Chinese Noodles 101: How to Make Wonton Noodle Soup With Chicken and Shiitakes
From crispy pan-fried noodles to a bowl of wonton noodle soup, fresh egg noodles are a staple of Chinese restaurants. Just like Italian pasta or ramen, when cooked properly, they should have a firm bite and springy texture, and the wide variations in thickness and springiness makes Chinese egg noodles some of the versatile to cook with. All week, we'll be talking about the various types of noodles you might find at a good Chinese market, and how best to cook them. Check out the whole series here.
Every good bowl of egg noodle soup has three things in common. First, of course, are properly cooked noodles. With Chinese egg noodles, this means they should be firm to the bite and springy in texture. Second is the broth. It should be light but flavorful. Last but not least are the toppings. I like to keep it simple with two to three ingredients: generally one protein and two vegetables. In this case, I'm combining dried shiitake mushrooms with chicken and scallions in a light chicken and mushroom broth, along with thin wonton noodles. It's a simple but filling meal with delicate flavors and a soul-satisfying warmth.
Wonton noodles are fresh egg noodles that come either thin or thick. I prefer the thin variety for soups with a light and delicate broth. Think chicken broth or wonton broth, made with a mixture of pork bones and dried seafood. They'd be killer in Kenji's wonton soup recipe. Today, we're going a little simpler.
The key to this broth—which is essentially a doctored-up chicken broth—is to treat the mushrooms right. Dried shiitakes are perfect for a situation like this. They last forever and come in handy when I'm cooking for just a few people and only need a handful of mushrooms in a dish instead of a whole bunch. They have a meatier texture and a more intense mushroom flavor than fresh shiitakes, and in noodle soups, they offer another advantage: flavorful soaking liquid.
The absolute best way to rehydrate dried shiitakes is to soak them at room temperature for around eight hours. This will produce the most plump and flavorful mushrooms, but if you don't have the time or you decide at the last minute that you want to use dried shiitakes—this always happens to me—a hot water soak works reasonably well in a fraction of the time.
Once they've rehydrated, squeeze out the excess moisture and strain out any grit.
Want to make your mushrooms even better? Use this little trick that my mom taught me a few years ago: after soaking the mushrooms, toss them with a bit of cornstarch and sugar and let them rest for just a few moments so the sugar and cornstarch get hydrated.
After that, simmer them in their soaking liquid for 20 to 30 minutes. The result is intensely flavored mushrooms, with a velvety-firm texture.
Once strained, this soaking liquid is packed with mushroom flavor. Combine it with the chicken stock and you'll have a broth that's perfect for egg noodle soup.
For the chicken itself, you could poach whole breasts then shred or slice them, but it's quicker and easier to just slice up chicken breast and poach it briefly in the stock before serving.
The final element is the noodles themselves. I like to par-cook my noodles in a pot of boiling salted water for about 30 seconds, then chill them and keep them ready. This makes lining up the timing much easier.
When you're ready to serve, just place your par-cooked noodles in a bowl, pour the hot broth over them, and then add the toppings.
Dinner (or lunch or breakfast or midnight snack) is served. Get ready to slurp!
About the Author: Shao Z. was born in Guangzhou, the birthplace of dim sum, and raised in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia. As a sibling-less child, cooking was a way to cure after school snack attacks and a way to keep herself entertained. That's how her love for food and cooking started, and it continues to grow. She blog at friedwontons4u.com and is on Twitter at @friedwontons4u.