As the weather gets hotter, my desire to light up my oven shrinks by the day. One of my favorite spend-less-time-in-a-hot-kitchen recipes is hiyashi chuka, cold ramen noodles. The idea (and the recipe) is pretty simple: cold ramen noodles are topped with assorted veggies, meat, and other good stuff, then tossed in a vinegary dressing. The dish is refreshing, filling, and quick to make.
There are a variety of toppings you can add to hiyashi chuka. The classic combo, which you'll likely find at restaurants, includes shredded egg, ham, cucumber, tomatoes, crab stick, and shrimp. But of course you can use whatever inspires you.
The most important thing is to make sure there's a good mix of crunchy, refreshing vegetables (like cucumbers and celery) along with ingredients that can provide some brightness, like tomatoes and even peaches. Proteins such as poached chicken breast, ham, pan-fried Spam, Chinese roast pork, shrimp, and, if you want to get fancy, poached lobster, are all good additions as well. You can add as many toppings as you like, though I generally aim for between four to eight. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, like asparagus, snap peas, and corn, are perfect in this as well.
Some of my favorite hiyashi chuka topping combinations are:
- shrimp + corn + ham + cucumber + tomatoes
- corn + peaches + asparagus + cooked shiitake mushrooms
- grilled chicken breast + tomatoes + shredded cabbage + ham + egg
- asparagus + carrots + nectarines + grilled chicken breast + scallion
- poached chicken breast + shiitake + cucumber + scallion + asparagus
- shrimp + crab stick + shredded egg + scallion
For the dressing, I make a simple blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sugar, and grated ginger. It's a great balance of salty, tart, sweet, and mildly spicy flavors.
While the toppings play an important part of this dish, you can't have hiyashi chuka without fresh ramen noodles. You can usually find fresh ramen in the refrigerator or freezer section of markets with a good inventory of Asian ingredients. They're sometimes sold alone and sometimes with a soup base included (we love the ones sold by Sun Noodles). Another option is to use yakisoba noodles. There's some variation from brand to brand, but one of the main differences between ramen and yakisoba noodles is their thickness: yakisoba tend to be a tad thicker and they lack some of ramen's characteristic bouncy bite. If neither of these two options is available, soba noodles (made from buckwheat), can also be used. It wouldn't be the same dish, since buckwheat noodles taste very different from ramen noodles, but it'll still make a tasty meal.
Another noodle option is to cook angel-hair pasta in water with baking soda to simulate the flavor and texture of ramen noodles.
To start the dish, I cook my noodles first, then drain them and rinse them under cold water.
With the noodles chilled, I prep my toppings—cutting vegetables, poaching shrimp, etc.—and mix up my dressing. These steps can be done a few hours ahead if you're planning to make this for a party.
To serve, place the noodles in a bowl and arrange the toppings on them. I like to add a squeeze of hot Japanese mustard to the bowl, and then serve the dressing on the side, to be poured on the noodles at the table right before digging in.
I feel cooler already.