How to Make Yakisoba
Looking for a one-pan wonder? Our easy chicken yakisoba recipe features chewy stir-fried noodles and vegetables seasoned Japanese-style with a delicious savory sweet sauce.
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I first had yakisoba years ago on a visit to Yokohama, Japan. The city has the country’s largest Chinatown, and many restaurants serve Japanese-Chinese cuisine, known as chuka. Aromatic yakisoba noodles bathed in a thick, umami-rich sauce reminded me of Chinese stir-fried noodles. I was hooked and started experimenting with how to make yakisoba at home.
Noodles have a long history in Japan, dating back to the 4th century when Chinese traders brought buckwheat soba noodles and udon noodles. Over time, Japanese cooks adapted Chinese noodles to make them thinner and quicker-cooking to serve as street food.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century, though, that yakisoba got popular in Japan. Following World War II, American condiments became widely available. Cooks began experimenting with new products like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, resulting in the sweet, tangy, and savory sauce that’s essential to a good yakisoba dish.
Here in the U.S., postwar demand for convenience food ingredients, along with returning G.I.s who were familiar with yakisoba, and availability of Japanese brands of instant noodles like Nissan and Maruchan, all lead to a rise in popularity for this humble dish.
Now my generation is rediscovering all the reasons to love this versatile one-pan recipe — including the fact you can pull it off in about 30 minutes!
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What is yakisoba?
Yakisoba is the name of both the Japanese stir-fried noodle dish and the quick-cooking wheat noodles used to make it. “Yakisoba” literally means stir-fried noodles.
What are yakisoba noodles?
Yakisoba noodles are thin wheat flour noodles similar to ramen or thin Chinese wheat noodles. They’re pre-cooked and don’t need to be boiled before stir-frying; you just need to rinse them under hot water and carefully separate them with your hands. You can buy yakisoba noodles at supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. Or if you can’t find them, you can use fresh or dried ramen noodles or Chinese wheat noodles and cook them according to package directions until just tender (al dente).
Ingredients for yakisoba
In addition to noodles, the recipe that follows calls for chicken breast, but you can substitute your favorite protein to make beef yakisoba, shrimp yakisoba, pork yakisoba, or even tofu for a vegetable yakisoba. The most traditional vegetables are napa cabbage, onions, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms, but you can also try green cabbage, kale, spinach, bean sprouts, and green onions instead of chives.
You’ll also need ingredients for the yakisoba sauce — see more on that below.
How to make yakisoba
As with any stir-fry, you need to spend a little prep time before you begin. The key is to cut the ingredients into long, thin, bite-size pieces, similar to the shape of noodles. That way, the cooking goes quickly and when you serve, you can pick up the noodles, vegetables, and meat easily in one swoop with your chopsticks.
1. Prep the veggies
Start by cutting the vegetables into thin strips. You can slice the onions and shiitake mushrooms into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. The best way to cut the cabbage is to stack the leaves, roll them up into a tight cylinder, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick shreds with your chef’s knife. Use a vegetable peeler to create thin carrot ribbons, rotating the carrot as you peel so that one side doesn’t get too squared off.
You can also chop your garlic, and cut the chives into 3-inch lengths. With the exception of the garlic, your vegetables should be long and thin enough to closely resemble the shape of noodles.
2. Prep the chicken
The chicken can be cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices that are 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. To keep the chicken juicy as it’s stir-fried, I marinate it for 5-10 minutes in a mixture of cornstarch and soy sauce. Marinating the meat at room temperature rather than in the cold fridge helps it cook more evenly.
3. Make the yakisoba sauce
On to the sauce. Just what is yakisoba sauce, you may wonder. Worcestershire sauce? Ketchup? Although neither are traditional Japanese ingredients, they have become so popular in Japan since the mid 1900s that they have become staples in many comfort food dishes.
For yakisoba, the trick is balancing the tanginess from the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup with a bit of sweetness from sugar and savoriness from oyster sauce. While traditional Chinese oyster sauce is best for this recipe, you can also find vegan versions of oyster sauce made with mushroom flavoring for that umami oomph.
Just stir everything together in a small bowl.
4. Cook the yakisoba
Now we’re ready to cook this noodle dish! You can use a wok, a nonstick frying pan or stainless-steel frying pan pan that’s at least 12 inches in diameter, or a wide Dutch oven.
Heat up some vegetable oil over medium-high heat, add the chicken once it’s hot, and spread out the chicken in a single layer. You’ll be tempted to immediately start stirring, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Leave it alone! That’s right. Waiting one to two minutes before stirring lets the chicken develop a nice golden-brown sear. Once it has good color, you can stir until the pieces are no longer pink. You can also cut open a piece to check for doneness.
Now transfer the chicken to a plate and set it aside. We’ll move on to the vegetables, cooking the onion, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms first, then adding the cabbage and carrots.
Then you add the noodles. (If you’re using ramen or Chinese wheat noodles instead of pre-cooked yakisoba noodles, you’ll need to cook them before starting the yakisoba.)
The last step is returning the chicken to the pan, adding the sauce and chives, and giving everything a few good final tosses with your tongs. Total time: about 35 minutes!
Get the chicken yakisoba recipe
These comfort-food noodles have a complex flavor, but are quick and simple to whip up.
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