Singapore noodles are seriously fine fusion food. It draws on many cuisines — mainly Cantonese, but with Indonesian, Malay, Thai, and Anglo-Indian influences. It’s quick and simple to make, delivering a heavyweight hit of rich spiciness, heat (African peri-peri or bird’s eye chilies), and surprisingly different textures.
Strangely, Singapore noodles origins may not be Singaporean at all. They might instead lie in an eclectic dish first devised and relished in Hong Kong. The notion might make sense given that the dish always features Madras curry powder. That’s a hot, spicy Anglo-Indian concoction that would have been well known in Hong Kong during its British colonial days.
Perhaps the Singapore tag was used as a drawcard to give the new dish a bit more exotic appeal. Who knows?
Seems nobody does for sure. All that really matters is the outstanding way ours tastes.
Beware going over the top
Singapore noodles are a hugely popular item on Asian restaurant menus around the world. It’s also pretty much a standard feature in take-away fare from anywhere offering the food of South-East Asia.
But a danger with this much-loved dish is that it often gets mistreated. It can easily become the final refuge for leftovers and other tempting oddments that happen to be lying around the kitchen. That’s a shame. Instead of having a clear-cut identity, it ends up not knowing — and more importantly — not tasting like what it’s supposed to be.
It’s meant to be a fiery, colorful dish with multiple, individual flavors and a variety of textures. Made our way, it’s an exciting combo of majorly appealing contrasts. Even the simple rice noodles appear in two completely different guises.
Silky smoothness comes from cooking some of them with all the other ingredients in the finishing, stir-fry process. And a crunchily crisp counter-balance is created by crowning the dish with noodles flash fried hot and fast at the last minute.
Keep it simple, make it quick for a top-notch Singapore noodles
For speed and simplicity, our Singapore noodles recipe uses chicken breasts instead of ‘char sui’ — Chinese barbecued pork. Tastes every bit as good but cuts out the long marinading time and additional cooking that’s needed for that sort of pork.
In comparison to the relatively sparse ingredients in our Singapore noodles, I’ve seen recipes that also chuck in things like bean sprouts, bok choy, French beans, broccoli, lemongrass, carrots, and asparagus. I’ve certainly eaten versions that must have been cooking away since the previous week — a stodgy gloop unified by a single color (grey), and a single flavor (nasty).
You can easily avoid that sad outcome by first resisting a temptation to ‘enhance’ our ingredients with some extensions.
The second key to producing a first-class dish is hot, fast, carefully timed stir-frying. You should be aiming for an overall frying time of almost spot-on ten minutes. That’s all it should take from the moment you put a big skillet or wok onto a high heat, through to serving. Add to that another minute or so to flash-fry the crisp, crowning noodles, and you’re done.
Happily, before all that rapid frying, you will have already prepped the rice noodles, as well as the sauce with its accompanying egg mix. Your cooking focus can then be entirely centered on that crucial hot and fast.
For the stir-fried noodles
- 4 bird’s eye chilies sliced into 1/8 inch rings, seeds and all (I like a colorful mix of both red and green chilies)
- 10 ounces rice noodles often called vermicelli noodles
- 2 skinless chicken breasts thinly sliced lengthways (1/3 inch wide, ¼ inch thick)
- 12 prawn tails medium-sized, shell-on (frozen and defrosted is just fine)
- 4 ounces brown mushrooms cut into quarters, stalks and all
- 12 canned water chestnuts each cut into four slices
- 5 ounces frozen peas straight from the freezer is ideal to keep their max crunch and color
- 3 spring onions bias cut into 3/4 inch lengths – white stems and all the crisp, green stalks
- 1 red bell pepper medium-sized, halved, de-seeded and cut lengthways into 1/4 inch slices
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and very finely sliced
- 2 heaped teaspoons ginger root peeled and grated
- 5 tablespoons coconut oil separated – three for stir-frying, two for crisping the noodles
For the egg mix
- The first task is to start warming a big serving dish in a very low oven. The dish needs to be big enough to hold all your Singapore Noodles the minute they’re cooked.
Making the sauce
- Stir all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan set on a high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, drop the heat to low and let the sauce simmer gently for 10 minutes, with a few stirs. This simmering is important because it allows the ground spices to dissolve into the sauce – and lose any hint of grittiness. Other than a few minutes towards the end of cooking the rest of the dish, that ten minutes’ simmering is all the cooking the spices are going to see. That’s quite different to other types of spiced dishes where cooking times are often far longer.
- Now taste the sauce. Is there enough salt and heat for your taste? Add salt – or more soy sauce – accordingly, But, for heat, remember those bird’s eye chilis that are waiting in the ingredients alongside the noodles. If you’re up for it, by all means add more cayenne pepper.
Preparing the noodles
- While the sauce is cooking, put the rice noodles into a good-sized bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them soak for 5 minutes. Then drain them in a colander and return them to their bowl.
Preparing the egg mix
- Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and give them a thorough whisking. Then whisk in the sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Set the bowl aside – it’s time for some fast stir-frying.
Bringing it all together – stir-frying at pace (in quick succession)
- Set a large skillet – 12-inch is ideal – or a wok on a high heat for a minute or so. Add three level tablespoons coconut oil.
- The moment the oil starts smoking, tip in the slices of chicken, followed by the garlic and chilis. Stir-fry on that sizzling high heat for 90 seconds. Now quickly add the prawn tails, spring onions, water chestnuts, red pepper, and mushrooms. Stir-fry that lot with the chicken – still on a high heat – for another 2 minutes. Take a bit of care with the prawn tails so that they don’t get broken apart.
- Add three quarters of the drained rice noodles, together with the peas, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Then quickly stir in all of the sauce, keeping the heat on high. As soon as the sauce starts to bubble rapidly, drop the heat to medium and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring so that the sauce coats everything.
- Turn the heat back to high and quickly – but thoroughly – stir in the egg mix. As soon as the skillet/wok begins bubbling again, give it one final, combining stir and remove it from the heat. Swiftly transfer your now-cooked Singapore Noodles to that warm serving dish in its low oven. You’re almost ready to serve – just need to quickly flash-fry the remaining noodles.
Crisping the remaining quarter of the noodles – quickly
- Set the emptied skillet/wok back onto a high heat and add two level tablespoons coconut oil. As soon that gets to smoking, add the last quarter of the noodles and stir-fry them hot and fast for about a minute. They’ll curl and crisp very quickly so be careful not to scorch them. Turn out the crisped noodles onto some kitchen towel to drain off any excess oil.
- Fast as you can, remove the serving dish from the oven and top the Singapore Noodles with your crisped ones. Done. Serve immediately.