Thursday, January 24, 2013

French Friday with Dorie: Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles

I had a little fun with today’s Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles.  (And because 2 CUPS of tomato puree sounds gross in a stir fry that is even "just-remotely Chinese"....I went on a search.)

I had read through the recipe earlier in the week and knew that I needed a few ingredients that might be common in a French/Chinese pantry, but not in mine.  I’m always happy when I read through an ingredient list and find that everything I need is in my fridge or pantry...both seem to overflow all the time.  But sometimes it is part of our fun or our learning experience to stretch out into new ingredients and ideas.  For today I did not have the mushrooms, noodles, fresh five-spice powder (threw away a jar that was at least 10 years old), or shrimp.  But I did not write down my needs before leaving the house early this morning for meetings, and thought I could just stop by the market on my way home and pick up a few remembered items.  I did remember “stir-fry,” and to me, that usually means lots of veges and some type of meat with lots of rice or noodles.

So, I picked up a variety of ingredients that I thought sounded good in a stir fry, remembered the noodles, spice and shrimp, and then drove home.  Before beginning to cook, I carefully read the recipe and was a bit at a loss.  Hummm...not my vision.  Hubby, who lived in Singapore for a couple of years just before I met him, was also not tuning into the right vision for Dorie’s stir fry.  He had been getting excited about a different type of stir fry.

I phoned Emy-Lou-Who, my daughter, who a few years ago lived for 18 months in Taiwan and is a great Chinese food cook and her hubby, Tommy was also at home.  His father is from Laos and his mother is Chinese, raised in Thailand.   Emy sounded terrible; has a bad cold, but she was excited to give insights into today’s menu.  I had a few wrong ideas.

First of all, the “slithery, translucent noodles” had only Chinese writing on the package and no directions for cooking, even in Chinese.  I guess these noodles are so common in the Asian culture that the noodle producers assume that those who purchase their noodles automatically know how to cook them.  And how many Arizona Americans actually cook with them?  Only Asians  or adventurous cooks like us.  Not your typical Southwestern fare.  (Chinese food is for take out or is restaurant food...too much chopping and too many unusual ingredients.)  (I had a neighbor ask me last week if I would teach her to cook rice...plain rice.  She is in her 70's, raised two boys, and has yet to learn to cook rice.   Solution:  she went out and purchased a rice cooker at Costco because her first attempt, after I told her simply what to do, failed.)

Tommy advised that I put the noodles that I wanted for immediate use in a large bowl, pour boiling water on them, and let them sit for 30 seconds to a minute, stirring them with a chop stick a few times.  Then drain the noodles and rinse them a few times with cold water which stops the cooking process and also keeps them from sticking together.  The noodles just need to quickly soften and they are ready.

I had googled recipes for "shrimp and cellophane noodles" and found an ingredient list similar to Dorie’s but for a soup instead of a stir fry.  I would basically prepare all the ingredients the same way, but instead of stir frying, I would first make a flavorful broth, then use the same "glass" noodles and Dorie's other ingredients,  but instead, have a soup.  This appealed to me as I listened to pour, sick Emy, and knew I should take a pot of healthy soup to her tomorrow...a stir fry would be good right after cooking but would not keep well.  A pot of  soup would serve a second purpose.

So I explained my idea to Emy and she said, “Oh you want to make pho.” 
“Pho. It is Tommy’s dad’s favorite food.  Every time he goes out to dinner, that’s what he orders.”
“How do you spell that?”
“P-H-O.  Pronounced Fu...with a u like how it sounds in duck, pho.”
“Oh yea, the package has the word pho as the middle word in the title for these noodles.”
“They are great noodles.  They make super stir frys and great pho, or soup.  They will be un-pho-gettable.”
“You can call your soup, ‘Shrimp Pho You.’”
“More ha-ha.”

I asked what they thought about an addition of more vegetable varieties.  I was told that it’s soup, I can add whatever I want.  Or it could be stir fry and I could still add whatever I want.

So, choosing to make the soup, or pho, I made my stock by simmering a whole chicken and flavoring the broth with chopped onion, minced garlic, minced hot chilis, 5 spice power, minced ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Hoisin sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, lime juice, toasted sesame oil, cayenne pepper, and chili sauce.  (Are you as impressed as I that all these are in my cupboard?)

Then I chopped or sliced scallions, more onion, a carrot, celery, extra firm tofu, cooked chicken, lots of cilantro, zucchini, mushrooms, and I cooked my shrimp.

As instructed, I used a large soup bowl and added a bottom layer of my cooked noodles.  Then I layered  the raw veges,  the cooked meats and tofu, and finished with a garnish of unchopped scallions  and lots of cilantro.  After all this was in my bowl I poured boiling hot broth over my pho choices, added an additional squeeze of lime juice, and sat down to enjoy my efforts.  (Amazing how my veges became instantly almost cooked!  About the same as with a quick stir fry.)

