This delicious chicken and citrus somen noodle soup combines the refreshing elements of a salad with the satisfying taste of noodle soup, it's served cold and has a kick of citrus flavour. Topped with tender chicken breast, crunchy cucumber, soft boiled egg and slices of sudachi (or lime!), it's easy to make and the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer's day!
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What are somen noodles?
Somen is a type of thin noodle made from wheat flour and one of the most common noodles used in East Asia, including Japan. It is mainly sold as dried form and is available year-round in supermarkets. However, since it is most often eaten cold rather than hot, it is well known for being a standard summer dish in Japanese households.
Brief history of somen in Japan
Originally, somen came from a wheat snack called "sakubei (索餅)," which is believed to have been introduced from China during the Nara period (710-794). Incidentally, the prototype of traditional foods that are now indispensable to Japanese cuisine, such as soy sauce and natto (fermented soybeans), were brought to Japan around the same period.
However, it was not until the Edo period (1603-1867) that somen became commonly eaten in Japan, especially as a cold noodle dish.
Today, somen is loved throughout the nation. In addition to Nara Prefecture's Miwa Somen, Hyogo Prefecture's Ibonoito, and Kagawa Prefecture's Shodoshima Somen, which are known as "Japan's Three Great Somens," somen production flourishes in Western Japan. One of the reasons for this is believed to be the close proximity of wheat, soft water, and sea salt used as ingredients.
You might have seen or heard of something called "nagashi somen". Rather than being the name of a dish, it's more like a method of eating somen where the cooked noodles flow down a bamboo slide in running water. The flowing somen is "caught" with chopsticks and dipped in a personal bowl of noodle dipping sauce before eating.
Nagashi Somen" is a summer tradition, and if you are Japanese, just the thought of it makes you feel cool or reminisce about your childhood. However, it is not so much a delicious dish as it is a fun activity for children to enjoy eating together outside in hot and humid Japanese summer.
Incidentally, Nagashi Somen originated in 1955 so it is a surprisingly new way of eating somen. It is said that the idea came from the sight of people boiling somen in the open air during hot summer field work and then running the water of Takachiho Gorge through a long piece of bamboo cut lengthways to cool it down.
Somen vs ramen, soba, udon: what are the differences?
First of all, the differences between somen and soba are fairly simple because they use completely different ingredients to make each kind of noodles.
- Somen: made wheat flour
- Soba: made with buckwheat flour
However, ramen and udon also use wheat flour, so what's the difference? First, ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, but the major difference is the addition of an alkaline salt solution called "lye water". The addition of it gives ramen noodles their unique firm texture. Also, some ramen noodles are made with eggs as well.
Additionally, JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standards) defines "somen" as having a thickness of less than 1.3 mm and "udon" as having a thickness of 1.7 mm or more. To see the details side by side, please check out the table below.
|Ingredients||Wheat flour, water, salt||Buckwheat flour, water||Wheat flour, lye water (sometimes egg)||Wheat flour, water, salt|
|Thickness||Very thin (less than 1.3mm)||Relatively thin||Varies in thickness||Thick (more than 1.7mm)|
I have explained general info about somen so far, but this recipe is not a regular somen recipe with dipping sauce. If you would like to boil somen and eat them with dipping sauce, you can refer to my zaru udon recipe for how to make dipping sauce for somen, they're the same!
In this unique somen recipe, I use following ingredients:
- Somen noodles
- Chicken breast
- Corn starch
- Chinese chicken stock powder
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Black pepper
- Sudachi (or any kind of lime or lemon)
- Boiled egg
See recipe card for details and quantities.
Instructions on how to make chicken and citrus somen noodle soup
Here I will explain each step to make this chicken and citrus somen noodle soup. For ingredient quantities, see the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
Make "salad chicken"
To keep the dish light and refreshing, I like to use chicken breast. A shortcut I use for steaming chicken is the same one I use for my salad chicken recipe, I simply microwave it! If you follow these steps you will end up with perfectly cooked chicken breast!
First, dry the surface with a paper towel and pierce both sides all over with a fork. This tenderises the meat and helps the steam penetrate thoroughly so it cooks all the way through.
Then sprinkle a pinch of salt on both sides and coat with a thin layer of corn starch.
Take a microwavable bowl big enough to fit the chicken and make a sauce by mixing sake, mirin, chicken stock powder, sugar and salt together. Place the chicken in the bowl and turn it a few times to cover it with the sauce.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 1 ½ minutes at 600W.
