On warm days — which is the case in the tropics nine months of the year — we opt for fast-cooking and easy to prep dishes. One bowl meals like this stir fry are especially welcome.
But what is bee hoon?
Bee hoon is the Singaporean name for Chinese bi-hun which refers to thin rice noodles sold as “rice vermicelli”. They are called bīfun in Japan, bihun or mee hoon in Malaysia and Indonesia, and, in Southern Thailand, the name is mee hoon as well.
Bihon is the Filipino name for the noodles but just so English-speaking readers get the pronunciation right (it is easier to look for the noodles in a store if pronounced correctly, after all), I’m using the Singaporean name.
Bee hoon is not the same as “cellophane noodles” (or what we call sotanghon in the Philippines) which are made from mung bean starch. Cellophane noodles are more chewy than bee hoon.
Bee hoon requires soaking before cooking
Bee hoon is sold dried. And the noodles require rehydration before they can be cooked. Just place the noodles in a bowl, cover with room temperature water and leave to soak until softened. It takes about 20 minutes. Once soft, drain well and leave in the strainer to allow all the excess water to drip off while you cook the chicken and vegetables.
The first ingredient that goes into the pan is the chicken. Fillets are cut into strips, spread on hot oil, seasoned and stir fried just until cooked through. Scoop out and set aside.
If you’re going to use only one pan to cook the dish, pour off the oil before proceeding. Otherwise, get a clean pan, pour in annatto oil, heat and saute garlic and sliced shallots.
Can’t ordinary cooking oil be used? You can but the noodles will look pale after stir frying. Some cooks just add soy sauce to give them a richer color but too much soy sauce can ruin the dish. And it is tempting to keep adding more just to get a good color. Resist the temptation and use annatto oil to add color, and only as much soy sauce as is necessary to balance the flavors of the dish. If you need a guide for making annatto oil, see the linked post below.
How annatto (achiote) is used in cooking
Annatto or achiote is Bixa orellana — a natural red food coloring. It is sold as dried seeds, paste or powder for cooking and non-food uses. In the Philippines, we call it atsuete or atsuwete.
When your kitchen smells of garlic and shallots, add the vegetables, season and stir fry just until they start to soften. They don’t need to get cooked through at this point. That comes later after the chicken and noodles have been added.
Now, take your chicken and drained noodles and add to the vegetables.
Then, you season the noodles with soy sauce, fish sauce and calamansi juice.
Why are the seasonings added at this point? Because your chicken and vegetables are already seasoned. It’s just the noodles that need flavor so the soy sauce, fish sauce and calamansi juice are drizzled directly over them.
When the seasonings have been added, stir fry everything together to distribute the vegetables and chicken. Now, one last step to make sure that the noodles and vegetables are cooked through.
Drizzle in a little water, about a quarter cup, around the edges of contents of your pan. Cover the pan and let the water turn into steam. The steam will cook the noodles and vegetables to perfection.
To round off the flavors and to make the dish even more aromatic, add sesame seed oil and toss. Taste one last time and adjust the seasonings only if needed.
Chicken, vegetables and bee hoon stir fry
- 200 grams bee hoon
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 300 grams chicken thigh fillets - cut into thin slices
- 1 tablespoon annatto oil
- 2 shallots - peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic - peeled and chopped
- ½ cup julienned carrot
- ½ cup sliced green beans
- 1 ½ cups thinly sliced white cabbage
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon calamansi juice - or lemon or lime juice
- ½ teaspoon sesame seed oil
- cilantro - to garnish
- fried shallots - to garnish
- Soak the bee hoon in tap water for twenty minutes then drain.
- In a wok or frying pan, heat the tablespoon of oil and spread the chicken strips evenly.
- Sprinkle in half a teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper.
- Stir fry for four to five minutes and set aside.
- Pour the annatto oil into the wok (or use a clean one) and heat.
- Saute the shallots and garlic until aromatic, about a minute.
- Add the vegetables and sprinkle in another half a teaspoon of salt and quarter teaspoon of pepper.
- Stir fry for one minute or just until the vegetables are starting to soften but only partially done.
- Add the cooked chicken and drained bee hoon to the vegetables.
- Drizzle the soy sauce, fish sauce and calamansi juice over the noodles, and stir fry for a minute.
- Pour a quarter cup of water along the edges of the stir fry, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan and allow the noodles to soften in the steam for about a minute.
- Toss everything thoroughly then taste. Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.
- Drizzle in the sesame seed oil and toss thoroughly once more.
- Serve your chicken, vegetables and bee hoon stir fry topped with cilantro and fried shallots.