There is no secret that I adore Japanese cuisine and wish to learn more about it. Today, I am very pleased to have Marc at No Recipes as a guest writer on Rasa Malaysia. Marc shares his kitsune udon recipe, elaborates on Japanese dashi (the building block of Japanese cuisine), and introduces key Japanese ingredients in this udon recipe post. Please welcome No Recipes to Rasa Malaysia.
Kitsune Udon Recipe
Guest Writer: No Recipes
When I was very young, my mother used to make me bento boxes to take to school filled with all kinds of Japanese treats. As the only “ethnic” kid in a private kindergarten, I half-heartedly accepted the parcel every morning, wondering what lunch-time horror awaited me inside that turquoise plastic container…
It’s not that I didn’t look forward to my mother’s cooking. It was the crowd of on-lookers that would inevitably gather to gawk at the “weird” and “disgusting” stuff in my lunchbox that I dreaded. I’d often have some inarizushi, which my friends affectionately labeled “turds”. I yearned for a PBJ and a pack of Cheetos, I yearned to be normal.
Fast forward 20-some years and I’d now become the cook in the house. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I decided to start a blog to share my thoughts on food with others. Still scarred by my childhood experiences I shied away from posting anything Japanese for a few weeks, and even then, I tried to make it the exception rather than the rule.
It didn’t take long though before I realized that what was once weird, was now wondrous, and what was once disgusting, was now delicious. As if sushi counters in grocery stores weren’t evidence enough, I finally figured out that Japanese food had in-fact gone mainstream.
So you would think that I would have been overjoyed that my people’s food was accepted into the grand halls of American popular culture, but to be honest, it was a mixed blessing. With widespread acceptance, came widespread misrepresentation. I’m all for exploring new foods and experimenting with them (that’s what No Recipes is all about), but I think it’s important to understand the nature of the dish before haphazardly adding and omitting ingredients.
As an example, I’ve seen many recipes floating around with rave comments explaining that the proper way to make miso soup is to put miso in a bowl then adding hot water. Similarly I’ve seen udon recipes that only call for soy sauce and water for the broth. Making miso soup, or udon broth without dashi is akin to making chicken soup without the chicken.
When Rasa Malaysia asked me to write a guest post, I jumped at the chance. First because she is awesome and has a fantastic blog (but you already know that), and secondly because it would give me a chance to elaborate on one of the fundamental building blocks of Japanese cuisine: dashi.
The term dashi refers to a whole family of stocks which are mostly seafood based, using umami-rich ingredients such as kezurikatsuo, niboshi, kombu and even shiitake mushrooms. By using these basic ingredients in different proportions you can produce different stocks that range from light and subtle to bold and complex.
Of course we live in an age of convenience, and most people these days (even Japanese people), turn to powdered dashi. It’s cheap, quick, and tastes okay, but one look at the list of ingredients and you’ll notice that almost all powdered dashi contains MSG. I tend to lump powdered dashi in with bouillon cubes; they’re nice to have on hand in a pinch, but they are no replacement for homemade (or even canned) chicken stock. The good news is that unlike chicken stock, dashi doesn’t take a day to make. Fifteen minutes, a pot and a few basic ingredients is all you’ll need.
Today I’m writing about Kitsune Udon, but with this basic soup recipe you’re free to put whatever you want on top of it, making anything from curry udon to tempura udon. I’ve even been known to throw some Mapo Tofu on top, though this certainly isn’t a common practice.
Kitsune udon literally translates to “fox udon” and while I’m not certain why it’s called this, I can assure you that fox has never been an ingredient in this dish. My guess is that the abura-age has a color similar to that of a fox. Tanuki udon is another one that’s named after an animal (raccoon) and contains bits of fried tempura batter. Both the fox and raccoon have a deep rooted history in Japanese folk-lore with the fox being characterized as sneaky and deceitful, while the raccoon is seen as mischievous yet helpful.
One other thing to note is that the seasoned abura-age in this recipe is identical to what’s used to make the brown tofu wrappers for inarizushi. If you were so inclined, you could make a big batch, then eat some of them on the udon and stuff the rest with sushi rice. But please make sure you ask before sticking it in your kindergartners lunch. :)
And now, on to the udon and dashi recipe. For an in depth explanation of some of the ingredients, just click on the links.
Makes 2 bowls of udon
4 1/2 C water
1/4 C loosely packed kezurikatsuo (shaved bonito)
3″ piece of dried dashi kombu (optional)
1/4 C water
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs mirin
1 Tbs sugar
4 squares of abura-age (thin deep fried tofu)
200g dry udon or 300g fresh Udon
4 C dashi
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs mirin
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste
2 scallions cut on the bias
4 slices of naruto or kamaboko cut on the bias (fishcake)
For the dashi, bring the water to a boil in a pot. Once it boils, turn the heat down to maintain a gentle simmer (boiling makes the stock cloudy). Put the kezurikatsuo into a disposable tea bag, or wrap it in cheese cloth and tie the top. Drop the satchel in the water along with the kombu if you are using it. You can also just put the kezurikatsuo straight into the water and strain it when the stock is done. Let this steep for about 15 minutes, then discard the tea bag, or strain the stock into another pot and discard the solids.
For the Abura-age. Add everything except the abura age into a small pot and bring to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the abura-age and simmer, flip several times until most of the liquid is absorbed and the abura-age is a deep brown color. Transfer from the pot to a small bowl and allow it to cool a bit. When it’s cool enough to handle, press out some of the excess liquid. You don’t want to squeeze all the liquid out, just enough to keep it from being salty.
Boil a large pot of water and boil the udon for the length of time specified on the package. If the instructions are in Japanese, click here to figure out how long you should boil it for. Make sure the noodles are al dente as they will be sitting in a bowl of hot broth and you don’t want them to go soggy before you’re done eating them. When they’re done, rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking.
To finish it all off, put the dashi, soy sauce, mirin and sugar into a pot and heat until it comes to a simmer. Taste it and add salt if you feel like it needs more. Add the noodles to heat through, then divide them into two bowls. Top with the seasoned abura-age, scallions and naruto then pour the broth over everything. For a little extra color and kick, you can serve this with shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 spice chili flakes).
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