While some keep life lists for birding, ours is based on making pasta. With inspiration from Rose’s Vietnamese version, we now can add Japanese udon to our life list as well. Where her noodles utilized a mix of tapioca and rice flours, this one calls for wheat flour, a deceptively simple switch that changes the color, texture and workability of the dough.
A characteristic of good udon is its chewy bite, a texture obtained only through aggressive kneading. Most sources give the baffling instruction to knead the dough by placing it in a plastic bag and repeatedly stepping on it. It felt slightly embarrassing, but faced with a mass of unyielding dough, this is what we did. Based on a traditional method, gravity does the work, though it’s still unclear what the Japanese used before the invention of plastic bags.
After half a dozen turns or so, the dough eventually became silky smooth, a sign that it was ready to rest, as were we. We left it to relax overnight, however, when we went to roll it out, the dough was stubbornly resistant. It was as if it could sense our anxiety and caused near defeat. With some reconsideration, we remembered our pasta machine and felt silly that we’d been so intimidated. With one pass of the dough through it’s rollers, we immediately knew we would never fear making udon again.
An extra tip: Unlike Italian pasta, Asian noodles are often rinsed with cool water after cooking. This helps to set the toothy texture, and rids them of excess starch to make them slippery, and the better for slurping with. They can then be served either cold, or rewarmed by placing them in a bowl of water.
The success of these noodles was so unexpected, we just ended up dressing them with something improvised from the fridge. The thick noodles readily soaked up the leftover Mapo Tofu that we’d gussied up with some sautéed leeks from this weeks harvest, and thickened with a dollop of peanut butter. To offset the spicy richness of the sauce, we chopped up a hefty bunch of mixed Asian greens for garnish, tossed the pieces with sesame oil, then lightly sautéed them with some tiny dried shrimp to offset the mineraliness of the greens.
We’re looking forward to further exploring making udon, but were so excited by this first batch that we couldn’t wait to share it with you. If you’d like to try it for yourself, visit La Fuji Mama’s post, “How to make udon noodles — it’s easier than you think!” using Harumi Kurihara’s recipe from Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking. We presume the easy part will come with a little practice, and definitely agree with her assessment, “Handmade noodles are like handmade bread — they are so much better than the store bought version!”