Heart of glass: Light and delicate vermicelli noodles | South China Morning Post
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Heart of glass: Light and delicate vermicelli noodles

Cellophane noodles will be as flavoursome as the ingredients they are cooked with

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

Glass vermicelli, which goes by many names, including fen si, bean thread vermicelli and cellophane noodles, is made from mung bean starch. It's very delicate and if you overcook it, it will fall apart. It has a slippery texture and absorbs the flavours of whatever ingredients it's cooked with.

 

Clay pot shrimp with glass vermicelli, salted yellow beans, pork, green peppercorns and Thai basil (pictured)
For the yellow beans, I use the Kowloon Soy brand of soya bean, which comes in a jar as a thin brown paste. Fresh green peppercorns are sold at shops specialising in Thai produce, which should also stock the holy basil.

I prefer to cook shrimp whole because they have more flavour, but if you want to use just the meat, remove the heads and shells and add them to the small shrimp when making the stock.

You can substitute other ingredients for the shrimp: fresh clams, for example; or make an all-meat version by increasing the amount of pork (and use home-made pork or chicken stock, instead of shrimp stock); or even make a vegetarian clay pot by omitting the fish sauce and cooking the glass vermicelli and seasonings with fried bean curd, Chinese cabbage and a vegetable broth.

 

300 grams small fresh shrimp, for the shrimp stock

300 grams medium-sized fresh shrimp (about 9cm from head to tail)

200 grams glass vermicelli

30ml cooking oil

200 grams slightly fatty pork

½ a large onion

3-4 garlic cloves

60 grams Chinese fermented yellow beans

10ml soy sauce

10ml Chinese rice wine

5ml fish sauce

1 tsp granulated sugar

2-3 small (3cm-4cm) branches of fresh green peppercorns, plus more for the garnish

A handful of holy basil leaves

2 spring onions

 

Make the shrimp stock. Put the small shrimp in a saucepan and add 600ml of water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquid. Press on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible, then discard the shrimp. Measure out about 300ml of the liquid. The remainder can be frozen for later use.

Put the glass vermicelli in a bowl, add cool water to cover and leave to soak for about 30 minutes. Pour into a colander to drain off the water. Cut the medium-sized shrimp down the back through the shells and remove the vein (if it has any). Cut the pork into thin strips. Slice the onion about 5mm thick. Thinly slice the garlic. Mix the soy sauce with the rice wine, fish sauce and sugar. Pull the green peppercorns from the stems. Cut the spring onions into 3cm lengths.

Pour the oil into a large clay pot set over a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic and stir until the onion starts to soften. Add the pork and stir until it loses its pink colour. Add the yellow beans, soy-sauce mixture and the green peppercorns and stir to combine. Immediately add the glass vermicelli and stir to coat the noodles with the sauce ingredients. Add 300ml of shrimp stock and the medium-sized shrimp and mix thoroughly. Bring to the boil then lower the flame, cover the pot with the lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the shrimp are cooked. Stir in the holy basil leaves and the spring onion then garnish with whole branches of green peppercorns before serving.

 

Fen si tong
Glass vermicelli soup is quick and easy to make as long as you have home-made chicken broth in your fridge or freezer (you can, at a pinch, use diluted canned broth, although it won't be as good). I like the combination of chicken, dried shrimp and sze gwa (angled luffa, also called Chinese okra), but you can use other meats and vegetables, if you like. Choose a slender, fairly small sze gwa, because the skin becomes tough as it ages.

 

20 grams dried shrimp

60 grams glass vermicelli

2-3 boneless chicken thighs

10ml soy sauce

10ml rice wine

5ml cooking oil

1 tsp cornstarch

A pinch each of salt, sugar and ground white pepper

1-2 thin slices of ginger, peeled and julienned

1 small sze gwa, about 18cm long

600-800ml unsalted chicken broth

Sesame oil, for drizzling

1 spring onion, minced

 

Briefly rinse the dried shrimp with cool water then drain them and put them in a small bowl. Cover them with warm water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Put the glass vermicelli in a bowl, cover with cool water and leave to soak until pliable, then drain. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and mix thoroughly with the soy sauce, rice wine, cooking oil, cornstarch, salt, sugar and white pepper. Use a very sharp knife to cut the ridges from the sze gwa. If the skin feels tough, remove it with a vegetable peeler. Cut the luffa in half lengthwise then on the diagonal into 1cm pieces.

Put the chicken broth in a saucepan and add the julienned ginger and the dried shrimp and soaking liquid. Heat until simmering, then add the chicken pieces and marinade and simmer for about two minutes. Add the sze gwa and glass vermicelli and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sze gwa is just tender. Stir in a little salt, if needed. Divide the ingredients between bowls then drizzle a little sesame oil over each portion. Sprinkle with spring onions and serve.

 

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