Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cold Udon and Udon Dashi

Updated below:

I was trying to think what I might post today for Wednesday's recipe and realized that I haven't done anything Japanese here that I remember. Since I was talking a little about Zen yesterday it makes sense to share something from that part of the world. Time for a little adventure.

One of my favorite things from the world of Japanese food is Udon. Udon is/are thick wheat noodles and they can be as complex or as simple as you care to make them. They are eaten both cold and hot. I am going share with you two ways to have them, a simple cold one and a more complex but traditional hot one with Dashi, a broth made from dried fish and seaweed. Both ways are delicious and once you try them it will be a regular part of your world. You can find Udon noodles in the oriental or Japanese section of your market. There is a link at the bottom of the post if you can't find the ingredients locally.

Properly cooking Udon requires a couple of steps to insure they are done all the way through but are also still nice and firm on the outside. You do this by adding cold water to the boiling noodles in several stages. It seems a funny way to do it but this is the traditional way and it makes the noodles perfect. I'm going to list several Japanese ingredients that you should be able to find in a market that carries a good selection of international or oriental foods. At the end I will also give you a link or two where you can order off the internet. The first recipe is for Cold Udon. You will also need this recipe for the second dish which is Udon with Dashi.

8 oz. dried, 10 oz. semifresh, or 16 oz. Fresh Udon
Scallions, finely sliced
Shichimi togarashi (seven-spice blend)
Freshly grated ginger
Soy sauce or Tamari ( get the real stuff...Kikkoman low sodium is real, easy to find and pretty good.)

1. Bring 2 gallons unsalted water to a boil in a large pot. Add noodles and stir. When water comes to a second boil, add 1 cup cold water. Let the water return to a boil again and add 1 more cup cold water. When water returns to a boil for the third time, cook the noodles, stirring them occasionally, until tender, about 4–5 minutes for the dried and semifresh, and 6–7 minutes for the fresh.

2. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them well under cold running water to stop them from cooking further and to remove any excess starch. Divide the noodles between bowls and garnish them with scallions, shichimi togarashi, ginger, and soy sauce.

This recipe will make enough noodles for four.

Now for a little more complexity...

Dashi, is a stock made from dried fish and seaweed, is the classic base for udon soup.

8 medium Japanese-style dried anchovies,(iriko)
2 2" × 15" pieces of kombu (dried seaweed used for soups)
1⁄2 cup katsuobushi (dried bonito(tuna) flakes), lightly packed
Sea salt
Cold Udon ( the recipe from above)
Toasted sesame seeds
Scallions, finely sliced

1. Cut off and discard the heads from the anchovies. Drop fish into a small non reactive(not aluminum) pot ( 2 quarts or so).

2. Next, wipe off the kombu with a damp towel and cut each piece into four equal pieces. Put the kombu into the same pot as the iriko and pour in 6 cups cold water. Place pot over high heat. Just before the water comes to a boil, take out the iriko and kombu using tongs. It is important to not leave the fish in the pot too long or your soup will be too strongly flavored. Trust me.

3. Sprinkle the katsuobushi into the pot. Cover pot, remove from heat, and let the bonito flakes steep for 4 minutes. Strain out the flakes and season the liquid with sea salt to taste. You should have about 5 cups. You can do this ahead a few hours if you like. When ready to serve, reheat to just before boiling and pour the hot dashi over bowls of cooked noodles and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and finely sliced scallions.

Update: I got to thinking that the traditional Dashi might be too strong for some. You can make it milder by just leaving out the anchovies (iriko). Follow the same process otherwise. This is still a dashi soup only a bit milder in flavor. Sometimes a dash of soy sauce will add some additional depth.

This is a very traditional dish in Japan and yes it is a little fishy but gloriously warming and energizing.

You can buy all of the Japanese ingredients online from the Asian Food Grocer
This is great place for Asian cooking stuff and green tea. Very reliable and competitive prices. Here in Atlanta and other places around the country this stuff is in the local markets but if you are in the hinterlands you can't go wrong here. They also have recipes!

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