This dish has many layers of flavors that include spicy, sweet, sour, and salty.  There are also many textures with the fun “glass” noodles, the not-quite-cooked veges, the meats, the garnishes and the broth.  It all comes together in a fabulous bowl filled with ingredients that work together in a way that has become Tommy’s dad’s all-time favorite food.  I’m sure that because many of these ingredients were used in the stir fry the same sensations with taste and texture as well as smell were shared.  I did not use the tomato puree, but did use everything else.

It sounds like a lot, but all this family meal took only 45 minutes to prepare  (after the chicken  had simmered long enough to be viewed as “done” so I could have stock) and to be ready to eat.  Not bad for a very healthy and extremely delicious pho with so many items on its ingredient list.   And, for my first try, I declare that my pho was amazing and, I think, quite beautiful.

I feel confident that my “Asian” kids will also really enjoy this pho tomorrow.  (I chopped extras.  The noodles, I now know take only 30 seconds to cook with boiling hot water.  I’ll drop off all the components, they can re-boil the flavorful broth and build more pho in just minutes.)

Emy educated me that pho is a simple “poor people” food used as an ordinary meal.  It is common that  very few veges are used.  Meat makes this dish expensive, and actually the meats used are commonly the “mystery meats” or tripe.  My pho would be an expensive variety with both chicken and shrimp and a variety of lovely veges.  These same ingredients used in a stir fry are also common “poor people” food, yet most everyone loves these dishes.

It was fun to put a different twist on today’s Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles.  I learned a few things and my results are extraordinary.   I know why most folks order Chinese take out food: the ingredient list is long, there appears to be lots of chopping, and there are many items that are uncommon...the first time I used fish sauce was way back in that beginning Dorie recipe....I’m still using my first purchased bottle. 

Since I went rogue on this dish, I'll be very interested to view your stir fry results.  These are great flavors, I do enjoy more veges, and with some of my tweaks, I'll be making the stir-fry version too...soon!

Have a great weekend!


  1. I am curious to see what everyone will do this week as well.
    Utter disaster in my house :-(
    The pho sounds very tempting right now - we have been in a cold spell of low single digits to negative digits for the past few days. I can't get warm!

  2. Turning a French/Italian inspired dish into Pho takes some genius thinking behind it! This looks so lovely, Kris!

  3. This is really delicious. I had some cellophane noodles with ground meat long time ago and it was really delicious. This looks even better with shrimps.

  4. Wow, this is one delicious looking bowl of shrimp, mushrooms and noodles-I'm glad you made the effort to personalize this recipe with your helpful family! I would think that your dish would use less oil and with no frying be very healthy-I will have to try it! Have a wonderful weekend;-)

  5. Kris, yours will undoubtedly be the best dish of all! It looks amazing & my husband would have loved it. Ours, not so good...and we didn't follow the recipe either...

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. We should have all made your recipe, Kris!!!! It sounds amazing!!

  7. I love that you ended up making pho! And it looks fantastic too!

  8. Awesome rogue... meal. Looks like it was a lot of fun too.

  9. I LOVE Pho! It is one of my very favorite cold weather dishes. We have a Vietnamese place by us that does an absolutely delicious one. It's especially wonderful when you are feeling slightly under the weather because it warms you right up. Yours looks delicious. And now after seeing that this week's recipe was not a big hit, I'm sure you are happy that you went in a slightly different direction.

  10. I love Pho, too ... very satisfying on a cold winter's day! It looks wonderful.

  11. Rogue was the way to go this week, Kris! I love your interpretation of this dish. I didn't like it Dorie's way, but pho sounds fantastic! Good job.

  12. Maybe we should all try your recipe. It looks wonderful! Delicious! Beautiful!!

  13. Good on you for going your own way.

  14. if you get a chance to go eat Pho, it's great! and try it with different offals (although tripe and fish balls are really great in it). We love to eat it in our house and at least twice a year, we work on our pho broth... we will get it right sooner than later! The beef one is quite tricky to master, but oh so tasty either way. My husband actually said it smells like we are having pho when he walked into the kitchen last night :)

    Glad you were able to make it something of your own!

  15. Krissy, I am so impressed with the Shrimp Pho that you cooked with all these lovely vegetables. And I am also impressed at all the research you undertook and advice you got from family with respect to authentic Chinese cuisine! Having said that, I must say that your Pho looks so delicious and healthy that I would realay have loved to have been able to enjoy a taste of it.
    Have a very lovely weekend!

  16. Brilliant variation! I love the sound of your version of this dish. The chopping might take some time, but there are plenty of French dishes that require a similar amount. This soup seems more than worth the effort.

  17. Your dish looks so very flavorful! I am glad that you had fun with this one and it sounds like the results were well worth it!

  18. We are big fans of Pho here too. Your adaptation looks great! Bit jealous actually! lol Now we know. Dorie meant your recipe!