I’ve had Vietnamese bun round rice noodles on my mind lately. The dried ones are what I mostly buy and stock up on in my house. But when fresh ones are around, they can be incredible. Bun noodles are used in rice noodle bowls, noodle soups, and to wrap up in lettuce with grilled or fried morsels; read more in the bun rice noodle primer.
I didn’t think about making my own bun until Binh asked me about it on Twitter. Then Seattle and chef/restaurateur Eric Banh expressed how much he loves to serve fresh bun rice noodles at his restaurants. While perusing Charles Phan’s new cookbook, Vietnamese Home Cooking, I came across a bun rice noodle recipe (called “rice noodles” on page 172).
It was karmic right? I had to try making my own. First off, know that making fresh noodles is basically a thing that most Viet people leave to the professionals. Just like in Italy, you can go to a local pasta shop, in Asia, there are fresh noodle vendors. In the US, fresh rice noodles are sold at many Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. Bun rice noodles are particular to Viet enclaves. In his recipe introduction, Phan admitted that few people make bun at home but encouraged cooks to try since it’s a fun project.
In the span of about a week, I tackled Phan’s fresh rice noodle recipe three (3) times with mixed results. However, I wanted to report to you on how to make bun rice noodles, and if you’re game, give it a whirl and report back on your outcomes and insights. Together we can come up with a workable recipe.
Note: A piece of equipment that you’ll need is a potato ricer to extrude the dough. (Germans use ricers for wheat flour noodles so why can’t we use the kitchen tool for rice noodles? It's ironic that it's called a rice, despite its use for mashed potatoes.) Look for one that will extrude from the bottom only and has steel plates to produce round strings. Mine was basic and cost about $20 at Sur La Table.
This is my first time at doing a group recipe project on VWK. Sound good? Here we go.
Homemade Bun Rice Noodles
Below are my proportions and method. They vary slightly from Phan’s as they reflect what worked in my home kitchen; for example, his recipe called for 4 cups of rice flour and 1 cup of tapioca starch which I translated into a weights for accuracy. Read the draft recipe and note my prompts for your tinkering. The fermentation step is where I fell down twice so read that section well.
Yield: about 3 pounds / 1.4 kg
- 1 pound / 454 g rice flour, plus more as needed (use a Thai brand, such as Elephant or Flying Horse)
- 3 1/2 cups / 840 ml water
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 4 ounces / 112 g tapioca starch
Make a fermented rice batter. In a bowl, whisk together the rice flour and water until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a cold oven with the light on for 24 hours. This allows for the development of a slight tangy in the noodles; if that doesn’t happen, your noodles won’t be ruined.
[The first two times that I made the noodles, I over fermented the batter. Phan’s recipe didn’t give cues on what fermentation was suppose to be like; additionally, it prescribed leaving the batter at room temperature for 4 days, which I imagine was about 75F / 24 C -- the temp in my oven with the light on. Alas, after two nights in the oven, the batter picked up a horrid bilious (think vomit) smell. I could not cook or rinse out that smell from the vomit noodles and threw the entire batch out. The noodles are at the top of this post. They looked great and had a good texture but smelled awful.
The second time, after 30 hours in the oven, I got sludge and slight vomit so I didn’t make the noodles. The third time I left the dough out for 48 hours at room temp (about 63F / 17 C in my house) and there was no distinguishable change in the batter; fearing over-fermentation, I made the dough per Phan’s instructions. The noodles were okay but the dough was a little too firm/dry to extrude easily into lovely, long strands. If I were you, I’d aim to let the batter ferment for about 24 hours in the oven, then let it sit at room temperature till you’re ready to make the dough and noodles.]
Turn the batter into dough. The rice should settle in the bottom of the bowl. Pour off the water at the top. There should be about 1 1/2 cups / 360 ml. Add 1/3 cup / 90 ml of new water to the bowl. Stir to create a smooth, silky batter.
[Phan’s recipe called for pouring off 1 1/2 cups and adding 1/4 cup of new water but I felt like the dough was too stiff. I’m suggesting to you to go with 1/3 cup water. Do something in between, if you like and add water as you see fit. I could even see pouring off 1 1/4 cups of water and adding 1/3 cup.]