Turn the chicken over and microwave again, 1 ½ minutes at 600W.
Once it's done, leave it in the microwave still covered for 10 minutes to finish cooking in the steam. (This step is important, if you skip then the chicken might be undercooked!)
The 10 minutes of resting time in the steam is vital to ensure the chicken is fully cooked, don't skip this step!
Once 10 minutes have passed, take the chicken out of the bowl, wrap it up and leave it to cool for about 10 minutes. Make sure to save the leftover juices in the bowl for the noodle soup later!
Once the chicken is cool to the touch, place it in the refrigerator. Since this dish is served chilled, it's better if the chicken is also thoroughly chilled. If you have time, I recommend chilling for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour.
Make the soup
To make the somen soup, take a microwavable container and add water, chicken stock powder, soy sauce, grated garlic, sugar and salt. Mix the ingredients and then microwave for 2 ½ minutes at 600W.
Next, finely chop some spring onion and add it to the soup. You can also pour the leftover juices from the chicken into the soup for extra flavour!
Cover the noodle soup and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
When making the soup, half the water and microwave as usual. After it's cooked, replace the missing water with ice cubes. They will need to have melted before serving, but it will certainly speed up the chilling process. (250ml of water = 250g of ice cubes.)
Cook the somen noodles
Dry somen noodles cook very quickly, most only take 2-3 minutes. After boiling, pour the somen into a mesh sieve to drain the hot water and cool them down by running them under cold water. Add ice to chill them further!
Cut the chicken into slices and divide the soup between the serving bowls. Add your noodles, chicken, cucumber and soft boiled egg along with a few slices of a citrus of your choice.
I also like to sprinkle with black pepper and a drizzle of sesame oil for a finishing touch.
Squeeze some of the citrus juice directly into the soup for some added zing! I often save half of my citrus fruit specifically for this reason.
I hope you enjoy this refreshing summery recipe!
Chilled Chicken and Citrus Somen Noodle Soup
- 150 g chicken breast
- 2 pinches salt - for sprinkling
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- ½ tbsp sake
- 1 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder
- ½ tsp salt - for cooking "sauce"
- ¼ tsp sugar
- 200 g dry somen noodles
- ice cubes - optional
- 1 sudachi - or lime / lemon - thinly sliced
- 1 Japanese or Persian cucumber(s) - Japanese or persian - julienned
- 1 boiled egg - halved
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 2 pinches black pepper - to taste
- Dry the surface of 150 g chicken breast with a paper towel.
- Stab with a fork all over on both sides.
- Sprinkle both sides with a 2 pinches salt and evenly coat with 1 tsp cornstarch.
- Take a microwavable bowl and add ½ tbsp sake, 1 tsp Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder, 1 tsp mirin, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp sugar. Mix well.
- Add the chicken breast to the bowl and place cling film loosely over the top. Microwave for 1 ½ mins at 600W.
- Flip the chicken over (be careful of the steam), place the cling film back on and heat for another 1 ½ mins 600w.
- Leave the bowl in the microwave and allow the chicken to rest in the steam for 10 minutes. It will continue to cook in the residual heat.
- After 10 minutes, remove the chicken from the bowl and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Keep the juices for the soup later.
- Once cool to the touch, wrap the chicken and store in the fridge until chilled. (30 mins - 1 hour)
- Finely chop 30 g green onion(s).
- Mix 500 ml water, 3 tbsp soy sauce, ½ tbsp Chinese-style chicken bouillon powder, 1 tsp grated garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1 pinch sugar in a microwavable jug and heat in the microwave at 600w for 2 ½ minutes.
- Add the spring onion and juices from the chicken to the jug, then allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
- Cover the jug and store in the fridge until properly chilled (approx 30 mins - 1 hour).
- Boil 200 g dry somen noodles for the time stated on the packaging (usually approx 2 minutes). Pour through a mesh sieve to drain the hot water and cool by running under fresh cold water. Optional: add ice cubes to the noodles to make them extra cold.
- Divide the soup into serving bowls and add the noodles. Slice the chicken breast and place it on top of the noodles along with the julienned cucumber, boiled egg and citrus slices.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of pepper and a drizzle of sesame oil. Add a squeeze of citrus juice to the soup for some added zing. Enjoy!
What is the difference between soba and somen?
Soba and somen are made with different ingredients. Soba is made from buckwheat flour, water, and a binder, whereas somen is made from wheat flour, water, and salt.
Can you eat somen warm?
Yes, you can. But in Japan, somen is preferred to be consumed cold and is even considered a summer food.