ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce” and “Yakisoba,” from Japanese Soul Cooking, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat*
DIFFICULTY: Easy enough, but could use a deft touch
TOOLS: Normal kitchen things, including a blender and a fine mesh seive
COOK TYPE: Stovetop. Simmering and sauteeing
HEALTH: The reason I went with the Homemade Tankatsu Sauce instead of the more traditional Bulldog sauce was to make sure we could control the ingredients in our yakisoba. It’s also bursting with cabbage–and most of us could really use some more cruciferous veggies in our diet–as well as the “other white meat.” The noodles, a traditional ramen noodle from the package, leaves much to be desired, though. So some good elements and one not-so-good.
EXPERIENCE: I haven’t actually caught on to the yakisoba craze and I’ll tell you why: you don’t see yakisoba in the restaurants. You find yakisoba in packages of pre-made noodles and flavor pouches. It’s those flavor pouches. I can’t have none of that.
Unfortunately, that’s not at all what these noodles taste like. Whereas I was expecting a smoky-umami taste, I would call these more tart and sweet and complex in a very foreign way. Plus, a little bit of Eastern Eauropean in the pile-of-carbs-with-cooked-cabbage-and-pork. Now, mine really didn’t look enough like the photo in the book for me to say with confidence that it turned out right. Or that I couldn’t do better next time. And there might be a next time, but that next time might be from a different recipe. It’s honestly the first recipe from this cookbook that was not rave-worthy. But it might have been my fault.
On the other hand, we all loved the pork.
You definitely need some special ingredients, which if you can’t find at your local Asian grocer (or even your regular grocer), you’re going to need to buy online. Here is what you are looking for:
- Sake is the famous Japanese liquor. It will be found in the alcohol section, and is clear as water. Good luck choosing a brand.
- Ramen Noodles, sure, you know them. But at Asian grocers, you can buy them plain, without the flavor packets, in larger quantities. I look for brands with fewer, more straight-forward ingredients.
- Nori is a seaweed; the most recognized seaweed (as food) in America. It is very dark green, thin (almost to the point of translucent), and will be found in the seaweed section in sizable sheets. Aonori is a powdered nori.
- 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.
- Rice Vinegar is commonly found in the ethnic aisle at any old grocery store. It’s just a clear vinegar found in a plastic or glass bottle. You could also use cider vinegar, in a pinch.
This recipe also makes way more sauce than you will need. You can just refrigerate for more yakisoba, or–even better–make some tonkatsu (which is basically schnitzel) later in the week.
- Ahead of time, heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon safflower oil. When hot, add 2 thin-sliced onions and stir for about 10 minutes until onions begin to brown.
- Add 2 peeled and cored apples, 1 pound chopped tomatoes, 3 cloves chopped garlic, 3 cups sake, 3 cups water, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 piece of kombu, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat and remove the kombu and bay leaf. Allow to cool before blending completely with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Strain through a sieve. Discard skin-bits and seeds.
- Rinse the soup pot and transfer mixture back. Add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon allspice. Simmer for 10 minutes then allow to cool. (Store sauce in fridge if not using immediately.)
- When ready to make dinner, cook 4 blocks ramen noodles (without flavor packets) according to package directions. Rinse and run under cool water and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil over high heat in a cast iron pan or a wok. Add 12 ounces thin-sliced pork loin–cut into bite-size pieces–and 1/2 sliced sweet onion. Saute until onions soften and pork is white.
- Add 4 ounces chopped Savoy cabbage and 8 ounces mung bean sprouts. Cook until cabbage is bright green and sprouts are translucent.
- Add 1/2 cup sake and 1/2 cup reserved sauce and cook for 1 more minute. Add ramen noodles and cook until all the liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon aonori.
Serve with extra tonkatsu sauce and Japanese savory pancakes.
*Recipe changed from the original.