Put the oil in a large saucepan (3 or 4 quart / 3 or 4 L) and heat over high heat until shimmering. Have a wooden spatula handy. When the oil is hot enough, pour in the rice batter. It will sizzle. The oil will rise up the walls. Reduce the heat to medium. Start stirring, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pan. Holding on to the pot handle, stir and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, reducing the heat as the batter thickens into a white paste. It will become tougher to stir as you go along. When the paste is stiff enough for the spatula to stand up in it, it’s done.
Leaving paste bits on the wall and bottom of the saucepan, transfer the dough to a stand mixer and add tapioca starch. Use the dough hook or paddle attachment to mix the ingredients on medium (speed 3) for a few minutes. Aim to form a dough that you can pinch and does not stick to your hands. Add water by the tablespoon, if necessary, to coax the paste and starch together.
[Phan’s recipe suggests using a dough hook on medium for about 10 minutes. I followed his instructions and there wasn’t a change in the dough texture in last 5 minutes. There’s no gluten in the dough so the hook doesn’t seem to do much. I think the paddle attachment would have made fast work of the task. Additionally, there’s a photo in Vietnamese Home Cooking of a person working the paste and starch by hand so feel free to put the paste into a bowl, adding the starch and kneading the two together. ]
Put the dough on your work surface, adding a dusting of rice flour if it’s sticky. Knead the dough into a smooth mass, about 1 minute. Shape into a 12-inch / 30cm log. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
Extrude, cook and ice down.
Fill an 8-quart / 8 liter stockpot with water. Throw in a good tablespoon of salt. Bring the pot to a boil. Use a booster burner, like I did and it’ll happen quickly. If not, get the stockpot of water heating before you cook up the paste into dough. In any event, get an ice water bath ready and set near the stove.
Get the ricer out and outfit it with a plate with small holes about 1/8-inch / 3 mm wide. Cut the dough crosswise into 4 pieces (about 8 oz / 225 g). To make the noodles, put a piece of dough into the ricer. Hold the ricer over the pot, squeeze the noodles out. Lower the ricer close to the water surface and wiggle and jiggle the ricer to detach the noodles. Watch this video for what I did:
I struggle a bit in the video because the dough was on the stiff side. It may have been my cheapie ricer too. If this happens to you, try wetting your hands and knead the moisture into the dough to soften it; let the dough hydrate for 5 minutes before you extrude it.
Regardless, wait for the noodles to bob to the top and gather at the side of the pot. Scoop them out with a strainer and put them into the ice bath. Repeat with the remaining dough. When done, drain the noodles and rinse in cool water to remove excess starch. Drain well. Keep at room temperature and eat the noodles day you make them. They can be refrigerated overnight and reheated in the microwave oven but won’t as be as good.
Were the bun noodles as good as what the pros make? I had some stumbles – like my noodles came out as short lengths, sometimes clumped, and were never be as long as what a noodle factory turned out. That’s because there’s some finessing to be done with the dough. Also, a potato ricer can only hold so much in its well so you can only get noodles of a certain length. You cannot over stuff the well or the ricer won’t work well.
So that’s how I made the noodles from Vietnamese Home Cooking. Are bun rice noodles worth making at home? Yes, because at the end of the day, you just made fresh noodles! I’m not sure if I’d make this a regular thing because I’d have to plan for the fermentation. However, it can be done hours in advance of serving. If you’re a DIY type of cook, fresh bun noodles are something to try out. Otherwise, stick to dried noodles and keep your eyes out for fresh ones at the Asian market.
Please share your comments or insights -- particularly if you make these noodles!
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Banh Hoi Fine Rice Noodles
- Vietnamese Noodles 101 – Bun Rice Noodles
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Banh Pho Flat Rice Noodles
- How Banh Cuon Rice Noodle Rolls are Made (+ video)
- Book Review: Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
More recipes from 2012 Asian Cookbooks:
- Faux Viet Crab Noodle Soup from Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
- Fried Ginger Chicken from Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Hachisu
- Pork Belly, Pickled Mustard Greens and Tofu from Burma by Naomi Duguid
- Soy-Glazed Black Pepper Chicken from The Hakka Cookbook by Linda Anusasananan