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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How to make crispy fried noodles out of thin spaghetti, for topping Asian soups and salads

These aren't exactly like commercial crispy chow mein noodles, but they are very good in their own right.

I was making an Asian cabbage and chicken salad the other day, and wanted to top it with crispy noodles. I've made crispy lasagna noodle squares before, so I knew this was possible to do from dried pasta. I thought you might like to try this sometime, too.

Here's what I used and did:
  • dry, thin spaghetti noodles -- I used whole wheat and it was "thin spaghetti" (if you use someting else, you'll have to adjust your timing of cooking the pasta in water), about enough for 1 serving of pasta
  • 3 teaspoons corn starch
  • oil for frying, no more than 1/2 of a saucepan of oil (too much can overflow when noodles are added)
Break uncooked noodles in half. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the thin spaghetti into the water, and stir to separate. Set the timer for 4 minutes. (This thin spaghetti normally takes 5-7 minutes to cook. So, for other pasta, I'd subtract 1 minute from the low end of cooking time suggestion.)

After 4 minutes, drain the noodles, thoroughly. Spread on a dinner plate.

Sprinkle the noodles with 1 teaspoon of corn starch. Use a fork to toss the noodles and corn starch together.

Sprinkle, again, with 1 teaspoon of corn starch, and again toss with a fork to distribute the corn starch.

One more time, sprinkle the noodles with the last teaspoon of corn starch. Use your fingers to toss the noodles, thoroughly, picking up any corn starch on the plate beneath the noodles.

Allow to stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Bring oil up to about 350 degrees, over Medium heat. Test the oil with one piece of spaghetti to see if it begins sizzling right away. When test piece is sizzling, well, remove it from the oil.

Drop small pinches of the noodles into the hot oil, in 3 separate spots in the oil. The oil will foam up significantly, from the moisture in the noodles. When the sizzling is almost done, the noodles should be cooked.

Use a slotted frying scoop to remove cooked noodles, and place on a paper lined plate. About half way through frying all of the noodles, transfer the fried noodles to a new plate lined with paper. Continue using the old paper-lined plate for remaining noodles.

After the noodles have cooled, they can be kept in a tightly-sealed container in the pantry for a few days.

I am considering frying regular white spaghetti noodles, to use in haystack cookies, this holiday season. I'll let you know how they turn out.


  1. This is a little labor intensive for my style of cooking, but I am intrigued by the idea. Some day when I have a little more time in my schedule, I may try it.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      These crispy noodles were one of those fun things to be able to make to top our salads. But I can see how this might not fit with a tight meal prep schedule. They can be made in advance, and kept in an airtight container for several days -- just an FYI.

      Have a great day, live and learn!

  2. Hi, Lili--

    Like Live and Learn, I'm intrigued by this idea. We make many Chinese family recipe, so often do both wheat and rice fried noodles. Occasionally we have run out of them in the pantry and forgotten to re-supply. I'd certainly give this a go in a pinch.

    I was also wondering if, with the cornstarch, we might be able to make a gluten-free noodle turn into something serviceable for chow mein, as well.

    Thanks for sharing! Have a good week! Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      oh, that would be interesting to know if this works well with gluten-free pasta.
      My mom used to buy those crispy chow mein noodles. I loved them, but the price always puts me off. So, this is a great alternative for someone like me.
      have a great day, Sara!

    2. Hi, Lili--

      Been thinking about it today, and was thinking I will definitely have to experiment with gluten-free noodles. I like the deep-fried rice noodles for Chinese chicken salad (to address your/YHF's conversation about over/under noodles -- I usually layer the rice noodles over the lettuce and chicken, but under the green onions or any other veggies you want in the salad.) But our favorite fried noodles are the wheat ones for chow mein. I'd love to find a gluten-free substitute that was passable.

      I actually always thought I didn't like chow mein because I actually HATE the packaged fried noodles. But when I started having home-made chow mein with boiled and then pan-fried noodles, I realized I liked everything else. It was just the darned noodles.

      We pan-fry our chow mein noodles until they're actually browned, because you don't get the same flavor if they aren't browned. They start out sort of hard and chewy the first day, but the second day, they're soft. Doesn't matter, we fry them for the taste, not the crunch.

