Cellophane Noodles with Crab – Just What Are Cellophane Noodles?

I learned something today. Rice noodles are most definitely not cellophane noodles. It wasn’t until my third try at this recipe that I finally figured out I was using the wrong noodle, and it makes a difference, a big difference.  I’m sure to those savvy about Asian noodles this is an amateur’s mistake. But that is just what I am, an amateur.

Cellophane noodles, also called bean threads, are made from mung bean starch and remain resilient and firm when soaked in hot water. Rice noodles, on the other hand, quickly disintegrate if cooked too long.

Now, with a better grasp of noodle nomenclature, I can finally write about this recipe. The first two tries were in San Francisco where I had access to Dungeness crab. The third time, back in DC, I substituted shrimp for crab and used fish stock instead of the crab tomalley (liver) and fat.

Although the noodles had the al dente texture I was looking for, the shrimp and fish stock were a poor substitute for the crab and its briny juices. According to the author you can use any crab for this dish, but do find whole crab and use the crab fat and tomalley to flavor the sauce. It adds a richness and depth of flavor that can’t be matched with mere fish stock.

Cellophane Noodles with Crab and Black Pepper

Based on the recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

1 2½ lb. Dungeness crab, cooked and picked (about ½ lb of crab meat and ¼ cup tomalley and fat)
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ T fish sauce
½ t black pepper, freshly ground
2 T cilantro, finely chopped
2 T vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked in hot water about 15 minutes, until pliable. Cut out the hard eye and slice into 1/8 ribbons.
¼ lb cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water until pliable (about 10-15 minutes)

When cleaning the crab, pour out the liquid inside the body, retaining the thicker solids – the greenish or goldish tomalley and the whitish fat. Scrape out any remaining fat from the inside of the shell.  In a small bowl, combine these solids with the egg, fish sauce, black pepper and cilantro. Add enough water to make ¾ cup of liquid and set aside.

In a wok or large skillet heat the oil over medium heat and add the shallot, stir frying for about 2 minutes until soft. Add the crab meat and mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute. Then add the noodles and stir fry for additional 2 minutes. The noodles should be soft and translucent.

Stir the crab liquid mixture and poor into the wok, quickly working the sauce into the noodles.  Lower the heat to prevent the noodles from clumping and stir fry for about 2 minutes to meld the flavors. Taste and correct the seasoning with additional pepper or fish sauce. Serve immediately.

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