I loved the rusticity and brilliance of the Fukushima straw-wrapped tofu but after I made it the other day, I thought of this modern Japanese twist on an Italian pasta dish. Vongole udon is something I order at Musha, an izakaya in Santa Monica, California. It’s a boisterous Tokyo-style (read non-traditional) drinking establishment where you can get great bar nibbles and pitchers of beer for about $12.
Musha’s menu is full of crazy concoctions, such as the “Tofu World” menu page, where I discovered the tofu fries that are included in Asian Tofu. There’s a risotto made with medium-grain brown rice and stirred tableside in a giant wheel of Parmesan before it’s served to diners. Their pickled mackerel is torched tableside for a little show.
Along with the fries and fried chicken, we always order the “Vongole udon.” It’s a slightly brothy bowl filled with chewy soft udon, garlic, a hint of butter, fresh mushroom and lots of clams. Instead of parsley, Musha garnishes with cilantro.
There’s a slightly smoky edge from dashi. When I went to make it for a quick lunch early this week, I used purchased udon that came with a soup packet, which employed a bit of for the broth.
There’s MSG in that seasoning packet but you’re not going to use a ton of it. To avoid the MSG, use dashi stock and lightly season it with light-colored soy sauce, mirin, and salt.
Udon with Clams and Mushroom
Small (1-1 1/2-inch wide) manila clams will yield terrific flavor. I buy mine from a Chinese market and scoop them from a tank. Ask you fishmonger for the freshest ones. Mussels can be subbed for clams. The starch from the noodles help to thicken the broth.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 to 6 as a snack
1 to 1 /4 pounds manila clams
2 packages fresh or thawed, frozen udon noodles (about 14 ounces)
Generous 1 teaspoon seasoning from the flavor packet that comes with the udon noodles
1 1/3 cups water
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green onion, green and white parts, chopped
4 large shiitake or regular white mushrooms, stemmed and each cut into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1. Wash the clams under water and drain well. Set aside.
2. Open the udon noodles and keep them by the stove. In a cup, stir together the udon soup seasoning with the water. Set aside.
3. Heat a wide saucepan or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it sizzle and melt. Add the garlic and half of the green onion (try to most of the white part in at this point). Stir around for 15 seconds until aromatic.
4. Throw in the mushroom and cook, until fragrant. The mushroom will absorb the butter. Add the clams, stirring for about 1 minute, until they start opening up. Add the seasoned water, give things a stir, then cover.
5. Allow things to bubble, shaking the pan on occasion for several minutes, then check on the clams. When they’ve opened up, use a slotted spoon to scoop them and the mushroom from the pan into a bowl. If a few don’t open, leave them in the pan and cook longer till they do (if they never open, discard them). It’s fine if some mushroom remain in the pan.
Adjust the heat, if needed, for the liquid to boil, then add the udon. Stir gently to loosen the noodles. When they’ve plumped up and softened, return the clams and mushroom to the pan. Toss in the remaining green onion (save some for garnish, if you wish). Gently stir to combine and reheat, then dish out into 2 shallow bowls. Crown with the cilantro. Eat with spoon and fork.
- Homemade Udon (if you want to get fancy)
- Cold udon (for when the weather gets hot)
- Furikake Caramel Corn (an addictively good nibble by LA-based chef Roy Choi)
- Spicy Asian chicken wings (a Southeast Asian twist)
- Korean fried chicken (a Korean pub food favorite)
- Kaffir Lime Fried Chicken (based on Michael Ruhlman’s recipe in Twenty)
- Fukushima straw-wrapped tofu (go vegan and rustic)