15 Minute After-School Special Noodles is a recipe that has been our constant companion over the years. When I was eleven years old, my parents finally (“finally?”) deemed me and my sister old enough to stay home alone from when school let out at 2:45 to when they came home from work at 6:30. Before that, it was after school programs, and even a short stint with a Chinese nanny who would pick us up from school with her hair in hot rollers and a shower cap over her head (not great for a 3rd grader’s street cred).
Being able to walk the short 10 minutes from school to home, having our own set of house keys, and spending our allowance money on a Bomb Pop or Chipwich at the ice cream truck down the street––it was pure freedom.
But the best part of our afternoon routine was always the hour between 3:00 and 4:00 PM. This was when we would turn on the TV, enjoy some quality programming on Nickelodeon or PBS, and whip up our after-school snack (It wasn’t exactly milk and cookies. It was really more of a meal, but yeah, let’s call it a snack).
We were cooking in the kitchen early as kids, and our mother had instilled in us a respect for kitchen safety (“Don’t EVER walk away from the stove while it’s on.”) that allowed us to whip up simple dishes for ourselves. And of all our options, the dish that we now call, “The After-School Special” was our favorite. You could be on the couch with a big bowl of noodles in 15 minutes flat.
The After School Special noodles recipe below isn’t exactly a recipe. It’s more a set of guidelines. You won’t see any exact quantities, and that’s on purpose. At it’s core, the After-School Special is made up of just three components: noodles or pasta, soy sauce, and sesame oil. It was my mother’s invention. The Chinese mom’s version of your run-of-the-mill pasta with butter and cheese, if you will. We always had those ingredients in the pantry––boxes of pasta were abundant, and a home without soy sauce and sesame oil in the cabinet next to the stove wasn’t a home at all. The general idea is: make however much pasta you want, and season it to suit your own personal taste.
As we got older, we started adding additional elements. We would add a dollop of chili sauce here, a sprinkling of white pepper there. If we were feeling extra fancy, we would chop up a scallion and put it on top.
If your next question is, “Do you still eat this now that you’re, you know, adults?”
My answer is: “Duh. Of course we do.”
Here’s what you need:
- Any dried pasta (angel hair, spaghetti, linguini––we would even make it with short cut pasta like penne if that was all we had in the pantry that day)
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- White pepper (optional)
- Chili oil (optional––see note below)
- chopped scallions (optional)
Here’s how to make it:
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Toss with soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. If using, mix in white pepper, chili oil, and scallions to taste.
Make sure to add condiments in small quantities as you’re mixing the noodles together––especially the soy sauce. It can get salty very quickly. Add the sauces a teaspoon at a time, try the noodles, and add a little more if needed. Enjoy these After-School special noodles any time of the day!
A Note on Chili Oil:
We used Kaitlin’s Chiu Chow Chili Oil for the version photographed in this post, but with such a wide variety of chili oil/chili sauce options out there, you can really make this element your own.
If you want to make your own spicy condiment, here are a couple essential recipes:
If you’d rather go the store-bought route, here are a few options:
- Any store-bought chili oil
- Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp Sauce
- Laoganma Chili Black Bean Sauce
- Chili Garlic Sauce
Check out our Chinese Sauces, Vinegars & Oils page for more info!
The After-School Special
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain. Toss with soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. If using, mix in white pepper, chili oil, and scallions to taste.
- Make sure to add condiments in small quantities as you’re mixing the noodles together, especially the soy sauce––it can get salty very quickly. Add the soy sauce a teaspoon at a time.