By Cynthia Nelson
This week I was a little stumped as to what to write about especially since the “Chicken in de Ruff” column was such a hit. I’m gauging this by the number of people who took me up on my offer of the recipe. Imagine then, how happy I was when I read the following on the Stabroek News site:
Fellow Guyanese folks here is a great recipe to try. It is called Chow Fun (Sic) noodles.
Boil a pot of water and soak some white rice overnight.
Next morning blend this up to a thick paste.
Oil a baking pan and pour your rice paste in the pan.
Put this in a covered pot with some water and let steam.
Do not immerse the paste in the water.
When done it will resemble the white of a boiled egg.
Oil the top of this cake gel and add another layer of rice paste until all your paste is used up.
When cooled cut into squares and stir fry like you would chowmein.
You can also add dry shrimps and scallions to the mix, pour on soy sauce or fish sauce and serve.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for later use. It can keep well frozen for about 2 months. In New York China town it is sold on the street corner with a thick tripe soy sauce slightly sweet. It tastes great. Enjoy. (Editor’s note: This recipe was posted by a commentator on the Stabroek News website.)
You know where I’m going with this right? At first I was really excited, not only did I have the subject of a column but I was also going to make something I’d never made before… then, reality hit and I was filled with trepidation. What if making the rice noodles was not as easy as the recipe stated. Before I attempted this dish, I had to find out more.
Chow Fun (Chao Fen) is a transliteration based on the Cantonese language. It is a very popular dish in South East Asia and countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have their own versions of this Chow Fun. In some places it is served as a street food. Chao refers to a method of cooking – stir fry; Fen means noodle. Therefore this dish is stir-fry noodles.
Chow Fun is made with broad, flat, rice noodles and according to one source, the “fun” in Chow Fun should be fresh. The dish can be cooked wet or dry. Wet refers to a sauce or gravy being served with it and dry means that it should be cooked in a way so that the heat from the wok in which it is cooked, permeates the whole dish and the light seasonings of soy sauce, oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, ginger and other aromatics infuse the noodles, the wide flat surface making it great for absorption. Think sauté.
Armed with some knowledge of the dish, I set about making the rice noodles. I followed the recipe as indicated on the site. I used 2 cups of long grain white rice and soaked the rice in 3 cups of boiling water. The blender worked great in turning the soaked rice into a paste. I was tempted to season it with some salt but I held back, I wanted to make it as specified; I could always experiment the next time round.
Using my bamboo steamer and a cake pan, I steamed each layer, one on top of the other for 4 minutes at a time. When it was cool enough to handle, I oiled a knife and cut broad strips then I oiled my hands and separated the layers. This is where I deviated from the recipe. The recipe indicated that the compact layers should be cut into cubes but given that throughout my research no mention was made of this, I cut broad strips.
Beef Chow Fun seems to be among the most popular of version of the dish to make and that is what I did. The noodles were the last thing to be added to the pan because I did not want them to break too much, if at all. The finished dish of Beef Chow Fun looked enticing and I could not wait to taste it, of course the taste-testers were around too. Overall the dish was delicious, but, I think that my noodles were a little too thick and while it is supposed to have a nice gel-like chewiness to it, I found the taste a little too intense, the taste-testers agreed too. Will I make this dish again? Of course! Only next time, I’ll opt to buy the fresh noodles instead of making it myself, the only problem is where to find it in these parts. I’d have to be living in a location where these noodles are made and sold fresh. I know that some people use the dried rice noodles to make Chow Fun but from all that I have read and learnt, for it to be proper Chow Fun, the noodles must be fresh.
I’m off to make another rice noodle dish; I’ll use the dried version to make a stir-fry with some dried shrimp and green onions. Check out the website and see if you like it.