Tossed in a creamy, tangy and sweet dressing, this Japanese Macaroni Salad is the perfect side dish to serve at your next BBQ and cookout. Get your salad fork ready and dig in!
This recipe is brought to you in partnership with Mizkan.
I often get asked which Japanese dishes are great to serve as a side dish for summer BBQ and potluck. A few of our family favorites include Japanese Potato Salad, Harusame Salad (Japanese Glass Noodle Salad), and Grilled Rice Balls (Yaki Onigiri).
Today I’m adding another one to the list. It’s the crowd-pleasing, kid-friendly Japanese Macaroni Salad (マカロニサラダ).
Why You’ll Love Japanese Macaroni Salad
- So delicious, and easy to make!
- Very simple, pantry-friendly ingredients.
- The creamy, tangy, and sweet dressing will make everyone come back for more.
- Full of textural crunch.
- Japanese mayo makes everything so darn good!
Big fan of the Japanese Potato Salad? This will remind you of the similar deliciousness. You might want to make extra because it will be gone in an instant!
5 Ingredients You’ll Need:
- Macaroni – You can use other short pasta, or even spaghetti noodles (we call it Spaghetti Salad (スパゲッティーサラダ)).
- Cucumber – Use Japanese or Persian cucumber. If you’re going to use English cucumber, slice in half lengthwise and remove the watery seeds with a spoon. I don’t recommend American cucumber for this recipe as the skin is thick.
- Onion – I recommend using it for the texture and zing.
- Ham – You can substitute it with shredded cooked chicken, canned tuna, imitation crab, or sweet corn.
- Boiled Egg – Add richness, creaminess, and savoriness.
My Secret for the Seasoning
The majority of Japanese Macaroni Salad recipes may just call for Japanese mayo and black pepper. However, to season my Japanese Macaroni Salad, I always include these 3 items:
- Japanese Mayonnaise
- Mizkan Natural Rice Vinegar
It’s a simple layering, but that’s what makes a difference! You’ll yield a much tastier and superior salad. Rich and creamy, yet refreshing. Sweet yet tangy. All at the same time! It’s so good that you’ll want to come back for more.
The Japanese Macaroni Salad isn’t what it is without Japanese mayo. Period. However, if you can’t get it, I’ve included a quick recipe to convert American mayo to Japanese mayo. It’s not exactly the same, but only if you absolutely can’t get it. You’ll also find my homemade Japanese mayonnaise in the recipe.
The Right Vinegar for All Japanese Recipes
To give the salad a rounded acidity, I used Mizkan Natural Rice Vinegar in this recipe. Crafted with real organic ingredients, the rice vinegar has a mild tang, refreshing aroma, and brings out the flavor beautifully.
You’ll find that I solely use Mizkan Natural Rice Vinegar in all my Japanese cooking. You can use it to toss, stir-fry, marinate, dress and dip all kinds of Japanese-inspired dishes. The brand has been around in Japan for over 200 years and is known for using the finest ingredients and brewing according to traditional practices. If you wish to create authentic Japanese recipes at home, I always recommend using Mizkan.
With this rice vinegar in your pantry, you’ll be able to cook up many delicious Japanese dishes at home with confidence and ease!
3 Tips to Make Macaroni Salad
1. Cook Macaroni 1 Extra Minute
We are often trained to cook pasta till al dente. However, this might be the only time that you’re supposed to cook macaroni 1 extra minute. You can be a pasta rebel for once!
The reason why we cook the pasta longer for the salad is to create the tender, mochi-mochi texture. It melds together so much better with the rest of the ingredients. It’s personal taste, but many recipes would advise the same, and I’d recommend that too.
2. Let The Macaroni Cool Completely
After you cook the macaroni, drain well and season it immediately with olive oil, Mizkan Natural Rice Vinegar, and sugar. Let the macaroni absorb the hidden flavor while it’s still hot. The olive oil and sugar help to retain the moisture of the macaroni, resulting in a great texture throughout.
Then, let cool completely before dressing it with mayonnaise. If the macaroni is still hot, the mayo will separate, so you want to be patient.
3. Withdraw Moisture Out from Vegetables
Nobody likes a soggy salad. Therefore, it’s very important to withdraw moisture from the ingredients. If you add cucumber and onion, sprinkle salt and set aside for 5 minutes. You’ll see a small pool of water drawn from the vegetables in the bowl.
Now quickly rinse off salt from the vegetables and squeeze the water out before mixing with macaroni. If you don’t squeeze water out, the moisture will dilute the flavor.
Since this Japanese Macaroni Salad is a staple during our BBQ season, I like making different variations to keep things fresh. You can swap ham with shredded cooked chicken, canned tuna, or imitation crab, and toss in extras like sweet corn.
For a punch of creative flavor, you can even add a touch of soy sauce, ponzu, Dijon or Japanese karashi mustard, or curry powder to the dressing.
But don’t think it only belongs to your backyard BBQs and cookouts in the park. You can totally serve it as a main meal for dinner!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Japanese Macaroni Salad
For the Salad
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell) (you can increase up to 2, but it’ll be more prominent egg taste)
- ½ onion (3.5 oz, 100 g)
- 2 Persian cucumbers (or 1 Japanese cucumber)
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for sprinkling onion and cucumber)
- 4 slices ham (3.5 oz, 100 g; you can substitute it with canned tuna, shredded cooked chicken, or corn)
- 4 Tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make Japanese Mayonnaise
- You can make my Homemade Japanese Mayonnaise or modify American mayonnaise with Mizkan Natural Rice Vinegar and sugar. For 4 Tbsp of American mayonnaise (I use Best Foods/Hellmann’s Mayonnaise), add ½ Tbsp rice vinegar and ¾ tsp sugar. Whisk until sugar dissolves.
To Boil Macaroni
- Start boiling 3 quarts (12 cups, 2.8 L) water in a large pot (I used a 3.5 QT pot). Once boiling, add 1 Tbsp salt and macaroni. Cook according to the package instructions plus 1 minute more.
- Drain the macaroni and transfer to a large bowl. While hot, add 2 tsp olive oil.
- Add 1 Tbsp rice vinegar and 1 tsp sugar and mix well together. Set aside to let cool completely.
To Make Boiled Egg
- In a medium saucepan, add water that covers 1 large egg and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Optional Tip: If you want your egg yolk to be in the center, gently rotate the eggs with chopsticks once in a while for the first 3 minutes so the egg yolk will be in the center.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low and set a timer for 12 minutes (9 minutes for soft-boiled egg). Once it’s done cooking, bring the pot under running water to cool or immediately transfer to an iced bath.
- Peel the egg and cut it into small pieces.
To Prepare Vegetables
- Cut off the ends and peel the onion. Cut into thin slices along the grain.
- Peel the cucumber skin, leaving some part unpeeled (so it looks nice) and cut off the ends.
- Thinly slice the cucumber (or use a mandolin). Put the sliced cucumber and onion in a medium bowl.
- Sprinkle 1 tsp salt and lightly massage with hand to evenly distribute the salt. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- When you see the liquid in the bowl, give the sliced vegetables a quick rinse to remove the salt.
- Squeeze water out and set aside.
- Cut the ham into small pieces, roughly ⅛ inch thick, 2 inch long pieces and set aside.
To Assemble Macaroni Salad
- When the macaroni is cool, add the ham and sliced cucumber and onion.
- Mix well together and add the chopped boiled egg.
- Add 4 Tbsp Japanese mayonnaise and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Mix all together.
- Taste the salad and see if you want to add more salt, pepper, or mayonnaise. Once the taste is good, chill the salad for 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.
- You can keep the Japanese Macaroni Salad for up to 2-3 days in the refrigerator.