My Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles delivered a punch of umami with springy noodles, chunks of crab meat with the freshly ground pepper and bright cilantro rounding out the dish.
Crab season starts in October and goes all the way until January for us in San Diego. Some of the crab recipes I look forward to cooking are crab cakes, Vietnamese tamarind crabs, Vietnamese crab tapioca noodle soup, and Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles. Also known as miến xào cua, Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles is one of my favorite dry noodles growing up. My mom made the simplest version with cellophane noodles, fresh crab meat, garlic, shallot, scallion, freshly ground pepper, and oyster sauce for seasoning. Other make it fancy with celery, carrots, wood ear mushroom, ginger, bean sprouts, and eggs but I prefer my mom's humble version.
- Crab: for the crab meat, I like using Dungeness crabs. A 2-pound Dungeness crab yields about 8-10 ounces of meat. Picking the meat is the most time consuming part of this recipe. You can also buy tubs of lump crabmeat at the grocery store if you don’t have time. Some prefer using only the claw meat so it doesn’t break apart during cooking. Some Vietnamese prefer using the claw meat from blue swimmer crabs since the meat tends to be sweeter.
- Cellophane noodles: also known as glass noodles and bean thread noodles, are commonly used in Asian cooking. Made from mung beans, yam, or potato starch, these cellophane noodles are quite versatile. Buy the ones made with mung beans as they hold up better during cooking and taste more chewy compared to their counterparts. Cooked cellophane noodles have a gelatinous texture and take on the flavor of the sauces and broths used in the dish.
- Oyster sauce: oyster sauce is a common condiment used in Asian cooking for stir-fries marinade, and a finishing touch on steamed vegetables. Made from a mixture of boiled down oyster juices (which have caramelized), along with salt and sugar, it lends an earthy, slightly sweet, salty, and umami flavor. You can read more about oyster sauce here. My favorite brand is Lee Kum Kee and you can find oyster sauce at Asian grocery stores or online.
- Aromatics: for the aromatics, you don’t need much, just a combination of garlic, shallots, and scallion will add flavor to the crab meat and noodles.
Tips for Cooking the Noodles
- I never cook these noodles except in hot pot. They turn quite mushy when cooked. The best way to prepare the noodles is to rehydrate them with warm water for about 10 minutes until they are pliable, then drain and cool with cold running water.
- Be gentle with the crab meat when sauteing them to prevent them from breaking apart. You want to bite into chunks of crab meat.
- Whisk the oyster sauce and chicken broth together so the seasoning is distributed evenly across the noodles instead of concentrating in some spots.
- Avoid overcooking the noodles so they maintain their wonderful springy texture.
- If the noodles absorb too much liquid and become dry, add in a tablespoon of chicken broth at a time.
After a few minutes on the stove, I couldn’t wait to dig into a bowl of Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles. The noodles readily soaked up the oyster sauce and aromatics and delivered a punch of umami with springy texture, chunks of crab meat, while freshly ground pepper and bright cilantro rounded out the dish. The crab meat to noodle ratio couldn’t be more perfect as I inhaled my share and wished I could go for a second bowl but the pan was empty!
Vietnamese Crab Cellophane Noodles
- 4 ounces cellophane noodles
- 8 ounces crab meat
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 shallot, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts
- 1 ½ tablespoons oyster sauce
- 6 tablespoons chicken broth or vegetable broth
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Add cellophane noodles to a large bowl, cover noodles in warm water for about 10 minutes. Rinse and drain under cold water. Set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk chicken broth and oyster sauce together. Set aside.
- Put oil in a wok or large fry pan, and turn heat to medium high.
- Add garlic, shallot, and scallion to pan. Let everything cook for 3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add crab meat and gently saute for 1 minute.
- Add the drained noodles and oyster sauce mixture. Increase heat to high, and stir-fry until noodles absorb the juices and are cooked through yet still chewy, about 3 minutes. Stir in freshly ground pepper and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Transfer noodles to a serving platter, garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately.