Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hiyashi Chūka (冷やし中華)

Literally "Chilled Chinese", this is the summer dish in Japan that only shows up on menus when the summer heat turns oppressive. Restaurants love it, since except for the ramen, the dish consists only of assembly. All the components are pre-made and chilled down ahead of time.

It's exactly as rock-star as it sounds. Perfect cold dish for the insane summer heat just like this week here.

There is an ugly fact here that is going to upset most readers.

Precision of effect frequently requires substantial expenditure of means.

Each piece needs to be precisely made, cut up, and "chilled" and then the whole gets put together. It's not at all hard but it does go against that "effortless" summer dish mojo.

So why is the CC sabotaging his own readership with something that takes effort?

The answer is the sheer awesomeness of the dish with ingredients that can be stored for another day.

What is it?

It's cold noodles with a umami-laden gingery sweet-and-salty sauce and cold toppings. Unlike salads, the sauce sits at the bottom of the dish. You mix whatever ingredients you like for the "next slurp" and, let's face it, you need to slurp the ramen, people! The ingredients have been arranged at the top for visual interest not for "mixing". Each mixed-up slurp is going to be unique and umami-laden thanks to the personal mixing and the sauce.

The dish can only be described as "cold magic for a hot summer's day".

It is absolutely modern and in spite of its name it's no more "Chinese" than the CC is. It's Japanese through and through. The name is advertising. Every culture likes "foreign" stuff because exotic stuff sells and this dish fits the bill. It could never have existed before the age of refrigeration. The tastes are purely Japanese and only the noodles are "kinda sorta vaguely" Chinese. Don't let the name fool you.

(There's a general trend here. Names of dishes that contain a country/place rarely originate in the country/place named. For example, French Fries, Chinese Chop-Suey, Pad Thai, Baked Alaska, Hamburger, etc. This list is long!)

The dish follows the rules of washoku (和食) even though it is not really traditional. Five flavors; five colors; visual interest.

Typically, you would work with five ingredients plus the ramen but the CC had most of the stuff in his apartment; he was bored, and he is a little bit crazy (Really?!? Who'd think that?)

Let's enumerate the ingredients starting from the "6 o' clock position".
  • Simmered lotus roots.
  • Simmered shiitake mushrooms in savory sauce.
  • Wakame.
  • Eggs cooked "mollet".
  • Pickled carrots with sesame.
  • Crab-stick.
  • (Egg).
  • Crab-stick.
  • Cucumber.
In the center we have cherry tomatoes, strips of nori and "Chinese chives" (nira - にら).

There is one deviation that makes it "modern modern" (to ape the modern way of talking.) Traditionally, the eggs would have been cooked in a Japanese-style omelette and cut into strips. The rest is pretty much conventional.

As pointed out the dish is a game of assembly. Each of the ingredients was cooked or cut up and chilled in the refrigerator. When the time came to serve the dish, the ramen was cooked and quickly chilled in ice-water and the dish assembled. It's also easiest if you just chill the plates in the freezer ahead of time. That way everything stays cold.

Everything serves two but you are welcome to make more and store it. Each cooked component stores really well and you can always quickly cut up the other stuff in a few minutes.

Also if you read the recipe carefully, the sequence in which to make things is clearly to make the dashi first, then simmer the crab sticks, then the lotus roots, then add the ingredients to make the mushrooms, and use the reduced sauce as a component in the dipping sauce. That way everything gets used up and no flavors are wasted.

This sort of complex sequencing is really the heart of many "hard" dishes. In order to not repeat things, you must sequence them out correctly up-front.



8 cherry tomatoes
1 small cucumber
Japanese-style pickled carrots (just use fresh if you don't have this)
4-5 Chinese chives


Cut the tomatoes in half. The cucumber, carrot and chives must be cut into long thin strips. Set aside and chill.



1/2 tsp dried wakame
1 sheet nori


In a small bowl add cold water to the dried wakame. The nori must be cut into fine strips. You can drain the wakame just before assembly.

Crab Sticks, Lotus Roots & Egg


2 cups dashi
4-5 crab-sticks
1 small lotus root.
1 egg


The crab sticks are generally frozen. Bring the dashi to a boil and cook them for about 3 minutes. Lift out and set aside.

Add the lotus roots to the dashi and let them cook for about 4-5 minutes. Lift them out and set aside.

Cook the eggs mollet-style in a separate pot with some water. 7 minutes. Immediately plunge them into an ice bath. Peel when cooled and set aside. You can slice them right before serving.

Simmered Mushrooms


8 dried shiitake mushrooms.
1 cup dashi
4 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. brown sugar


Combine the ingredients and bring to a boil. Let it cook uncovered for about 8 minutes until the shiitake mushrooms are cooked through. You can reduce the sauce and use it in the dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce


1/3 cup dashi
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. black sugar
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. grated ginger


The measurements are a little approximate. Mix everything together like a vinaigrette. You will need to taste it and make sure it has the right balance of sweet and salty tastes. The dashi will provide the intense umami.



2 packages frozen ramen
2 tbsp. roasted sesame seeds


NOTE: The frozen ramen available in the Japanese grocery store are the preferred ones. They are the ones made traditional-style with alkaline water. They will look pale yellow.

Roast the sesame seeds on a medium-hot skillet until they are golden and set aside.

Prepare an ice-bath. Then in a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the frozen ramen. Cook as per the instructions. The ones the CC had said 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Yes, this level of precision matters.

Immediately drain them and plunge them in the ice-bath to ensure that they stop cooking and chill down. Drain.

Now assemble everything. Ramen in the center. Pour the sauce over it. Add the toppings all around. and on top. Strew the sesame seeds all over. Serve at once.

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