster sauce with Chinese broccoli is a famous but very simple dish. Do you happen to like Chinese broccoli from restaurants?

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I can't say I've ever enjoyed Chinese broccoli I've eaten at restaurants. It's been either overcooked or tasteless. Do you have a good recipe you'd like to share?

                2. re: CindyJ

                  Actually, I agree and disagree at once. As a typical American, I have to get up a lot of ingredients and equipment to prepare some Asian dishes like pad thai, sushi rolls, or Indian curries. But for someone who would be making those things most days of the week, it would be quite simple.

                  The hardest part of making great Pho is making the beef broth. If you're ready to eat Pho 5 days a week, you could just make a lot of broth and toss together the rest in minutes each day. Same with sushi rolls--just have that rice equipment ready, the nori sheets, seasonings and veggies, maybe thaw a new chunk of fish each day. The same is true with Pad Thai. But as much as I love those things, I don't crave them every day, and therefore it is often better for me to buy them prepared.

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    "If you're ready to eat Pho 5 days a week, you could just make a lot of broth and toss together the rest in minutes each day"

                    That was my problem. It was pretty cool the first couples of times, then it become a drag to eat Pho 3-day straight.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      I keep a supply of Chinese ingredients in my pantry and/or fridge that actually get used up and even replenished. Hoisin sauce, black bean garlic sauce, XO sauce, chili oil, preserved black beans, sesame oil, three kinds of soy sauce, rice wine, black vinegar, rice vinegar and oyster sauce are among the ingredients I have here now. I don't use them often, but I do find that most Chinese dishes I prepare at home are far better than any I could get at a local restaurant. Maybe I just like Chinese food more than I like Thai food, so I find the effort that goes into Chinese cooking to be more rewarding.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Yes, Chinese is easier that way. Thai food relies often on fresh herbs, fresh bean sprouts, fresh galangal and kaffir lime leaves, etc. Chinese is delicious, too, but less trouble than Thai stuff to get up from pantry ingredients and things that have been in the fridge for months.

                      2. re: Bada Bing

                        I make the broth and can it into 16 oz sizes so it's ready when you are for Pho!

                      3. re: CindyJ

                        Paraphrasing those fab Grace Young recipes would be sincerely appreciated.

                        1. re: Joebob

                          If you search through COTM posts, you'll find lots of commentary on Young's recipes.

                          One of my favorites is Martin Yan's Genghis Khan Beef -- from "The Breath of a Wok." I've modified the recipe a bit by adding 3 tablespoons of minced ginger and a cup of snow peas or sugar snap peas. I tried to post a link to the recipe on Google Books, but it didn't work. If you Google the name of the recipe, you'll find a working link.

                    2. re: CindyJ

                      Use the palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce along with the chiles and some figs to make a Tamarind Sauce. Make some samosa filling [lamb/peas or potato] which is faster than making sloppy joes. Serve over basmati rice with the sauce. Or if you are willing to deep fry, wrap the filling in won ton wrappers and drop in the oil for 30 seconds a piece. Dip into the sauce as a lovely first course.

                      For 1 quart of chicken stock, crush some green onions and ginger, and put into a pot. Add 1 tlb of soy and 1 tbl of the fish sauce and let this simmer for 5-10 minutes. Pull out the onion and garlic. Drop in some noodles. When they are cooked, put stock into bowls. Top with sliced cabbage and some fresh green onions. I also like to add some chili peppers. Lovely lunch.

                  2. I think that all of those approaches will offer the same result, although I have not tried the cold water approach. I don't think this is a touchy cooking matter. I soak in warm water for 20 minutes or more. Whatever gets the noodles moist and pliable works fine.

                    1. Rice noodles come in a range of widths/thickness, all of which affects the soaking time. I follow a recipe that calls for warm water soaking of chantaboon rice sticks, a medium noodle, 45-60 minutes.

                      1. Since I prepare chick peas using the overnight soak method to great result in preparation for making hummus, I tried it with rice noodles once out of curiosity and it worked great. Cold water, add pkg of rice noodles in a large plastic container, pop in the frig-next morning happy rice noodles.