Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Adventures in making udon

Really, I need to call this adventures in writing about making udon. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First, what is udon, you may ask? Well, if I'm waxing poetic and trite at the same time, I'll tell you that it is a bowl of heaven. But the straight answer is that udon are thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from flour, water, and a little salt.

You can eat udon in many ways, though the most common way is to have it in a delicious soup with fish or meat and vegetables. There are many varieties of soup recipes, but the basic one has a soy base. You can have nabeyaki udon, which tends to be hardier than your regular soup.  Or you can have tempura put into the soup and yes, I'll reiterate this: It's a bowl of heaven. It's just so much yum.

I have had udon cold. I have had it in nabe, a kind of communal Japanese hot-pot dish that is a meal of SIN it is so good. (Yes, I appear to have a heaven/hell thing going on here. Cope.) I have had yaki udon, which is basically udon stir-fried like lo mein in soy sauce with vegetables and meat.

Most of those times, I was eating at a restaurant or a noodle stall (if it was while I was living in Japan). Or I'd buy the udon noodles already made, vacuum sealed in plastic, and stir it in a nice premade broth and add whatever other ingredients I wanted like mushrooms, spinach, or carrot. They also sell dried udon (like spaghetti).

What I have yet to do is make homemade udon noodles. I've never made noodles from scratch, ever. Not pasta. Not ravioli or dumpling wrappers. None of that stuff. But this changed when E came to visit me.

She wanted to make udon noodles. She had never made them before--which means she rolls the same way I do. (Which is to say, if I'm cooking for you, there's a really good chance it's the first time I've made that dish.) However, she thought it would be fun, and she was right.

Now, to the part about finding the recipe and writing about it. E got her recipe from a Japanese site. I am functionally illiterate in Japanese though I can still speak it some (admittedly, I've lost a lot). However, her recipe, unlike the one I will link to, did not require us to take the dough, put it into a plastic ziploc bag, and knead it with our feet.

Me dancing. DON'T JUDGE.
(I should never do this. What will happen is that I will turn on some music and rock out dancing on the dough, and my friends will be like, Uhhhh, do we need to call 911? Did you like, hit a live wire or something? and I'd be like, YEAH CALL 911 BECAUSE I'M AFFLICTED WITH AWESOME DANCE MOVES-ITIS and they'd be like Uuuhhh, yeah, time for you to just. . .stop.)

Every recipe I can find on English language sites seems to do this. I don't know if this was in E's recipe and she thought "Ha ha! NOPE" or if that recipe was unusual. However, we kneaded the dough by hand and it took a dog's age. We kneaded, over and over and over again, until the dough felt like our earlobes. And yes, that is what E's recipe said. "It should have the consistency of your earlobe." She said it's a common thing in Japanese recipes/cooking, and I'm going to take her word for it since, as I said, I am functionally illiterate in the language and was not much of a cook while I was there. (Except for the odd pasta or Mexican feast, but that is another story.)

"This place has the best free-range earlobes. Very tender."
So we kneaded and kneaded and kneaded and squeezed our earlobes and pinched the dough to see if they matched up. And I was thinking, Well what if my earlobe is squishier than the average earlobe? Or firmer than the average earlobe? And then I was wondering Hey, if bears ate us, would they consider the earlobe a delicacy? But I didn't ask her that because she already got enough of my tendencies to being a weirdo and I didn't need her to get back to Japan and tell her mother "You know, your friend Pamela is wackadoodle. You know that, right? She was all MY EARLOBES MIGHT BE ABNORMAL and BEARS THINK THEY ARE A DELICACY and seriously, Ma, I think she needs help. She needs professional help."

The other thing about the recipe differences is that we didn't need to let the dough rest for several hours. The recipe I'm about to link to--which is typical of what I found on the Internet--requires this. We had to let it rest for a little bit--about 15 minutes or so--but not four hours.

Okay, so here's the recipe for the udon noodles. I think you should try it one rainy day. It's a delicious adventure that uses ingredients you already have. Don't forget to squeeze your earlobes and keep bear repellent nearby. And please, for the love of all things holy and profane, make sure your feet are clean if you insist on kneading it the way they instruct you to.

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