Washoku Wednesday: Udon Noodles

2015.09.25 Cathedral lake hike 005-2When I first arrived to Japan years ago, my friends took me to a chain restaurant where udon (wheat) noodles were made behind glass windows in the front of the store. I had only eaten dried udon before and I just couldn’t get over how delicious these these noodles were in comparison.

Fresh udon is super soft, almost chewy, and not as dense as dried varieties. The noodles are typically served warm in the winter and cold in the summer. The noodles are served in a simple broth made of dashi, soy, and mirin. This broth will vary slightly from region to region (stronger flavor to lighter) as well as the toppings. Some common toppings for udon are sliced spring onions, tempura, fried tofu, and fish cakes.

Below you will find a recipe to make homemade udon. Let me warn you that the verdict is out on whether it is worth the effort or not. My husband feels that it’s worthwhile to forgo a bit of the taste/texture for dried because of the complexity of the recipe. I am 50/50 because it does require a lot of work to prep but they taste great. Read the directions in their entirety to plan your attack plan accordingly if you hope to eat dinner at a normal hour. Otherwise, just opt for some fresh or dried udon at the store and make your own broth!

Homemade Udon
from Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking cookbook

1 cup water
5 tsp salt
3 ½ cup bread flour
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
bread flour – for dusting

1. Take a tablespoon of water and mix with the salt. Once it has dissolved, add to the remaining water. Then, in a large bowl, combine the flours before adding the salted water.

2. Using your hands, mix the flour and water to make a dough. Pull the dough up from the bottom of the bowl and press down. Repeat until well combined.

3. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a board as hard as you can for 5-10 minutes. Transfer it to a big plastic bag and wrap it in a thick towel. Put it on the floor, take your shoes off and walk on it – this helps to give the final noodles a good chewy texture.

IMG_9552 copy
Walking on our udon to make it chewy. Photo courtesy of Buddha Bellies Cooking School Tokyo.

4. Remove the flattened dough from the bag and roll it out. Then fold it up, put it back in the bag and walk on it again. Repeat this a number of times over a 15-to-20 minute period, until the dough becomes really smooth. Then leave the dough, still in the bag, for 3-4 hours (Note: I have done as little as 30 minutes without noticing much difference). In winter, leave it in a warm place.

5. Take the dough out of the bag, shape it into a ball again, then return it to the bag and walk on it. Try to spread the dough with your feet – try turning 360 degrees on your heels – it helps to spread the dough quite efficiently.

6. Dust your work surface with flour, place the flattened dough on the top and roll out from the middle. Rotate the dough and continue rolling until it is 1/8-inch thick and roughly square in shape.

7. Dust the work surface and the dough again then fold into three, accordion style (the folded dough should be around 4 inches in width). Note: I have used a pasta maker during this part for ease though I feel like some of the chunkiness is lost using this technique.

8. Slice the dough into 1/8-inch lengths. You will find this easier if you use a large wide knife not to cut but also push the noodle strips away from the remaining dough. The dough gets very sticky so keep dusting with flour as you cut.

9. Fill a large saucepan with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Dust the noodles with flour again, if necessary, before adding to boiling water.

10. Using cooking chopsticks, lightly stir the noodles to prevent them from sticking together.

11. As the water boils, add a small cupful of cold water to reduce the temperature. Repeat this when necessary and continue to cook for 6-7 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles in a sieve and rinse under cold running water so they cool rapidly.

12. Once cool enough to handle, separate out the noodles with your hands and carry on rinsing to ensure all the starch is removed.

13. The udon noodles are now ready. You can serve them cold but they are more traditionally served hot.

Hot Udon
Serves one

1 2/3 – 2 cups homemade udon noodles
1 cup dashi stock
1/3 cup Basic Mentsuyu sauce (see below)
finely chopped spring onions – to taste
chili powder or shichimi togarashi – to taste

1. Place the udon in a sieve or a colander. Brigh a kettleful of water to a boil and pour it over the noodles to heat them, then drain well and place in individual bowls. Mix three parts dashi stock with one part mentsuyu sauce and heat in a pan. As it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and pour over the udon. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and shichimi togarashi to taste.

Basic Mentsuyu Sauce
Serves four

4-inch piece dried kombu seaweed
1 cup water
1 ¾ cups soy sauce
1 ¼ cups mirin
2 TBSP superfine sugar
4 ½ TBSP dried fish flakes (kasuobushi)

1. Lightly wipe the dried kombu seaweed to remove any excess saltiness. Put into a pan with the water and soak for 2-3 hours.

2. Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar and heat. Just before it comes to a boil, remove the kombu seaweed and add the dried fish flakes.

3. Boil for about 30 seconds then turn off the heat. Cool and strain.

4. Pour into a sterilized bottle. You can keep this refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.

Cold Tanuki soup by Just One Cookbook
Of course, Just One makes the list but this website is seriously my go to! This is the perfect way to enjoy udon during those hot summer months.

Zaru Udon from Nipp’nTuck
Another easy and delicious way to enjoy cold udon noodles. Also makes a pretty easy lunch to take to work!

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-fry with Udon Noodles from Food Network
Not exactly a traditional way to serve udon but delicious for those who are looking for a one-dish fusion recipe.

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