How to Cook Your Best Soba Noodles

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Today: Your soba noodle package has been holding out on you.

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

If you’ve ever eagerly anticipated sneaking a bite from a bowl of perfectly-dressed soba noodles, and instead were left staring at a glob of tangled noodles at the end of your chopsticks, we feel your pain. And we’re here to make sure that never happens again.

The secret? You need to wash your noodles. Really. For some reason, most packages of soba noodles don’t tell you this — but now you’re in on the secret, and no longer need to battle soba that’s stuck together and gluey. While you run to your pantry to incredulously look at what’s not there on the package, make sure your noodles are made from all (or mostly) buckwheat flour; if they aren’t, buy different ones the next time you’re at the store.

Here’s how to cook them — properly.

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

Get a big pot of water boiling — and despite our prior yammering, don’t salt the water. Once it’s boiling, add the soba noodles, and give them a quick stir to make sure they all go under water.

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

Let the water return to a boil, then reduce the heat a little, to keep the water at a simmer. Let the noodles cook for the time prescribed on your noodle package, probably between 5 and 8 minutes — set that kitchen timer! Meanwhile, ready your colander in the sink, and prepare a big bowl of cold water. (Not an ice bath, though: You want it cold, but not so cold you can’t comfortably stick your hands in.)

More: Cooking with other types of noodles? Here are 3 ways to cook pasta.  

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

Pull out one noodle from the pot to check for doneness. Soba should not be al dente, it should be fully cooked — but not cooked for so long that it is mushy. When the noodles are done, drain them into the waiting colander, and then promptly dump them into the bowl of cold water. 

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

Now wash your soba noodles. Stick your hands in the cold water, grab handfuls of noodles, and rub. Fairly aggressively. In a noodle-loving way. You’re washing off the excess starch, and thus preventing a gummy pile of noodles.

How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52
How to Cook Soba Noodles, from Food52

Drain again in the colander, let them sit for a minute to let additional water drip off, and then proceed with your recipe. You can use them cold — try them dressed in a cold noodle salad or bundled into little nests for dipping into sauce — or you can warm them back up. Just give them a quick dunk in hot water or add to a soup right before serving.

We consider the one-bowl wash to be the happy medium of soba noodle prep. In Japanese Farm Food, Nancy Singleton Hachisu shares that her Japanese husband uses two bowls of cold water for a double-dip. On the other hand, when pressed for time, we’ve been known to just wash the noodles in the colander (after draining them) with lots of cold water running over them. Both methods are less likely to impress Mother Earth, so stick with the middle ground.

Spring Soba Noodles Salad with Fava Beans

Serves 6

cup fresh fava beans, shelled, blanched in boiling water, and waxy coating removed
1 1/2 cup asparagus, chopped into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cup chopped broccoli florets
10 ounces buckwheat soba noodles
cup shredded carrot
scallions, sliced
tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar
tablespoon toasted sesame oil
tablespoons avocado or walnut oil (you can substitute olive oil as well)
clove finely minced garlic
teaspoon crushed fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
tablespoon fresh lime juice

  1. Fit a pot of boiling water with a vegetable steamer. Steam the fava beans, asparagus, and broccoli till slightly tender and bright green (about 2 minutes). Quickly rinse under cool water to preserve color and crunch, and set aside.
  2. Whisk the vinegar, syrup, sesame and avocado oil, garlic, ginger, tamari, and lime juice together to make the dressing. Set aside.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. When the noodles are ready, drain them and transfer them to a large bowl.
  4. Mix the steamed vegetables and raw carrots and scallions with the noodles. Dress the noodles generously (you may have a little dressing leftover). Allow them to sit for an hour or two before serving. You can add a few more tablespoons of dressing before you serve.

Save and print the recipe on Food52

Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use soba noodles?

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on How to Cook Soba Noodles