Soft and chewy noodles coated in a salty, sweet and rich caramelized scallion-infused sauce and topped with crispy scallions. These scallion oil noodles are a perfect, easy, better-than-takeout comfort food that require only a few, mostly Chinese pantry staple, ingredients. Serve them on their own, with a fried egg for breakfast or lunch, or as a side-dish in a larger meal alongside your favorite Chinese soup, dumplings, cooked greens, chicken or steamed fish.
What are Scallion Oil Noodles?
Scallion oil noodles are a traditional Shanghainese street food. An incredibly simple dish of slow caramelized scallions in oil, that leaves you with both crispy scallions and a rich scallion-infused oil that are mixed through thin wheat noodles. Scallion oil noodles are all about simplicity, highlighting the mild-but-sweet, complex flavor of slow-cooked scallions.
Chinese Black Vinegar
Chinese black vinegar, or Chinkiang vinegar, is a relatively mild vinegar with a more complex flavor than other mild vinegars, like rice. It can be found at most Asian grocers or ordered online. Black vinegar is key to this recipe.
A lot of scallion oil noodle recipes contain a lot of sugar and, when combined with the sweetness of the caramelized scallions, can be very sweet. If that’s your thing, you might not need the vinegar, but I find that a little acidity balances the dish, preventing the sweetness from overpowering the scallions and becoming one-note.
If you can’t find Chinese black vinegar, use balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar or a mix of the two instead.
Traditionally, scallion-oil noodles are made with thin, round, Shanghai-style wheat noodles. I find these harder to get my hands on where I live, so I will often use soba, or buckwheat noodles, instead.
In the mood for Thai-style noodles instead? Try these Drunken Noodles!
If you don’t have Chinese wheat or buckwheat noodles, egg noodles or ramen noodles are good substitutes. And, if you can’t find any of these, a thin pasta like a spaghettini will do in a pinch. I wouldn’t recommend rice noodles for this, they tend to be more challenging to cook so they remain chewy and they don’t keep as well as leftovers as wheat noodles do, should you decide to make a larger batch.
This recipe includes two types of soy sauce: a dark soy sauce and a “regular” low-sodium soy sauce.
Dark soy sauce is darker and thicker and somewhat less salty than regular soy sauce. It adds a unique flavor, but its main purpose here, as in a lot of noodle dishes, is to give the sauce an appealing dark brown color that coats the noodles. It’s less widely available than regular soy sauce, but if you like making Chinese food at home, it’s worth tracking down either at a local Asian grocer or by ordering online. If you can’t find it, you can substitute with either a mixture of regular soy sauce and molasses (two parts soy and one part molasses) or just regular soy sauce, though your noodles will be lighter in color.
Whenever a recipe calls for “regular” soy sauce, I like to use a low-sodium version. Regular soy sauce can be salty, and you can always add salt, but you can’t easily take it away. You can use “full-sodium” soy sauce if that’s what you like or have, but start with less than the recipe calls for, taste, and only add more if you feel like the sauce is too bland and/or needs more salt.
How to Prepare and Cook Scallions for Scallion Oil Noodles
Preparing and cooking the scallions is most of the work involved in this recipe. To get the best results:
- Before cooking with your scallions, wash them and then thoroughly dry them off. Any water left on the scallions will sputter and splash when the scallions hit the hot oil.
- You want the scallions sliced into thin strips. First separate the green parts of the scallions from the white parts, then slice the white parts thinly lengthwise.
- Begin cooking your scallion oil with the white parts of the scallions only and add the green parts half-way through the cooking time. The green parts are softer and will cook more quickly than the white parts and you don’t want them to burn before the white parts have caramelized.
- Once you have fried your scallions, carefully remove them from the scallion-infused oil and set them aside on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Store any leftover fried scallions and leftover scallion-infused oil in the refrigerator separately.
Make it Ahead
Scallion oil is a great pantry-staple condiment or sauce to prepare ahead and have on hand in your fridge as a meal prep component. You can triple or even quadruple the sauce recipe and store it in the fridge - keeping the scallions separate from the sauce - for up to 2 weeks. The oil can then be used for super quick noodles or on its own as a sauce or seasoning for lots of other foods - like your morning eggs, a simple roast chicken, or rice.
The noodles could be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, but since noodles usually take only a few minutes to make, I recommend making your noodles “to order,” and only cooking the amount of noodles you expect will be eaten that day.
Turn your Noodles into a Full Meal
The strength of scallion oil noodles is how simple and delicious they are, using only a few ingredients. So I like to make them for a quick lunch, or a comfort dish when I’m only cooking for myself or maybe one other person and don’t want to spend time in the kitchen. But you might want to add to the recipe to transform it into a more filling meal or to stretch it out to feed more people. Try:
- Putting an egg on it! This is my go-to strategy for beefing up recipes or stretching leftovers, and it works for feeding both meat eaters and vegetarians who eat eggs. You can fry eggs while the scallions caramelize, cut omelette-style eggs into strips, or quickly scramble some eggs in the pan before starting the sauce, then top the finished noodles with your eggs.
- Serve the scallion oil noodles as a side dish to a meal or turn your noodles into a mini dim-sum style brunch and serve them alongside boiled or deep-fried dumplings. This is a great option if, like me, homemade (or store-bought) dumplings are a staple freezer-meal.
- Top with any leftover protein like beef strips, shredded chicken, or shrimp. Or, fry off some ground beef or pork before cooking the noodles, then set it aside and add it as a topping to your finished noodles.
- It’s not traditional, but I like to add some julienned cucumber strips to my scallion oil noodles for some freshness and crunch. You could also fold through some sautéed greens.
Make it Spicy
Scallion oil noodles are meant to be a mild-tasting comfort food that feature the sweet caramelized flavor of slow-fried scallions. However, if you’re in the mood for some spice, go ahead and add it!
These peanut noodles with Sichuan chili oil are meant to be spicy!
Since these noodles already have an oil-based sauce, I would skip the chili oils and instead add a few thin slices of fresh chili or some Sichuan, Korean, or dried red chili flakes to the oil after removing the fried scallions.
If you have it, you could also add some chili crisp, though chili crisps can be strongly flavored, which can easily overpower the fried scallion sauce.
Scallion Oil Noodle Recipe
- One large bunch of scallions or spring onions, about 10-12
- 4 tablespoons neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons light or regular low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 servings soba or Shanghai-style thin wheat noodles, about ½ lb
- White and/or black sesame seeds
- Julienned cucumber strips
- Prep the scallions: Wash and pat dry your scallions. Thinly slice 2-3 of the scallions crosswise into ¼ inch pieces. Set aside. Cut remaining scallions crosswise into 1” segments, separating the white segments from the green. Then, take the white scallion segments and cut them again into thin strips lengthwise. Set the white and green scallion pieces aside separately.
- Cook the scallions: Set a wok or deep frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the oil. When hot, add the white scallion pieces and fry for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the green scallion segments and cook for 10 minutes more. As the scallions brown, gradually lower the heat. Remove the scallions with a slotted spoon and set them aside on a plate lined with paper-towel to absorb excess oil.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce: in a small bowl, whisk together the light and dark soy sauces, vinegar and sugar. Set Aside.
- Prepare your noodles according to their package directions.
- Turn the heat to medium and add the sauce to the scallion oil. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the sauce slightly thickens, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Assemble and serve: Divide the noodles and julienned cucumber, if using, between two bowls and spoon half of the scallion oil sauce over each bowl. Top with some of the crispy fried scallions, the reserved raw sliced scallions and the sesame seeds, if using, and serve immediately.