In Japan, the ingredients, colors, and even the temperature of a dish change with the seasons. During the hot sticky months of summer, chilled food is where it’s at and whether it’s tofu, soup, or noodles, there’s a good chance you’ll find a cold preparation to help ease the oppressive heat. Soba and udon shops in Japan often have as many cold dishes as they do hot ones, and some of the best noodles I’ve ever had have been up in the mountains, in an open-air restaurant nestled within a rustling bamboo forrest where the noodles are served in a bowl of icy cold spring water.
While less prominent, ramen also has a chilled counterpart. It’s called Hiyashi Chuka “Soba”, or sometimes just Hiyashi Chuka. I put the soba in quotes because the term “soba” used to be used to refer to any skinny noodle, and in this context, it doesn’t refer to the buckwheat noodles most of us are familiar with. This dish really doesn’t work with instant ramen noodles, as part of the appeal is in the toothsome, almost-chewy texture of the chilled noodles. If you don’t feel like making your own noodles and can’t find fresh ramen noodles near you, try substituting in thin udon, somen or buckwheat soba noodles.
Hiyashi Chuka is an example of wafu chuka, or Chinese style Japanese food. In fact, Hiyashi Chuka literally means “chilled Chinese”. Like ramen, it’s evolved so much over the years that it’s not entirely clear what Chinese dish it was derived from, but during the summer months, it’s a ubiquitous offering at ramen shops in Japan. Unlike the complex broth for ramen, the sauce used to dress these noodles is relatively simple, making this a much less daunting undertaking at home.
After a long sultry walk home from work last week, I had to drag myself into the kitchen to find something to eat. As stood in front of the open fridge, relishing the blast of cool air, my heat exhausted eyes perked up as they quickly pieced together all the makings for Hiyashi Chuka. Cumin, isn’t really a typical addition to this dish, but I love the kakushi-aji (hidden flavor) that the toasted cumin adds to the dish. Together with the caramelized garlic and ginger, and vinegar and sesame oil, the sauce acts as a dressing for what’s essentially a ramen salad. The cool temperature, the balance of sweet, savory and sour, and the melange of textures makes this the perfect appetite enhancing dish on those hot days when nothing sounds good.
2 scallions finely shredded
1/2 cup julliened seedless cucumber
1/2 cup shredded imitation crab or ham
3 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons ground toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons mirin
1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoons dashi powder (optional)
1/2 batch homemade ramen noodles
Put the shredded scallions in ice cold water soak while you prepare the rest of the items.
To make the dressing heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan and add the ginger, garlic and cumin. Fry over medium low heat until very fragrant (about 7-10 minutes). Remove the pan forom the heat and let the oil cool a bit. Transfer the oil and spice mixture to a bowl and add the vinegar, soy sauce, ground sesame seeds, and sugar. Whisk to combine and put the mixture in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Beat the eggs, mirin, sugar, salt, and dashi powder together in a small bowl until uniform in color. Heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat until hot. Soak a paper towel with vegetable oil and rub it on the pan to give it a light coat of oil. Pour enough egg to cover about 1/3 of the surface area of the pan then swirl the pan to coat the rest of it. Once the egg has set (about 1 minute) flip it over and cook the other side for about 10-20 seconds. If the egg starts browning, turn down the heat. As you finish each batch of egg, stack them on a plate. When all the egg is cooked, roll the pile of egg crepes up and use a sharp knife to slice them into thin strips.
Cook the noodles for a little longer (1 1/2 to 2 minutes), drain, then rinse with cold water until room temperature. Plunge the noodles into an ice water bath to chill. Drain the noodles as well as the scallions and toss them together with the dressing. Portion out the seasoned noodles and scallions then top with the shredded egg, cucumbers, and crab.