ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Kitsune Udon,” (as well as “Dashi” and “Udon Tsuyu”) from Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat*
TIMING: about 1 hour and 45 minutes
DIFFICULTY: Japanese cooking tends to be very straightforward but slow. Once you figure out the ingredients, it’s fairly easy
TOOLS: A large pot, some chop sticks, a fine strainer, and some other basic things
COOK TYPE: Stove top, boiling, simmering, etc.
HEALTH: There are some real plusses here, like the simplistic, homemade aspect of this soup. It’s tofu, a dash of veg, and a homemade, seaweed broth. On the other hand, the tofu is fried, the noodles are white, and the broth is just chock full of soy sauce, which might not be so bad unless you are sensitive to MSG (like I am). So it’s somewhere on the vast plain between healthy and unhealthy, somewhere.
EXPERIENCE: I bought a cookbook for my birthday, choosing an economical selection from my very picky wish list. Then I spent a week poring over it. This is a good one. Then I chose a half-dozen recipes, took a trip to the Asian grocery store, and dug in with this recipe for udon.
This recipe turned out great and, as promised by the book, the kids slurped it right up. It made everyone happy. The broth is a pleasing intersection between salty and sweet, and served warm it’s very satisfying.
Also, it tastes completely Japanese. There is nothing Americanized about this.
NOTES: You definitely need some special ingredients, which if you can’t find at your local Asian grocer, you’re going to need to buy online. Here is what you are looking for:
- Kombu will be with the dried seaweed. It is a large, firm, flat, and super-dark seaweed and will probably come in a cellophane package.
- Shaved Bonito will be in the Japanese section, or with the dried fish. It looks like pale peach crystal flakes, and you will need a large package, since this recipe alone calls for 3 cups. Despite its fishy origin, the flavor is subtle.
- Mirin is a very light, cooking liquor, so it may be with the alcohol or may be with the bottled condiments (like soy sauce) in the Japanese section. It is very pale yellow in color and it will be in clear glass and plastic bottles.
- Abura-Age is a deep-fried tofu found in the refrigerator section of the market. It comes in square sheets, lined up in a plastic container. See photo.
- Udon is a very thick, cylindrical noodle. See photo. You can buy it either dried (like spaghetti) straight and tidy, or in the refrigerator section in a big, brainy mess.
- Put 8 cups of water and immerse 12 inches of kombu in a large pot and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Then, over medium heat, bring to a boil. Remove the kombu. Add 3 cups shaved bonito and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and remove scum from the surface with a spoon. Let sit another 15 minutes before straining all the stock (dashi) through a fine strainer (or cheesecloth).
- Rinse out your pot and return dashi to it. Add 1/2 cup mirin, 1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably usukuchi soy sauce), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then set your burner to warm (the lowest setting) and cover the pot.
- Open your 4 oz package of aburu-age and–in a bowl–cover with boiling water. Swirl gently with chopsticks, immersing all the pieces.
- Drain the aburu-age in your (rinsed-out) strainer, and rinse with cold water. With your hands, squeeze all water from the aburu-age, then cut into desired shape.
- In a small-medium sauce pan, place your aburu-age and add 1 cup water, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, and 4 tablespoons mirin. Heat over medium. Once it has come to a boil, turn the aburu-age occasionally until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat.
- Prepare 2 lbs fresh/frozen udon or 1 lb dry udon according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, thinly slice 2 scallions.
- Divide the noodles between 4 bowls and serve topped with the hot dashi, a couple pieces aburu-age, and a sprinkle of scallion. Slurp.
Serve with green tea. For a very simple meal, it needs nothing else, but you could add a fresh vegetable, such as a carrot salad.
*Recipe changed from the original.