My grandparents gave me Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond for Christmas and I have made a handful of recipes so far. This is now the fifth Japanese cookbook I own (not including multinational Asian cookbooks) and I was very excited to find there were only a few repeat dishes. Popular elements to Japanese cuisine are fit into 247 pages, with many variations in each section. Chapters include Ramen, Gyoza, Curry, Tonkatsu, Furai and Korokke, Kara-age, Tempura, Okonomiyaki, Donburi, Soba, Udon, Itame and Chahan, and Yoshoku. I tried a couple of recipes from the curry section first, starting with the Retro curry, and they were wonderful. When I was younger, I loved making Japanese curry from the premade curry packets. It is nice to have a (not too difficult) way to make it from scratch.
After trying a couple of recipes in the Udon section, I have a new favorite Udon Soup. Udon noodles are a favorite of mine. Niku Udon is a soup made of seasoned dashi broth, udon noodles, and marinated shaved meat- usually beef. There are a few specific ingredients needed to make this soup, but the amazing flavor is completely worth it. The recipe makes enough soup for 4 people. When I made this, only Evan and I were around to eat it. I made the soup base ahead of time- you can make it up to 5 days in advance. I would just heat up a quarter of the soup at a time, boil one 8.8 ounce brick of frozen udon, and top it with a quarter of the marinated beef and garnishes. It was a great way to enjoy Niku Udon for most of the week.
Udon are long, thick noodles with a smooth and chewy texture. They are wonderful in stir-fries or soups. I use frozen Udon noodles from the Asian Food Market. The frozen noodles cook quickly in boiling water. Drain the noodles and place right into serving bowl immediately when the are heated through and separate. Do not rinse. You don’t want to overcook them, since they will be hanging out in a hot broth. You can also use dried Sanuki Udon. I just prefer the frozen noodles.
Beef is the most common meat used for Niku Udon, but you can also substitute for pork or chicken. The beef should be sliced as thinly as possible. Placing it in the freezer for a few minutes can help. I was not able to find any here, but some Asian food markets and butchers sell the beef already sliced paper thin. It is sometimes labelled as sukiyaki beef.
The soup used in Niku Udon is a Dashi broth seasoned with mirin and soy sauce to create Udon Tsuyu. Dashi is a stock used in Japanese cooking. It is made from kombu and katsuobushi. Kombu is dried Japanese kelp. Katsuobushi are bonito (tuna) flakes. You can make your own dashi with kombu and katsuobushi or use instant dashi granules (most common). Most instant dashi mixes add MSG. If you don’t mind added MSG, the following brands are available on Amazon: Dashi-No-Moto and Ajinomoto – Hon Dashi. Maruhachi Dashi doesn’t have any added MSG, but it is a bit more expensive (also in a bulk package). Dashi isn’t available in grocery stores or Asian food markets near me, so I usually buy kombu and katsuobushi in bulk online to make my own. It is actually a very simple stock to make, as far as stocks go, as long as you can get a hold of the 2 vital ingredients.
Mirin is a sweet Japanese cooking rice wine. I use hon-mirin (true mirin) in recipes calling for mirin. I have been able to find it in Asian food markets near me. Many grocery stores have aji-mirin, but those usually have a lot of additives. Other types of mirin are shio-mirin (includes salt) and shin-mirin (very little alcohol). It is also available on Amazon: Eden Foods Mirin Rice Cooking Wine — 10.5 fl oz.
Usukuchi soy sauce is a light and pale mild Japanese soy sauce. It is often used to season soups. It is sometimes labelled as light soy sauce. Do not confuse it with “lite” soy sauce in supermarkets. Those are just lighter in sodium. Usukuchi soy sauce is actually higher in sodium than the more common soy sauce. It is available at many Asian food markets. The only one available on Amazon is from Kikkoman and has high fructose corn syrup. If you cannot find it, use regular soy sauce in a pinch; just add about half the amount and season with salt.
Negi are a type of Japanese leek. They look like large scallions. They are available in some Asian food markets. I could not find any here, so I used scallions. Do not use leeks; the green part of the negi are not as tough.
Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice) is a Japanese chili seasoning blend. I was able to find it in the Asian section of the supermarket. It is also available in many Asian food markets. The exact spices may vary based on the brand. The type I have combines red pepper, roasted orange peel, sesame seed, black sesame seed, Japanese pepper, sea weed, and ginger. It is also available on Amazon: House – Shichimi Togarashi – Japanese Mixed Chili Pepper 0.63 Oz. More information on Shichimi Togarashi. Here is a recipe to make your own, but I haven’t tried it yet.