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Throw away those packets of instant ramen, real Japanese noodles are dead easy to make. Both the hot soup and cold sauce recipes use the same ingredients, just in different proportions, so with this basic set of instructions, you can make noodles five different ways, depending on how you want to eat your noodles today.

Hot soba soup garnished with a poached egg and chopped green onions

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 2 – 3 bundles of noodles
  • 1 recipe Soup or Dipping Sauce (see below)
  • Garnish of your choice

Soup/Dipping Sauce Ingredients:

Ingredient

Kanto-style (Eastern) Soup (salty)

Kansai-style (Western) Soup (light)

Dipping Sauce

Water

2 ½ cups

2 ½ cups

1 + 2/3 cups

Dashi powder

1 tsp.

1 tsp

½ – ¾ tsp.

Mirin

3 Tbsp

2 Tbsp

2 Tbsp

Shoyu (soy sauce)

3 Tbsp

2 Tbsp*

(*Thin soy sauce)

2 Tbsp

Method:

Making noodles always follows the same basic steps:

When preparing noodles, it’s important to boil them separately in fresh, clear water, not in the soup in which you’ll be serving them. Once the noodles are boiled and drained, place them into the serving bowl and either pour hot soup over them, or serve them alongside a cool dipping sauce.

Hot noodle dishes

Making hot noodle soup requires that you watch two pots at once – one will be your boiling noodles, and one will be your soup. You can always prep the soup ahead of time and simply re-heat if you’re nervous about the timing.

Cold noodle dishes

The cold dipping sauce or soup should be prepared ahead of time and chilled. Serve dipping sauce in individual bowls garnished with chopped green onions and wasabi for zaru udon, zaru soba, or somen, or ladle chilled soup over any noodle for bukkake style.

Making noodles:

  1. Boil the noodles. Bring water to the boil in a large pot. Drop in your noodles, and boil according to package directions. Usually, udon requires 7-8 minutes, soba 4-5 minutes, and somen only 2 minutes. Raw noodles need only a minute or two to heat through, and when cooking from frozen, drop the frozen noodles directly into boiling water – there is no need to defrost.
  2. Drain. Once cooked al dente, drain well.
  3. Chill (for cold noodles only). Rinse the hot noodles with cold water and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of icy water to stop them from cooking. Leave to chill and drain well just before serving.

*To prevent them from sticking, stir as they boil, and make sure there’s enough plenty of water in the pot.

Making soup:

  1. Boil the water. In a small saucepan, boil 2½ cups water.
  2. Add the other soup ingredients. Add about 1 tsp. dashi powder (the amount may vary depending on the brand) mirin and shoyu.
  3. Boil garnishes. If required, boil any garnishing vegetables, meats, or seafoods at this point. You can also poach an egg.
  4. Serve. Pour over the hot noodles or chill, and pour over cold noodles for bukkake noodles.

Making dipping sauce:

  1. Boil water. In a small saucepan, boil 1 2/3 cups water.
  2. Add other ingredients. Add ½ – ¾ tsp. dashi powder, 2 Tbsp. mirin, and 2 Tbsp. shoyu
  3. Chill until cool – at least 20 – 30 minutes, and serve in individual bowls.

or, if you have less time to chill…

  1. Make the dashi. Boil a few Tablespoons of water, and dissolve about ½ tsp of dashi powder in it. Add the rest of the cold water to make a cool dashi broth.
  2. Add the soy sauce and mirin and pour into individual bowls for dipping.

Garnishes:

Beyond choosing the noodle and whether you want it hot or cold, garnishes are how you make your dish suit your mood. While dipping sauces are best served with chopped green onion and wasabi, hot and cold soup preparations are where you can really play around. Choose from the below, or let your imagination (or the farmer’s market) guide you:

  • chopped green onions
  • poached egg
  • boiled or sautéed vegetables
  • slice of inari tofu
  • kamaboko (a steamed fish cake)
  • wakame (add this at the very end to hot soups)
  • shichimi 7-spice

Noodle Variations:

Cold Soba + Dipping Sauce = Zaru Soba

Feeling drained by summer heat? Try these drained noodles. Zaru means “colander” in Japanese, and zaru soba and zaru udon are often served chilled on a bamboo strainer. Accompanied by a bowl of flavourful dipping sauce garnished with green onions and wasabi (and sometimes a raw quail egg) this is a filling summertime meal.

Cold Somen + Dipping Sauce = … Somen

Somen noodles are eaten cold, and were traditionally cooled with river water. One end of a length of bamboo was stuck into a river or stream, and bundles of noodles were sent down the waterslide, then caught, dipped and enjoyed by the champion chopstick-wielder. What, no bamboo waterslide? No problem – they can also be served in a bowl of ice water, with individual bowls of dipping sauce garnished with chopped green onion and wasabi.

Udon + Cold Soup = Bukkake Udon

Get your mind out of the gutter. Bukkake noodles are simply those served with a pump of chilled soup (literally – many restaurants dispense the cool soup with a pump-n-serve teapot). Simply make a half-portion of soup, chill it well ahead of time. Pour it over chilled udon, somen, or soba, and garnish with grated daikon, grated ginger and chopped green onions. You can also top it with tempura.

Cold udon with chilled soup and tempura, garnished with grated daikon, chopped green onions and grated ginger

Ramen  + frying = Yakisoba

Sorry for the confusion, yakisoba isn’t usually made with soba noodles, and no, this dish isn’t really described by the main recipe here. BUT… fried noodles are a great way to use up extra vegetables, meats, and seafood, and are simple to make. Simply sauté meat, fish and/or veg, add cooked ramen or udon noodles, and a squirt of the Japanese housewife’s secret sauce (shhhh… it’s a mix of ketchup and tonkatsu or okonomiyaki sauce!) Heat it through and top with katsuobushi and a squeeze of Japanese mayonnaise.

Reader ParticipATE-tion:

Check out what readers have made using the above recipes – and see their comments below to hear about their experience.

Rhoda's hot soba is topped with a poached egg and chopped green onions (Photo: A. Miller)

Stephanie's somen

Stephanie took these great step by step shots of her somen preparation!

Stephanie's alternative

Stephanie also contributed this variation on the theme, topping her somen with marinated, stir-fried tofu, garnished with chives from her garden. Bravo!

Erika garnished her soba (dipping style) with chives

Check out what readers have made at a FEEDback potluck.

Leslie's somen - Photo credit: Robert Shaer (rob.shaer@gmail.com)

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