Are you a noodle person or a rice person? Tell you what, I’m both. And as a noodle eater, I can tell you that the one noodle you can’t go cheap on is udon. Made properly, udon is silky and chewy, and has a wonderful bite to it that beats al dente pasta hands down. It doesn’t need much dressing up either- just a dribble of soy sauce and maybe some sesame oil, and you’re good to go.
After tasting freshly made, good quality udon, it becomes impossible to ever go back to the gross, sticky vac-packed mush. Well, actually it’s possible, especially when it’s one in the morning and you just need need need to eat. But that’s another story.
I have to admit that these udon are no match for the stuff they serve at Japanese restaurants- BUT! they’re a pretty darn good compromise if you don’t want to shell out a pile of cash. Or maybe you’re like me: too lazy to get dressed and go to a restaurant but somehow motivated enough to be willing to toil over a lump of dough for an hour. All for some noodles.
If toiling over a lump of dough for an hour sounds fun to you (it does for me!), definitely give udon-making a try. I find kneading to be quite a relaxing activity, and I just tend to get lost in thought while my hands squidge and smush away. What’s more, working those arm muscles will definitely help you build a bigger appetite for a bigger bowl of noodle! 😉
In the course of doing some research, I came across two videos (just click here and here) which show the traditional method of making udon. Interestingly, the Japanese use their feet instead of their hands to ‘knead’ the dough through a heavy-duty food bag.
Because I wasn’t yet emotionally ready to step on my food, I used my hands to do the work instead. I might give that a try some day though, if that means yummier udon!
The method for udon isn’t that much different from pasta- all you need is a rolling pin and a knife. Get your dough, flatten, fold, and slice away. There isn’t much else to it, except consistency in the thickness of the noodles. You might notice from the photos that I’m not very good at that.
This time I used a gigantic Chinese cleaver to cut the noodles. But an intimidating knife is not strictly necessary, as long as you use something more practical than a pocket knife. The trick is the press firmly and decisively downwards and not to drag the blade, else the noodles will stick and be difficult to separate and unravel.
Unlike pasta, which is made from thin sheets of dough, you would want your udon to be more fleshy, if that’s the right word. Roll them a little thicker and cut them a little thicker- you aren’t aiming for angel hair here.
Once you have your udon noodles ready, you simply bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and drop them in. Stir the noodles around once in a while. Depending on the thickness of the noodles it could take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes. The surefire way would be to take a little sample piece to see if it’s done to your liking.
Udon-making involves a step that you should never apply to pasta, at the risk of being yelled at by dozens of angry Italian cooks. You have to rinse the noodles, and rinse them well. This gets rid of the excess starch on the surface of the noodles and stops them from sticking, and also prevents a nice, clear broth from turning cloudy when you serve the noodles. But most importantly, it stops the cooking process and tightens the surface of the noodle to yield a slightly chewy and firm mouthfeel.
Udon can be served hot or cold. I actually left my udon in an ice water bath for a few minutes because I wanted my noodles really well-chilled. Typically, the Japanese use a multi-purpose dipping sauce called mentsuyu for noodles that are served cold. Alternately, udon can be served hot in a clear, flavourful broth flavoured with seaweed and dashi, a Japanese cooking stock.
Or if, like mine, your kitchen isn’t well-stocked in exotic ingredients, a little splash of soy sauce and some optional sushi nori would do the trick.
Mmm, yum. 🙂
Homemade Udon Recipe
(Makes 4 portions)
400g plain flour
1 large pinch of salt
- In a large bowl, combine flour, water, and salt. When it begins to come together, turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until fully incorporated. Allow the dough to rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
- After the rest, knead the dough until it is silky smooth and pliable. (OPTIONAL: Wrap with plastic and keep in the fridge overnight.)
- Flour a flat surface and begin rolling out your dough. Depending on your personal preference, the dough would be more or less 1/8 inch thick. Dust everything with a generous sprinkle of flour, and fold the dough up like a letter, making sure that the folds are parallel to each other.
- Using a large knife, cut the dough perpendicular to the folds to make noodles. Cut straight down and do not drag the blade. Again, depending on your personal preference, cut the noodles as wide or as thin as you like.
- Unravel the noodles and dust with a little flour. Cook in a large pot with rapidly boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, until chewy-firm but not mushy. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking.
- Quickly remove the noodles from the pot and rinse under the tap to stop the cooking process. This prevents the noodles from becoming mushy. You can either chill the noodles in an ice water bath, or briefly warm them up in hot water just before serving.
- Serve hot or cold with a splash of soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil. Top with strips of nori and enjoy!