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. Since it is mainly sold as dried form, it is available year-round in supermarkets. However, since it is most often eaten cold rather than hot, it is well known as 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 Japan. 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, dipped in a personal bowl of noodle dipping sauce and eaten.
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, which 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 firmness and frizziness. Also, some ramen noodles are made with eggs as well.
In addition, 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...etc||Wheat flour, water, salt|
|Thickness||Very thin (less than 1.3mm)||Relatively thin||It varies||Thick (more than 1.7mm)|
Ingredients to use for this somen recipe
I have explained general info about somen so far, but this recipe is not a normal 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 somen recipe with a twist, 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 the key steps to make this chicken and citrus somen noodle soup. For full instructions and recipe quantities, see the recipe card below.
Cook the 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. Next, pierce both sides with a fork. This tenderises the meat and helps the steam penetrate thoroughly so it cooks all the way through.
Sprinkle a pinch of salt on both sides and coat in a thin layer of corn starch.
Make a sauce with sake, mirin, chicken stock powder, sugar and salt in a microwavable bowl and then place the chicken inside.
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 for 10 minutes to finish cooking in the residual heat. (This step is important, if you skip then the chicken might be undercooked!)
The 10 minutes of resting time in the residual heat is vital to ensure the chicken is fully cooked, don't skip this step!
Make the soup
To make the soup, simply mix the ingredients in a heatproof jug and microwave for 2 ½ minutes at 600W. Next, chop spring onion and add it to the soup. Make sure to use the leftover juices from the microwaved chicken breast, add them to the soup for extra flavour!
Chill the ingredients
This is supposed to be a cold, summery dish so it's important to chill both the chicken and soup for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.
Wrap the chicken to stop it from drying out!
The soup is best served fully chilled too.
Cook the somen noodles
Dry somen noodles are super quick to cook, most only take 2-3 minutes. Quickly cool them down by running them under cold water once they're done. Add ice to chill them further!
Cut your 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 the finishing touch.
For an extra kick, squeeze some of the citrus juice directly into the soup! I often save half of my citrus fruit specifically for this reason.
I hope you enjoy this refreshing summery recipe!Print
Soba and somen are made from different ingredients. Soba uses buckwheat flour, water, and a binder, while Somen is made from wheat flour, water, and salt.
Yes, you can. But in Japan, somen is preferred to be consumed cold and even considered as summer food.