Udon is a glorious type of Japanese noodle -- thick, chewy, and delicious in its simplicity.
Last year I spent time in an area of Japan called Sanuki, a region known for these noodles. Udon shops are on every street corner and many families eat this stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The townspeople are udon connoisseurs, one of which I befriended. Over a bowl of udon at his favorite local joint, he explained to me that 20 to 30 minutes after udon noodles are made, they lose their body and texture. "This is the death of udon," he said firmly.
So you can only imagine the despair I've faced since returning to the US, now that I've only been able to find dead udon, which happens to be the stuff they serve up at most Japanese restaurants. Well I shall fret no longer, because I've realized how simple, enjoyable and rewarding it is to make your very own Sanuki-inspired udon.
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Step 1: Ingredients
Here's what you'll need to get started. Yields approximately 4- 6 servings depending on portion size.
500 grams of bread flour
15 grams of coarse salt
240 cc of room temperature water (about 1 cup)
A handful of potato starch or corn starch (to dust the your work surface)
Note: You can buy udon flour at specialty Japanese grocery shops, but I used bread flour because of its availability and high gluten content.
Dashi Soup Base (Optional)
800 cc water
2 pieces of dried kelp
20 grams of dried bonito fish flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon of mirin (or more, to taste)
Let's prepare our dough!
Combine the salt and the water, making sure that all the granules have dissolved.
Sift the flour.
Add the salt-water solution into the flour slowly, mixing with your hands to make sure the moisture is getting distributed evenly.
Once you've added all the water, don't worry if it feels a little hard or dry, as long as it holds together as one piece. Trust your dough!
Put the dough into a sealable plastic bag.
All right folks, now we're going to get physical.
Place the bag on the ground and gently stomp around on the dough, spreading and thinning it out as much as you can.
Friendly Tip #1: Do be careful about ripping the bag. This can be prevented by finding a large plastic bag to give the dough plenty of room get squashed around. You can also cut the dough into two pieces and stomp around on them separately.
Friendly Tip #2: You may find that the dough is very springy and not soft enough to work with. If this is the case, try letting the dough rest for 20-30 minutes before kneading again.
Once your dough is all flattened out, take it out of the plastic bag, set it out on your workspace and roll it up.
Turn it 90 degrees and insert it back into the plastic bag. That's right, the stompin' ain't over. In fact, you're going to repeat the process about 5 or 6 times, or until the dough is really smooth and almost a bit rubbery.
After 5 or 6 times of rolling, flattening, and re-rolling you should have brought the dough to a smooth, rubbery state. Let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes before our next step (the dough's probably feeling really springy and resistant, so we have to let it sit). In the meantime, why not wash your dirty dishes?
After letting the dough sit for a little bit, it's time to form a ball with it.
Fold the ends of the dough, pulling them inward. Pinch the ends of the dough together and flip the dough over. Work the dough with two hands to form a ball-like shape. Doesn't have to be perfect.
Put the ball of dough back into the plastic bag, making sure to seal it tightly. Now it's time to wait.
Summer months: I'd say an hour of rest should suffice.
Colder months: At least 2 to 3 hours.
Friendly Tip #4: It's smart not to rush the resting time. The bread flour is glutinous and makes a really springy dough. Letting the dough rest will allow it to become more workable later.
While your dough is resting, you can prepare your soup stock.
Put the water in a large pot. Take out two pieces of dried konbu kelp. Take a paper towel or cloth to wipe some of the excess residue on the konbu. Drop it into the pot. Turn the flame to low heat and let the konbu sit in the water for 10-15 minutes. You don't want to bring the water to a boil because the konbu kelp will begin to get slimy.
Remove the konbu kelp. Add the bonito flakes and turn the heat up to high. Let it boil for 5-6 minutes. Strain the bonito flakes.
Add the soy sauce and mirin, and then perhaps adding more of either to suit your taste (soy sauce controls saltiness, mirin controls sweetness).
Set aside for later.
After letting the dough rest for the appropriate amount of time, give your dough a little poke. If it retains the indent, you're good to go. If it springs back to it's original shape, you should let it sit for a bit longer.
Time to roll out the dough. Dust your work surface with potato (or corn) starch. Dust the rolling pin and the surface of the dough as well. Roll your dough out down to about 3mm in thickness.
Brush the surface of the flattened dough with some more potato starch. Now fold the dough over a couple of time to create a narrow, multilayered strip of udon dough goodness.
Friendly Tip #3: Before rolling out your dough, how about leaving it in the plastic bag and giving it another stomp session to jump-start the flattening out process? After flattening it out with your feet, take it out of the bag and finish it up with the rolling pin. It'll give your biceps a nice little rest.
Step 10: Slice It Up
Grab a knife and start slicing away. Cut to about 5mm in width.
Now you have noodles!
Serving it up is simple.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop in your fresh noodles, letting them boil for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness.
Make sure you gently spread the noodles evenly in the water and watch for noodles that try to stick to the bottom.
When you pull the noodles out of the water, they should hang limp. You'll know that you haven't boiled them enough if they are stiff. You'll also notice that these noodles will really plump up.
Strain the noodles.
Combine with your delicious dashi soup and garnish with green onions. Enjoy!
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