Spice-Crusted Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad

A big bowl of noodles is one of the best things to eat ever. Seriously.

Pho, ramen...braised beef shank & noodle soup...duck wonton & noodle soup...The list can go on and on and on. Just imagine a steaming hot mountain of noodles after a long day at work, crowding a table with your friends at your favorite Asian joint, or settling into the couch with a bowl in one hand and the TV remote in the other.

But a noodle's purpose is far more complex than just "add to soups". For example, how about soba noodles with a creamy miso dressing and tangy pickled vegetables? And, how about...a spice-crusted salmon filet to top it all off?

Today's recipe is exactly that, an incredibly satisfying noodle dish that balances different textures and a bold mixture of flavors: Spice-Crusted Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad!

With the creamy dressing on the noodles and the thick, hearty salmon, I knew that this dish would need something acidic to brighten everything up and something refreshing to cut through all of the richness. Crunchy, quick-pickled vegetables were the perfect solution. And, if you've ever devoured a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, you'll love these quick-pickled vegetables!

The crunch-trifecta included: cucumber, carrots, and radishes. Since I had some on hand and they could literally brighten up the dish, I sliced up some watermelon radishes. They are actually related to and taste similar to daikon...only sweeter! It's easy to add other crisp vegetables, as well. Sliced jalapenos or red onion could add a raw kick, and even blanched long beans would taste great in this.

(Pickling these gorgeous winter radishes is also a great way to make them last longer through the Spring! Use it on sandwiches, burgers, or in mixed green salads.)

The marinade is extremely simple: vinegar, salt, and sugar. Palm sugar turned out to be a delicious substitute for regular white sugar, and a tablespoon of sesame oil added a rich nuttiness to round out the sweet and sour notes.

Combine the vegetables and marinade in a large bowl, and toss to completely coat. Then, let the vegetables soak up all that flavor while you're preparing the noodles and the salmon. (I made plenty, so I ended up snacking while cooking...I do that a lot...)

We now leave Vietnam, and enter Japanese territory. Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles. Ideal for noodle salads, these can be served cold, room temperature, or hot.

They may remind you of whole-grain pastas, but soba noodles cook much faster. After only 4-5 minutes in boiling water, drain and rinse the noodles with cold water. Yes, rinse the noodles. (Pasta purists, please, don't pass out!)

To prepare the dressing, you'll once again need rice vinegar, palm sugar, and sesame oil. Peanut butter, soybean paste, garlic, and ginger also join the mix. (I used "dashi" miso, but you can interchange with white or yellow miso.)

Combine all of these ingredients in a small food processor or a blender, and puree until a creamy paste has formed. Then, slowly add a 1/4 cup of hot water. (Use some from the noodle pot.) The dressing will lighten and become smooth. Toss the noodles with half of the dressing, and reserve the rest for serving on the side.

Finally, the salmon! Rub the flesh-side of the salmon filets with the spices, fine sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Going down a blackened seasoning route, my spice blend was a mixture of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and a touch of Chinese Five-Spice. (We've now left Japan, and entered China. Yup, Tour of Asia, folks.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil starts to smoke, place the salmon filets in the pan, flesh-and-spice-side down. Sear the fish for 2-3 minutes, then carefully flip and cook for 4-5 minutes minutes more. Do not touch/poke/mess with the fish until it is ready to flip! This is how you get a crisp, spiced crust on the salmon.

Serve the salmon filets with the pickled vegetables and soba noodles! What's great about this dish is that it can be served cold, room temperature, or warm, and you can compose a single plate or toss the noodles & vegetables together and top with the salmon...a perfect "Dress-It-Up or Dress-It-Down" dish! It's ideal for a relaxing night in (think: end-of-the-week dinner for two), and it's ideal for outdoor parties or picnics. (Okay...maybe a fancy picnic...)

The salmon has a seared, smoky crust, the pickled vegetables bring freshness and crunch, and the noodles are infused with peanut and miso. Try Spice-Crusted Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad the next time you're craving noodles this Spring! :)

Spiced Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad (serves 2-4)

Print Recipe

2 medium-sized Watermelon Radishes
2 medium-sized Carrots
1 large Cucumber
2 tbsps Rice Vinegar
2 tbsps Palm Sugar
1 tbsps Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
2 bunches Soba Noodles (Japanese Buckwheat Noodles)
2-in. segment Fresh Ginger, roughly chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsps Peanut Butter
2 tbsps Soybean Paste (White or Yellow Miso)
1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tbsp Palm Sugar, crushed
1/4 cup Hot Water
Spiced Salmon:
1 lb Salmon, with skin (2 8-oz. filets)
Spice Rub -
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Chinese Five-Spice
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Pepper
2 tbsps Canola Oil, for searing
  1. To marinate the vegetables, thinly slice the radishes, carrots, and cucumber, then combine in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 tbsps of rice vinegar, 2 tbsps of palm sugar, 1 tbsp of sesame oil, and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Pour this dressing over the vegetables, and toss to completely coat. Set aside to marinate. 
  2.  To prepare the noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the soba noodles. Stir often, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain, and rinse the noodles with cold water. To prepare the dressing, combine the ginger, garlic, peanut butter, soybean paste, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and palm sugar in a small food processor. Puree until a creamy paste has formed, then slowly pour in the hot water. The dressing will become lighter in color and smooth. Toss the drained noodles with half of the dressing, and reserve the rest for serving.
  3. To cook the salmon, first pat each filet dry with a paper towel. Coat the flesh of each filet with equal amounts of the spice rub, making sure to press the seasoning into the flesh. Then, heat the canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high, until the pan starts to smoke. Place the salmon filets flesh-side down in the pan, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Do not touch until ready to flip! Next, turn the salmon over, and continue to cook for 4-5 more minutes until the skin is crispy.
  4. Serve the salmon filets with the soba noodles and vegetables. This dish can be served cold, room temperature, or warm, and it can be shared as an entree or as an appetizer course. Enjoy!