Growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, I've eaten a fair amount of seafood salad in my life. It's incredibly delicious stuff, even the not-so-good variety, but I also know that there's never enough. Like sushi, it's one of those pricey-yet-light foods that depletes my wallet long before it depletes my appetite.
The fourth and final recipe in my pasta salad series, this dish serves two goals. One is to cleverly bulk up seafood salad with rice noodles in a way that doesn't feel like a cheat; the other is to demonstrate just how well-suited Asian noodles are to pasta salads.
If you've been following my recent articles, then you'll know that I'm convinced that dried Italian-style pasta often makes very bad pasta salad. In fact, I think it's best treated not as a salad, but as a hot pasta dish that just happens to taste good at room temperature. That means avoiding tart vinaigrettes and tangy creamy dressings (as much as I otherwise love acid in my food), as well as keeping most raw vegetables out and adding cooked ones instead. I've also discussed how I think Asian noodles perform much better in salad-y pasta salads, working beautifully with both uncooked produce and vinaigrettes.
Here, I start by whipping up a quick Italian seafood salad—poaching shrimp and squid in simmering water, picking through crab meat for bits of shell, and then tossing it all together with fresh lemon juice and zest, olive oil, minced garlic, and finely diced fresh red chili pepper, along with a handful of chopped parsley.
All by itself, you have a very simple, very tasty seafood salad, with a bright lemony vinaigrette and no cooked ingredients aside from the seafood itself.
The key to successfully turning it into a pasta salad is in the noodles. I chose dried Vietnamese rice noodles for this since their fresh, springy texture when cooked is such a good match for the seafood. They're also brilliant at absorbing flavors, which is exactly what I want—the more the pasta takes on the flavors of that seafood salad, the better.
There are a lot of rice noodle options out there, but I went for the "rice stick" size, which isn't as wide as something like a pad Thai noodle, but also isn't as thin as rice vermicelli (though either of those would work here, too). They blend so well with the flavors and textures of the seafood salad, it's like quadrupling the quantity without quadrupling the price.
If only my younger self knew what I know now: I'd have heaps of seafood salad that seems to go on forever and a pasta salad I actually crave.