Star-Country Curried Rice Noodles

星州炒米粉

I discovered this dish in a Cantonese restaurant and was as intrigued by the name as by the taste. “Star-Country” turns out to be Singapore, and what that has to do with the dish is unclear. Regardless, the soft texture of the thin rice noodles is wonderfully appealing, and the combination of plump shrimp and fruity-hot curry captivates me.

  • This is a full-flavored, belly-warming dish, perfect for a one-dish supper. The preparation requires no skill and little time, and everything short of the actual stir-frying may be done in advance.

Ingredients

To marinate the shrimp

  • 1 tablespoon egg white (from eggs below)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • several grinds fresh pepper
  • 6 ounces 1/16 inch thin dry rice sticks, sold in flat wads
  • 3 large eggs
  • teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • several grinds fresh pepper
  • 4 medium whole scallions

Sauce ingredients

  • cup rich, unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • tablespoons curry paste
  • teaspoon sugar
  • teaspoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • tablespoons finely minced Smithfield ham (optional)
  • 3 cups corn or peanut oil, for velveting and stir-frying

To garnish

  • 1 teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • sprigs of fresh coriander (optional)

Method

Marinating the shrimp

Shell and devein the shrimp, then rinse with cool water and pat dry. Blend the ingredients for marinating the shrimp until smooth and slightly thick. Scrape the marinade over the shrimp, toss to combine, then seal airtight and refrigerate 8–36 hours. The longer the shrimp marinates, the more marinade it will absorb and the more tender it will be.

Other preparations

Cover the rice sticks with hot tap water and soak until supple, 5–10 minutes. Drain before using and shake to remove excess water.

Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper until combined but not frothy. Cut the scallions into 1-inch lengths, and cut the white and light green sections in half lengthwise. Stir the sauce ingredients to blend.

All the above may be done up to a full day in advance. Seal everything airtight and refrigerate, misting the scallions lightly before bagging to keep them crisp. Bring everything to room temperature before cooking.

Velveting the shrimp

Have all the ingredients, a large Chinese mesh spoon, a bowl to hold the cooked eggs, and some paper towels all within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a serving platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm. If you need to velvet the shrimp and stir-fry the noodles in one wok or large skillet, then have a heatproof bowl at hand in which to decant the hot oil.

About 20 minutes before serving, set a wok or a large, heavy skillet for velveting the shrimp over high heat until hot. Add the 3 cups oil, and heat to the slow-fry temperature, 275° on a deep-fry thermometer. Adjust the heat so the oil temperature does not rise, then stir the shrimp to loosen and slide them gently into the oil. Stir slowly with chopsticks or a wooden spoon until the shrimp turn 90 percent pinkish-white, about 15 seconds, then scoop them immediately from the oil with the mesh spoon or strainer and nest it on top of the bowl in which the shrimp marinated so they can drain. The shrimp should be only partially cooked, mostly white on the outside but raw within.

If you do not have another pot for stir-frying, then carefully decant the hot oil into the heatproof bowl. Otherwise, let the oil cool, undisturbed, and strain and bottle it later for future frying.

Stir-frying the eggs and the noodles

As soon as the shrimp are velveted, set a wok or a medium-size, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 3 tablespoons of the frying oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to moderate. When the oil is hot enough to puff one drop of egg on contact, stir the egg mixture to recombine and add it to the pan. It should puff immediately. When the egg sets on the bottom, within seconds, gently push the cooked egg to the far side of the pan with a spatula, allowing the liquid egg to flow beneath and make contact with the hot metal. If you are using a flat skillet, tilt it to aid the flow. Continue pushing the cooked portion to the far side of the pan as it sets until the entire mixture is cooked but still very loose, adjusting the heat so the egg cooks swiftly but stays soft and does not brown. When it is 90 percent set, scrape the egg into the waiting bowl and break it into small bits with the spatula.

Wipe the wok clean with the paper towels and return it or a large, heavy skillet to high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one scallion nugget, add the scallions and stir-fry briskly to coat with oil, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching. When fully fragrant, in about 10 seconds, splash the wine into the pan, toss briskly several seconds, then remove the scallions swiftly to the bowl with the eggs.

Return the pot to the heat, stir the sauce mixture, and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, add the drained noodles and the ham, if you are using it, and stir gently to blend. (The noodles will break into short lengths as you stir.) Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, layer the velveted shrimp evenly on top of the noodles, and cover the pot. Cook until the liquids are absorbed, 2–4 minutes. Remove the cover, reduce the heat to low, and stir gently 2 or 3 times to redistribute the seasonings. Taste the mixture for curry and add a dab more if required. Return the eggs and scallions to the pan and toss gently to mix. Add the sesame oil and pepper to taste (I like lots), then toss gently to combine.

Slide the mixture onto the heated platter and pause to adjust a shrimp or piece of green scallion prettily here and there. Garnish if you like with a cluster of fresh coriander on top of the noodle mound, then serve.

Leftovers keep nicely 2–3 days, refrigerated and sealed airtight. Heat until hot in a tightly covered dish in either a steamer set over high heat or in a hot oven.

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