Stir crazy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am


I love all types of rice noodles: thin, dry rice vermicelli (mai fun), wider ho fun, steamed rice flour rolls (cheung fun) and the fresh, oiled noodles that are made into chow fun. Rice noodles are good at absorbing flavour but will disintegrate if overcooked. Fine dried rice vermicelli is the star of the first dish and, in the second, rice sticks play a supporting but essential role.

Stir-fried rice vermicelli with belacan, pork belly and shrimp (pictured)

Belacan- fermented, dried shrimp paste - has an extremely strong smell that many find unpleasant, but it's essential to many Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Thai dishes. When cooked with other ingredients, the flavour softens and blends, adding richness. Use a Southeast Asian type of belacan (which comes as a hard block), not the Chinese fermented shrimp paste that comes in a jar.

You can add other ingredients such as bean sprouts (stir-fry them when cooking the onion, carrot and cloud ear mushrooms); scrambled egg that's been cooked into a thin flat pancake before being cut into strips; and blanched squid. Fresh lime, squeezed over the dish just before eating, is essential - the tartness perks up the flavour and makes the noodles feel less oily.

About 80ml cooking oil

150 grams rice vermicelli

20 grams cloud ear mushrooms

300 grams pork belly

15ml soy sauce

15ml rice wine

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

Fine sea salt and finely ground white pepper

1 heaped tsp cornstarch

1 medium-size onion

150 grams carrot

200 grams fresh shrimp, heads, tails and shells removed

5-10 grams belacan

1-2 red bird's-eye chillies

2 spring onions

1/2 a large red chilli

Fresh coriander sprigs

Lime wedges, for squeezing

Sambal or chilli oil

Soak the vermicelli in hot (not boiling) water for 30 minutes, then drain. Soak the cloud ear mushrooms in warm water until hydrated, then drain. Remove the hard stem (if there is one) from the mushrooms then cut into strips about 2mm wide. Remove and discard the skin from the pork belly and cut into pieces about 1cm wide and 3mm thick. Put the pork belly in a bowl, add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch each of salt and white pepper. Combine thoroughly then leave to marinate while preparing the other ingredients. Halve the onion then cut into thin slices. Julienne the carrot. Cut the shrimp into 1cm pieces. Wrap the belacan in a small piece of aluminium foil, put on an unoiled skillet and toast over a medium flame for a few minutes, turning the foil packet frequently so it doesn't burn. Cool the belacan. Cut the bird's-eye chillies into thin rounds. Cut the spring onions and red chilli into long, thin strips.

Heat a wok over a medium-high flame until very hot then add about 30ml of cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork belly and stir-fry until lightly browned. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until the pieces turn pink, then remove the pork and shrimp from the wok. Rinse the wok, put it over a medium-high flame and add 30ml of oil. Stir-fry the onion until slightly wilted then add the carrot and mushrooms and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Remove the vegetables from the wok. Heat 20ml of oil in the wok and, when hot, add the belacan. Use a spatula to break it up so no lumps remain. Add the bird's-eye chilli and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the rice vermi- celli and mix thoroughly. Put the pork belly, shrimp, onion, carrot and mushrooms back into the wok, season lightly with salt then mix well. Add about 100ml of water, stir again then cover with the lid, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the vermicelli is tender but not mushy (if necessary, add more water). Taste for seasonings then stir in the spring onion, large red chilli and coriander. Serve with lime wedges and sambal or chilli oil.

Pho gai (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup)

Use a fresh, local chicken- they have more flavour than the frozen imported varieties.

1 fresh chicken (about 1.5kg)

2 large onions, peeled and halved

85 grams fresh ginger, peeled and sliced about 5mm thick

1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

4 cloves

4 star anise

4 lime leaves

1 large red chilli

About 90ml fish sauce

About 60ml fresh lime juice

Fine sea salt

To serve:

250 grams dried rice sticks

200 grams bean sprouts, tops and tails removed

Fresh Thai basil leaves

Fresh coriander leaves

2 large red chillies

Fresh lime wedges

Roast the onion halves on a wire rack over the open flame of a gas burner. Cook the pieces, turning occasionally, until they're deep brown on both sides. Rub salt into the chicken, inside and out, then rinse. Put it into a pot and add two litres of cold water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Add the onion, ginger, peppercorns, cloves, star anise, lime leaves, chilli, fish sauce and one teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 45 minutes, skimming the surface as needed. Remove the chicken from the broth andput it into a bowl. Remove the bones from the hot bird (wear clean kitchen gloves, if needed). Put all the flesh into a bowl and add enough broth so it's covered. Cool the meat then shred it; pour the broth back into the pot. Strain the broth through a sieve into a clean pot and heat until simmering. Stir in the lime juice then add more salt, if needed.

Cook the rice sticks in boiling salted water until tender. Drain then divide bet- ween bowls. Top with bean sprouts and shredded chicken, then ladle the broth over the ingredients. Let each diner add chilli, basil, coriander and lime juice to taste.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee