Vietnamese Crab Cellophane Noodles (Mien Xao Cua) is a traditional dish which appears in daily meals as well as special occasion meals. The dish is incredibly delicious with the natural sweetness of crab meat, soft translucent noodles, crunchy vegetables and refreshing lime fish sauce dressing.
What are cellophane noodles?
Cellophane noodles (mien in Vietnamese) are a type of transparent noodles which is made from starch. They also go by some other names such as glass noodles and bean thread noodles. In Vietnam, they can be made from cu dong rieng (sorry I don’t know the English translation!) or mung bean.
This type of noodles also appears in other Asian cuisines such as Chinese and Korean though they may bear some differences. For example, Korean glass noodles are thicker and chewier than Vietnamese cellophane noodles.
I believe you can find all these types of cellophane noodles at Asian grocery stores. Serious Eats has a noodle shopping guide which is informative and may help you find the right types of noodles.
In Vietnamese cuisine, we use cellophane noodles to make both noodle soup dishes and dry noodle dishes. Regardless of the dishes, cellophane noodles become soft once cooked and absorb all the flavors. The recipe I’m sharing today is cellophane noodles stir fried with crab and veggies.
Ingredients and how to make Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles
This mien xao cua recipe is exactly how my mom cooks this dish. The ingredients are cellophane noodles, crab meat, pork, bean sprout, dried wood-ear mushroom, dried shiitake mushroom, and carrot.
If you make this dish at home once, I guarantee you will never want to try it in restaurants. I’m always amazed at how few add-ins crab cellophane noodles dishes made by restaurants contain and the amount of crab meat is often modest.
Fresh Crab meat
The star of the dish is fresh crab meat and in the U.S., I find that dungeness crab is undoubtedly the best choice for this dish. It is very much similar to Vietnamese crabs with a sweet taste and firm texture (not as firm as king crab though).
However, I understand that it is not always possible to find this particular type of crab. If you are not able to buy it, other varieties such as snow crab, or canned fresh crab meat work fine too. I have tried using them all to make this dish.
Cellophane noodles require soaking in cold water for about 10-12 minutes, or just until they become soft. They can clump quite easily when we stir-fry them. You should not stir-fry them by themselves in the pan to avoid big clumps of noodles which nothing can untangle.
Besides, once you add cellophane noodles, you will need to work quickly because the longer they are in the pan, the more likely they form clumps. Therefore, make sure you have all ingredients prepared and lined up before stir-frying.
In Vietnam, it goes without saying that stir-fried crab cellophane noodles require chicken stock. I think it makes the noodles glossy, moist and more flavorful. If you have some stock/broth on hand, that’s great. If not, don’t worry and use plain water because we also have thin slices of pork in this recipe which create juice and compensate for the lack of stock/broth.
You need to soak dried wood-ear mushroom and shiitake mushroom in hot water for about 5-7 minutes until they are fully rehydrated. Then you just need to slice them thinly.
Carrots should be peeled and julienned. As for mung bean sprouts, these guys will test your patience a little bit. We only need the crunchy white stems so take all the time you need to discard the small beans.
You can choose whether to prepare the lime fish sauce dressing or not. I personally like adding it when eating mien xao cua because of the brightness it adds to the dish. The dressing is easy and quick to make anyway.
My final tip for making Vietnamese crab cellophane noodles is to use a large pan since we have quite a lot of ingredients and we need to stir and mix them constantly.
Using a nonstick pan will make it easier for you to handle the noodles and prevent sticking. All my large pans are stainless steel, so I kinda have no choice :).
Other Vietnamese noodle recipes you may be interested in:
- Fish Cake Noodle Soup (Bun cha ca)
- Fried Fish Noodle Soup (Bun ca)
- Vietnamese Chicken Combination Noodle Soup (Bun thang)
Vietnamese Crab Cellophane Noodles (Mien Xao Cua)
For Crab Cellophane Noodles
- 4 oz cellophane noodles
- 0.8 oz dried wood-ear mushroom
- 0.4 oz dried shiitake mushroom
- 8 oz crab meat (about 1 1/2 cup)
- 5 oz pork shoulder
- 2/3 cup bean sprouts
- 1/2 cup julienned carrots
- 3 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce (divided)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock (or water)
- 1/4 cup scallions, cut into 1'' long pieces
- black pepper
- olive oil
For Lime Fish Sauce dressing
- 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- finely chopped cilantro
- finely chopped scallions
- Soak cellophane noodles in cold water for 10-12 minutes or until they become soft. Discard water, rinse noodles and set aside.
- Soak dried wood-ear mushroom and shiitake mushroom in hot water for 5-7 minutes or until they are fully rehydrated. Remove stems and slice into thin strips.
- Peel and julienne carrot. Pick and discard the beans from bean sprouts (we only need the white stems).
- Use a sharp knife the slice pork shoulder thinly.
- Whisk all ingredients to make the lime fish sauce dressing to combine and set aside.
- Place a pan/skillet over medium high heat. When it's hot, add oil, add wood-ear mushroom, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add shiitake mushroom, carrot, 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of stock or water, and continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Add oil to coat the bottom of the pan if needed. Add 1 tablespoon of shallots and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add crab meat, stir and add 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce. Cook for 1 minute and set aside.
- Add more oil if needed. Add 1/2 tablespoon of shallots, cook for a minute until fragrant. Add pork slice, 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce, stir and cook for about 1 minute until the pork is 90-95% cooked. Set aside.
- Add oil to coat pan if needed. Add the remaining shallots, cook for a minute until fragrant. Slightly reduce the heat and add noodles and the wood-ear mushroom, carrot, shiitake mushroom mixture. Mix and cook for a minute. Add bean sprout stems, crab meat and pork to the pan. Quickly mix everything together. Add 1/4 cup of stock or water, the remaining fish sauce, continue to mix and stir for 1-2 minutes until noodles are soft and everything is cooked. If the noodles start clumping while stir-frying, reduce the heat.
- Once everything is cooked, remove the pan from the heat, add scallions and black pepper and give everything a final mix.
- Serve hot with the lime fish sauce dressing.