During my trip to Asia I was bowled over by fresh, handmade noodles not just once but three times! The first two times were in Japan. Michael Baxter of Kyoto Foodie took me to a favorite udon shop near his home. (The noodles were separate from Michael's Kyoto sukiaki lesson.) The udon noodles were served with mountain yam and raw egg as a rich sauce. Sitting on a tatami floor at a traditional low table, we swirled, stirred, and slurped until there were no noodles left.
In Tokyo, my friend Mayu took me for a cold udon lunch, and the noodles were served on a zaru bamboo mat, very much like the way cold soba is prepared. Both Michael and Mayu prefaced the noodles by saying that the noodles were handmade and freshly made.
Their words impressed me because up until I went to Japan, I’ve not been an udon noodle fan. What I realize during my trip was that the udon noodles in the US are mostly often gummy and as thick as pencils. In Japan, however, the udon noodles are sublime with a wonderful chew and good wheat flavor. I was converted.
On my last night in Chengdu, China, we had hand-pulled noodles at a crusty shop run by a charming Muslim family. As I watched the noodle maker, I wondered if I could make such noodles. It was simply flour and water that he’d combined and stretched.
Once home, I did a little research in my Japanese cookbooks and found a recipe for udon in Shizuo Tsuji’s classic, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Even though Tsuji called for dried udon in his recipes, he repeated told the reader that homemade is better. Then he quietly provided an udon noodle recipe. I studied the recipe, then tried it out with Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour, which I felt best approximated the flour used by a Japanese home cook.
The noodles above were what I made. They were cut by hand. No Italian pasta machine was needed.
My major tweak was to avoid super thick udon noodles, which I abhor. The solution was simple. I stretched the noodles – kinda like what the Muslim noodle maker did in China. However, there were no tricky hand movements in my technique. I just pulled on the noodles individually or in groups of a dozen or so strands; watch the video below to see what I did.
The noodles weren’t perfect, but they were deliciously chewy-tender, with a random quality that said, “I’m fresh and homemade!” My husband couldn’t stop eating them and he was previously a non-udon lover like me.
What did I do with the noodles? There was a lot and we had some as refreshing cold noodles (zaru udon) (the recipe will be posted shortly) for dinner last night. I have to figure other things to do with the rest. The homemade udon noodles remind me of the cao lau noodles from Hoi An too. Stay tuned!
Homemade Udon Noodles
Give this udon noodle recipe a try yourself. You don’t have much to lose but some flour and time. This udon noodle recipe produces about 2 1/4 pounds of cooked noodles, which is ample for 8 portions.
If you use a stronger (higher protein) flour such as King Arthur, you may need a touch more water. Add it by the teaspoon when moistening the dry ingredients.
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds noodles
1 pound (3 cups plus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour, Gold Medal preferred
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup water
1. Put the flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Pulse a few times to blend. Remove the feed tube and run the machine while you pour the water in a slow, steady stream.
After all the water has been added, the dough will look crumbly. Let the machine run for a little more to moisten all the flour. It may not gather into a ball. That’s okay. (Alternatively, put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and slowly work in the water by hand.)
2. Transfer the dough and all the bits to your work surface. Start kneading it vigorously. You should not need any water. Knead for about 5 minutes, slapping the dough onto the work surface occasionally to work the gluten. You’re done when the dough is smooth and feels firm-soft, nearly as soft as your earlobe but not quite. Shape the dough into a ball and slide it into a zip-top plastic bag. Seal well, pressing out all the air. Set aside to rest for at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours in summer and 8 hours in winter.
3. Before you roll out the dough, set a big pot of water on the stove and heat it up. You’ll be making the noodles and cooking them at the same time.
4. Remove the dough from the bag and put it on lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 inch, turning it and flouring it occasionally to prevent sticking. Aim for a rectangle-like shape.
Watch this video for guidance on rolling, cutting and stretching the noodles:
5. Then fold it in half, dust the underside, then fold back 1/4 of the dough on each side to create flaps. Watch the video for guidance.
6. Use a knife to cut strips of noodles, each a scant 1/4 inch wide. Cut about a quarter of the dough then pause to unfold the strips into noodles. Use your fingers to pull on the noodles to stretch them out to about twice their width. Cut the longer strands in half to yield noodles about 12 to 16 inches long. Gently dust the noodles with flour.
Drop the noodles into the boiling water. Let them cook for about 3 minutes (the water may not return to a boil), until the float to the top and are chewy tender. Then use a slotted spoon to remove the noodles from the hot pot. Deposit them into a bowl of cold water to cool for a few minutes. Drain into a strainer and set aside to cool. Replace the water in the bowl to cool the next batch of noodles.
While the noodles cook, cut more noodles from the dough, pausing again to unfold and stretch the strips. If you work on a quarter of the dough at a time and cook them, you’ll get into a rhythm. Or, get someone to help you.
7. The noodles are ready to use or eat. You can store them cooked for several days. Return them to room temperature before using. You can refresh them with a dunk in a pot of boiling water.