We’re in the dog days of summer and the throes of what feels like a two-month-long heatwave. Yes, you can remind me of how much I complained about the heat in February when I’m freezing something vital off, but you probably won’t like my response. Anyway, it’s hot here, so that means every restaurant in Toronto is serving up bowls of gazpacho or vichyssoise. And because I’m hopelessly susceptible to peer pressure, my brain whispered this Cold Shoyu Somen to me the other day and I decided to listen. I’d never made a cold soup of any kind before because I’m unreasonably wary of them. I am, for whatever reason, always convinced I won’t enjoy them. But, you know what? I made this chilled noodle soup and I loved it.
I’m not sure where my apprehension of cold soup came from, but it has haunted me all my life. Maybe “haunted” is a strong word because it really hasn’t impacted my enjoyment of life all that much. How often do you come across an enforced cold soup on a menu? I guess there is something about cold soups that make me think of bad leftovers. And, it may shock you to know, that I was dead set against cold pizza until I was in my early 20s. I won’t tell you what kind of altered state led me to that change of heart. So, maybe this Cold Shoyu Somen with Ginger Poached Chicken is just the beginning of my cold soup renaissance.
I can recall a vichyssoise I had a few years back that quite literally left a bad taste in my mouth. This less than optimal experience set my cold soup odyssey back a few years but it did lead me to a revelation of sorts. I think chilled soups are difficult to get right. When something is excessively hot, like a traditional soup, it is by nature more flavorful and “cozy”. In a cold soup, there’s nowhere to hide. The chilling process leaves the flavors muted. So, what may be perfectly seasoned when hot, may be bland once tepid.
Okay, so now that I got you good and intimidated, let’s alleviate some of those fears. Shoyu broths – a simple broth seasoned with soy sauce – are by nature a salty broth, so bland isn’t too likely. Shiitake mushrooms are involved and they are literal umami bombs. This means the soup is destined to have a well-rounded flavor. And the Ginger Poached Chicken is potentially the most high maintenance and pampered poultry recipe you’ll attempt all summer. There’s no way this Cold Shoyu Somen with Ginger Poached Chicken is going to be a disappointing cold soup. It’s just not possible.
I realize that many of you may be unfamiliar with somen. Don’t worry I’m not going raise an eyebrow and slowly shake my head at your ignorance. It’s fine not know things. It’s particularly fine not know things about particular Japanese noodles when you are in fact not from Japan. Don’t take this as a foodie fail, it’s just another example of how impossible it is to know everything there is to know about food. Without Google, I would be truly lost…and very hungry. Okay, on to the somen.
Somen is an ultra-thin, wheat-based Japanese noodle. In Korea, these noodles are known as somyeon and in China, they go by the name sumian. Somen are usually hand pulled and air dried before they are cooked and served chilled with dipping sauce or swimming in a hot soup. Although, when they are served hot they are called nyumen. In Japan, somen is usually lightly dressed in oil and served cold alongside a small bowl of tsuyu. Tsuyu is a cold katsuobushi-based dipping sauce often flavored with ginger and scallions. In Korea, somen noodles are generally consumed cold and are either served in a soybean soup called kong-guksu or dressed in a spicy sauce.
So, after that brief explanation of somen, you might be very reasonably wondering how they wound up in a broth that is generally reserved for ramen. Well, I don’t know. It’s just what I wanted to make. Perhaps it’s not what a somen-lover from Japan would want for themselves, but it’s what was in my heart. The thing is I tend to like very thin noodles. Spaghettini? A thing of beauty. Vermicelli? A near perfect food. Somen? All that and a bag of chips…except they’re noodles. Since I knew they wouldn’t disintegrate in a soup because they are often served in hot soup, why not put them in a chilled shoyu broth? I cannot possibly be the first person to do this.
I rounded out my bowl of Cold Shoyu Somen with a few of my ramen favorites. Slice chicken breast cooked to near sous-vide-style perfection, a seasoned ramen egg with the all-important runny yolk, and poached shiitake mushrooms. I added cucumber for refreshment and a sprinkling of scallions because that’s what every Asian soup wants. Honestly, this recipe is fairly easy to make, it just requires a watchful eye and a fair amount of chilling time. But the best part is once you make all the components for this dish, you can pack them away in the fridge and serve them when you damn well please.
So, that’s the scoop on this Cold Shoyu Somen with Ginger Poached Chicken. It may not be a complete snap to make but it is so satisfying and refreshing, especially when you’re face is melting off.
Cold Shoyu Somen with Ginger Poached Chicken
- Large, deep skillet
- small saucepan
- 363g (12.8oz) dried somen noodles
- 1 batch Ginger Poached Chicken (see below) chilled and sliced
- 1 batch Shoyu Broth (see below) chilled
- 3 Seasoned Eggs (see below) halved
- 3-4 Persian cucumbers quartered and coarsely chopped
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- Furikake for sprinkling
Ginger Poached Chicken
- 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
- 2 L (2 quarts) water
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 (1-inch) knob ginger thinly sliced
- 2 scallions ends removed, cut into thirds
- Poaching liquid from the Ginger Poached Chicken (see above)
- 1 ½ cups water
- ¼ cup mirin
- 2 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp honey
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 12-14 whole shiitakes stems removed
- 3 large eggs
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ cup sake
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- 1½ tbsp granulated sugar
For the Chicken
- Place the chicken, ginger and scallions in a large, deep skillet. Whisk the water and the salt together until the salt is nearly dissolved. Pour the mixture over the chicken, the chicken should be fully immersed.
- Place an instant-read thermometer in the liquid and place the skillet over low heat. You want the temperature of the liquid to reach 160°F and you want it to stay relatively steady. ** Cook the chicken like this for 1 hour or until the thickest part of the chicken registers a temperature of 150°F.
- Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and transfer it to a plate. Let cool to room temperature, then wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill.
- Strain the poaching liquid through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Discard the solids and transfer the liquid to a large pot to make the shoyu broth.
For the Shoyu Broth
- Place the pot with the poaching liquid over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Whisk the water, mirin, sake, soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil together in a large spouted measuring cup. Pour the mixture into the simmering poaching liquid.
- Add the mushrooms and simmer for fifteen minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the broth and transfer them to the fridge to chill. Pour the broth into a resealable container through a fine-mesh strainer. Let the broth cool at room temperature until luke warm, then seal and transfer to the fridge. Let the broth chill for 3-4 hours.
For the Eggs
- Fill a small saucepan with water and place over high heat. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the baking soda. Reduce the water to a low simmer and, using a slotted spoon, lower the eggs into the water. Cook for 6 1/2 minutes.
- Remove the eggs from the water and transfer them to an ice bath. Let the eggs hang out for 15 minutes. While the eggs are chilling, whisk the sake, soy sauce, mirin. and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.
- Carefully peel the eggs and add them to the marinade. The vessel should be deep and narrow enough that eggs are fully immersed. Transfer the eggs to the fridge and marinate for 4 hours and no longer. ***
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the somen. Cook according to the package's instructions. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl and drizzle with a little sesame oil. Toss to coat and set aside.
- Divide the noodles amongst 4 to 6 bowls. Top the noodles with 2-3 chicken slices, a handful of shiitakes, a handful of cucumber, half a seasoned egg, a sprinkling of scallions, and a sprinkling of furikake. Pour the chilled shoyu broth over top of the noodles and serve immediately with cold sake.