      Oh, and YHF is totally correct. I bet you can find some lovely fresh noodles at one of your local Asian markets. I used to sometimes get them in the produce section of our tiny local market. In a pinch, you can still get a good result with the dry ones (a little different shape and consistency than spaghetti, but probably very cheap at the Asian market) that you boil first, and then fry.

      The brand we can find the most often (don't have any so can picture the package, but not remember the name) carries two varieties -- one in an orange package and one in red. I don't remember which I like better, but if you read the instructions, the best chow mein noodles for pan-frying will often SUGGEST pan-frying. I've pan-fried the others, though, too, and always had a completely satisfactory result.

      The trick I find to good pan-fried noodles is a REALLY hot cast iron frying pan, small to medium amounts at a time, as you did in your recipe, and alternating a tablespoon or two of oil every OTHER batch you run through. More oil, and it's deep-fried like your crunchy ones; less and sometimes they don't brown quite as nicely or have as nice a texture.

      I'll be sure to let you know if I try your cornstarch method on GF noodles.

      Oh, come to think of it, I DO like those crunch packaged noodles in one thing-- a haystack-type "cookie" my SIL makes with butterscotch chips at Christmas sometimes. :)


    3. Hi Sara,
      There are fresh noodles at markets in the refrigerator case, but also much much cheaper at Chinatown noodle factories. We have several shops in Hawaii, and the prices may be one third of what they sell for in supermarkets. Also taste is fresh, can't beat that. It also freezes nicely, so we don't mind buying in bulk at factory prices. We haven't gone in years, since it is a long distance and inconvenient that way. Recently, our DIL surprised us with several pounds of fresh noodles and pi, so it reminded us that we should shop at Chinatown again one day, instead of buying from the stores.

      Have a nice day!!


    4. Sara, let us know how the GF noodles turn out, when you get to them. Thanks for the tips on pan-frying noodles!

      I love those haystacks, too. I'm thinking about making a batch with homemade fried noodles, later this fall.

    5. YHF-- Where we are living now, and where we'll be living next, we're short on both Asian markets and local Chinatowns, unfortunately. So we feel lucky to get fresh noodles or lop cheong even at supermarket prices! (wink)

      We've frozen fresh noodles (and egg roll wrappers and lop cheong) in the past, though; so I was thinking that while my husband's job is in striking distance (not close, but closer than here) we really ought to stock up the freezer with a store of the couple of the Chinese goodies we haven't learned to replicate. I probably COULD make home-made noodles, but I haven't yet.

      We do make our own bao, potstickers, shu mai, etc., so at least don't miss Chinatown for those. :)

      Lili-- Pan-fried noodles are a little different taste/texture than the crunchy wheat ones, so they might or might not appeal to you and your family. Our sons grew up on them, so when they go to Chinese restaurants that have the LaChoy-style crunchy noodles (or heaven forfend, wide flat noodles) in their chow mein, they always feel rather cheated. We've also realized that even though they don't stay crunchy, it really IS worth the time it takes for browning them well. Totally different flavor.

      The other benefit of a pan-fried noodle in chow mein is that you can make a HUGE batch, freeze it "complete" (not as "chop suey" and adding crunchy noodles later), and then heat it up as is for instant gratification. Won't fill the bill if you MUST have the crunch to make it taste right to you; but if you like the pan-fried flavor/texture second day, you'll like it straight from the freezer, too. :)

      Have a great weekend, Ladies! Sara

  3. Like Sara, we would fry rice noodles and serve UNDER stir fry entrees like beef/pork with vegetables. I have never tried it as a topping on salads, and never thought of frying spaghetti noodles in lieu of chow mein. If there is a Chinatown nearby, a noodle shop may sell fresh chow mein (and won ton pi) at very reasonable prices. I don't remember the cost, but in the past was very surprised since store prices are usually twice or more. I never bought canned crispy chow mein noodles because they were much more expensive than the store's fresh noodles.

    Have a great day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      my mom always served chow mein stir fries, over the crispy noodles. I like to put the crispy noodles on top of salads, in part because I think they look nice, but also to allow everyone to mix them in as they want, without them becoming soggy.

      We do have a couple of Asian markets in the area. I bet at least one of them carries a fresh chow mein noodle.

      Have a great day, YHF!


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