Thursday, February 4, 2010

Udon with Mushrooms Three Ways

Ever since my husband got way too excited about a fairly unremarkable bowl of udon at Narita Airport, I've been kicking around a bunch of ideas for my own recipe. Calling a bad bowl of noodles tasty is like waving a red flag in front of me. Though, in fairness to my husband, we had been eating nothing but airplane food for the better part of a day.

I knew my version would feature homemade dashi. And a few entertaining blog entries about foot-kneaded udon got me thinking I could make my own noodles from scratch. Then I noticed that this month's Beet 'n Squash You contest is battle mushrooms, which happens to be one of my favorite ingredients. Suddenly all of my ideas began to coalesce.
Sadly, the homemade udon experiment did not go that well. The noodles were a little too chewy and doughy for my taste. I might have gone overboard with the bread flour to all-purpose flour ratio. Plus I added tapioca starch for good measure. If you're interested in making your own udon, I suggest you head over here for further instructions.

Meanwhile, the rest of the soup was well worth making again...with frozen udon next time. Frozen udon is surprisingly high in quality, about on par with what you would get at all but the best Japanese restaurants in the U.S. (or at the airport in Japan). The homemade dashi was much better than instant hon-dashi, with a subtle ocean-y flavor that wasn't overpowered by salt or MSG. I splurged on some really nice looking kombu (kelp) and bonito (dried skipjack). The bonito came in large flakes, and looked much nicer than the tiny shavings I usually buy in individually-wrapped packs.
But what could I do to make my soup extra awesome? I mean, the overall quality of the entries in these Beet 'n Squash You competitions is pretty mind-boggling. I knew I had to take things to the next level. So I decided to prepare the mushrooms three ways: pickled, tempura-fried, and poached in my homemade dashi. I bought a nice assortment of mushrooms in Japantown. Look at how cute they are! They're like the three bears: baby is enoki, mama is beech, and papa is maitake, or hen of the woods. Here's how it all came together.

Homemade Dashi (inspired by Gourmet Magazine)
1 oz. kombu (broken into 4-5 inch pieces)
1 large handful (about a cup) of bonito flakes
6 cups of water

1. Heat kombu and water together until water is nearly (but not quite) at boiling point. Lower heat and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Remove kombu.

2. Immediately drop bonito into the broth and steep for 3 minutes.

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids.

Mushroom Udon Soup
By poaching the mushrooms in the dashi, I wanted to infuse the dashi with the mushrooms and vice versa. The results were umami-tastic.

2 servings of udon noodles (fresh or frozen)
Assorted fresh mushrooms (I used enoki and beech, maitake for the tempura recipe below, and pickled shiitakes).
Handful of spinach, washed
1 green onion, sliced thinly
6 cups homemade dashi
Soy sauce to taste
Ichimi togarishi for serving (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Season your strained dashi with about a tablespoon of soy sauce (add more or less as you prefer). Taste. If you are satisfied, add the washed mushrooms to the broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for about five minutes, covered. Turn heat to low and keep pot covered, so that the broth remains warm for plating.

3. Once your large pot of water is boiling, blanch your spinach and set aside. Return to a boil and cook noodles according to package instructions.

4. Drain noodles. Place a bundle in the bottom of a bowl and top with mushrooms, spinach, and a few ladlefuls of broth. Then scatter some green onion on top.

Maitake Tempura (inspired by Flavor Explosions
I read a lot of different recipes for tempura batter, but all agreed on one point: the water must be ice cold so your batter turns out crisp, not soggy. 
2 cups of rice flour
1 egg yolk
2 cups of ice cold sparkling water
Corn starch for dusting
4 cups of canola or grapeseed oil
1 bunch of maitake mushrooms
Sea salt to taste

1. Mix flour, water, and egg yolk together into a wet batter.

2. Clean your maitakes and dry thoroughly. You can also dust with a bit of corn starch to make them even drier. Break maitakes into smallish clumps.

3. Place oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Try and pick one that isn't too wide, so the oil is deep enough for frying (hence, deep-frying). Heat oil on high for about five minutes. You can test if the oil is ready by dropping a bit of batter into it. It should sizzle immediately. Turn the heat down slightly. Now, in batches, dredge the maitake thoroughly in the tempura batter and drop into the hot oil. Cook until crispy, turning once (about two minutes total). Do not crowd the pan, or the temperature of the oil will drop too much. I did these two at a time.

4. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue frying until all maitakes are cooked. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve (either atop your soup noodles or on their own with a squeeze of lemon).

4 comments:

  1. Looks delicious! I love udon and mushrooms. And you tried to make your own udon too! I really need to start making some noodles...

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  2. These turned out much better than the udon: hand-cut noodles

    At some point, I want to learn how to make hand-pulled noodles!

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  3. Hi KT,
    Thanks for the alert on Flavor Explosions. I just fixed the site, it's now working fine. Here is the link to the Maitake Tempura link.
    http://www.flavorexplosions.com/blog/2008/09/maitake-tempura-with-lime-sea-salt/
    I see you are in San Francisco, I have been meaning to bug that one Chinese restaurant in Japantown that offers hand pulled noodles to learn the skill. Perhaps we can join forces and bug them!
    Love noodles, love your blog.
    Cheers, Linda

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  4. Added link. I know the exact restaurant you mean, Sam Wang. Btw, there is a local chef who teaches hand-pulled noodle classes. I'm definitely thinking about booking him.

    Let me know if you have any interest. Also, the blog love is mutual. :)

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