Though it's one of my favorite cuisines, I've always been a little hesitant to write about Japanese cuisine for this column. Much of that apprehension is due to the use of dashi, a stock made from dried bonito flakes and kelp. You can't exactly buy a quart of dashi at most grocery stores, and I worried about powdered mixes. But I guess I never realized that a very good dashi can actually be made in about thirty minutes, and with that base, a udon dish can be whipped up in mere minutes.
I'll be doing this far more often because I'm absolutely stunned by this recipe from Takashi's Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi. This beef-topped udon dish is complex and slightly rich, with just a tinge of sweetness in each spoonful. The thinly sliced beef cooks in seconds, and the tofu and scallions need all of a minute before they're ready to go. It's so good I've made it twice in the past 24 hours. Like I mentioned, it's actually really easy once you have the dashi. The only hard part is tracking down the kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) that are used to prepare it. Luckily, they can be purchased in bulk from most Asian grocery stores, and can be stored for months. Plus, you can make a big batch of dashi and then freeze the extra, much like you can do with chicken stock.
- For the Udon Broth:
- 1 quart water, at room temperature
- 1 large pieces of kombu, approximately 10 by 4-inches, or about 1/2 ounce total, rinsed
- 1 1/2 cups packed katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
- 1/2 cup mirin
- For for the Niku Udon:
- 8 ounces beef, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup firm tofu, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 scallions, ends trimmed, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound dried udon noodles
- 1/2 cup watercress
Fill a large pot halfway up with water and bring to a boil.
For the udon broth: Pour water into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the kombu, and let it soak for 20 minutes. Then turn heat to high. When it comes to a boil, immediately remove the kombu with a pair of tongs, and reduce the heat to low. Add the katsuobushi and stir gently. Simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and then strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the katsuobushi.
Pour the strained liquid back into the medium-sized pot, and add the soy sauce and mirin. Turn heat to medium and bring to a simmer.
For the niku udon: Using a pair of tongs, dip one slice of the beef into the simmering liquid at a time. Cook until no longer pink, five to ten seconds. Transfer beef to a plate and repeat process with remaining slices. Cover slices to keep warm.
Add tofu and scallions to the simmering liquid. Simmer for one minute. Then turn heat to low, and cover.
Cook the udon noodles in the large pot of boiling water according to the directions on the package. Drain in a colander when done and divide the noodles between four bowls.
Divide the broth, tofu, scallions, and beef between the four bowls. Garnish each with watercress.