Last week’s homemade udon immediately turned into a satisfying meal of cold noodles dunked in savory sauce, which was perfect for the blazing heat that hit us here in California. You may be familiar with udon served in hot broth as a noodle soup, but in Japan, I had cold udon twice. Those experiences opened up my eyes to the wonders of udon. When udon is served cold, you taste the noodles and savor their chewy texture.
There are a couple of ways to serve cold udon, one of which is just like how you’d serve Japanese soba noodles, atop a zaru bamboo tray, hence the name zaru soba. Zaru udon is what I had in Tokyo and what I prepared at home. After cooking off the homemade udon noodles, I let them sit at room temperature to cool. Meanwhile, I made the sauce and let that cool too.
Don’t be put off by preparing the dashi stock, a requisite for the Japanese kitchen. In the main, I make dashi from scratch, but many people like the convenience of instant dashi powder. If you go for the instant, find one that does not have MSG. This brand, available at Japanese, Korean and some Chinese markets, is what I typically have in my pantry:
You can make dashi and keep it refrigerated for several days. That way, recipes like this one come together in a jiffy. For the garnishes, set them out on small dishes and let guests help themselves and craft their personal set of flavors.
Cold Udon Noodles
Soaking the scallion removes some of its harshness. You don’t have to serve the udon atop a bamboo (zaru) strainer to make it authentic. Just put the noodles on a plate or shallow bowl and bring to the table.
If you want an amazing meal, pair the noodles with pot stickers dumplings (see Asian Dumplings, page 41, for the pork and shrimp gyoza recipe) and a little chilled radish and cucumber salad. Or, make some Japanese pork belly buns to serve as a starter.
1 pound udon noodles, freshly made preferred
1 cup dashi
3 tablespoons Japanese or Korean soy sauce
3 to 4 tablespoons mirin
Garnishes (choose at least 2)
1 scallion, green and green part, soaked in water to cover for 5 minutes and drained well
1/4 cup dried bonito flakes (katsuo bushi)
1 teaspoon wasabi or freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup grated daikon radish (use the same grater that you’d use for ginger)
1. Cook the udon noodles and then drain them, flushing them with cold water and draining well. Set them aside. (If you used the instructions for freshly made noodles, you probably already did this!)
2. Combine the dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool. The flavors will intensify.
3. To serve, divide the noodles among 2 or 4 plates or shallow bowls, depending on if your guests want to share not. Divide the sauce among 4 shallow bowls; choose large rice or soup bowls that you can pick up and hold for easy slurping and shoveling the noodles into your mouth. Put the garnishes on individual or communal plates.
Set all of these components at the table and invite guests to dive in. It’s easiest if they mix the wasabi, ginger or daikon into the sauce first before adding the noodles. The scallion and bonito flakes can be added to the top of the noodles as pictured in the photo at the top.
The sauce is intensely flavored and usually not sipped on. It's meant to merely coate the noodles with flavor.