Nagoya Meshi: Miso Nikomi Udon (味噌煮込みうどん)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the wonders of Hatcho miso, Nagoya’s local miso. One of the most common criticisms of Nagoya food is that everything is just covered in this miso — 何にでも味噌をかける! — and tastes the same. Which is perhaps not entirely false. Tonkatsu is covered in it, oden is simmered in it, beef entrails are stewed it it, it’s liberally applied to everything from soumen to, umm, ice cream bars. (Now that I appear to be making Nagoya food about once a week, I’m kind of regretting not buying more miso at the lovely Kakuozan Frante supermarket when I had the chance.) But the miso-based food that I’m most interested in is the local take on udon, miso-simmered udon (味噌煮込みうどん).

I love udon. Many years ago we visited Kagawa prefecture, the udon capital of the world, and I came home with some kitchen utensils and a determination to learn to make my own udon — we don’t have udon restaurants here — from just flour, salt, and water. Since then I’ve probably made it a couple hundred times. I even own a little udon flag that I hang up in the kitchen on weekly udon night. But now I can combine udon night and Nagoya foods night, and consume even more sodium!

Miso nikomi udon is exactly what it sounds like, udon noodles cooked in a miso broth, along with a variety of delicious ingredients. The most famous, or at least the most-recommended-to-tourists, udon chain in Nagoya is a place called Yamamotoya Honten. They serve a variety of udons, which mostly differ by which other ingredients are drowned in the miso broth along with the udon and a raw egg. On our last visit, I had a delicious spring-seasonal udon with miso-pickled chicken breast (haha, more miso) and kujo negi, a special type of spring onion from Kyoto, plus the standard raw egg and slices of kamaboko fish cake. I obviously can’t get kujo negi here, but this is pretty much what I’d eventually like to make at home.

Chicken breast and Kujo negi miso nikomi udon at Yamamotoya Honten in Nagoya

Compared to regular udon — and by “regular” I mean Sanuki udon, the thick, flat noodles that are available in most supermarket freezer sections and in the odd chain, like Marugame, that has escaped Japan — the udon for miso nikomi udon has a couple of notable differences. First, the noodles don’t have salt in them. Normal udon is made with an entirely irresponsible amount of salt, but since miso nikomi udon is cooked in an entirely irresponsible amount of salty miso, we need to cut back on the salt. I’ve never seen salt-free udon in the store before, but fortunately we’re making our udon from scratch, so we can just leave out the salt. Second, the noodles are a little thicker and cooked a little shorter than regular udon. A normal batch of udon cooks for about 13 minutes, but we’re cooking our thick, salt-less udon for maybe 8-10 minutes total, leaving them extremely chewy. I’ve actually had to start cooking them a bit longer, since my two udon consumers here don’t like their noodles so chewy. Finally, miso nikomi udon is usually served in an individual-sized clay pot (土鍋), where all of the ingredients get to simmer happily together. Sadly, I do not (yet) own individual-sized clay pots, or a gas stove to cook with them, so I’ve had to resort to cooking everything together in a large pot and then messily transferring it to bowls.

As usual, I failed a few times at this before producing a somewhat passable version. My first couple attempts had soup that was, somehow, almost entirely tasteless (do not skimp on the miso). Then I made a decent version that I failed to serve at the appropriate temperature (the appropriate temperature is “lava”). I’m still working on recreating the “chicken breast and kujo negi” bowl, but this recipe with just chicken thigh, regular green onions, and kamaboko, is perfectly tasty.

INGREDIENTS (for two bowls)

  • 200g flour — see the flour post, either pastry flour (US), type W480 (Austria), Type 405 (Germany), or 中力粉・うどん粉 (Japan). If you use regular all-purpose American flour, your udon will not be tasty.
  • 80-90ml water
  • 700ml dashi — at some point I should probably post a dashi recipe on here, but you can either make it with kombu and katsuobushi or just use the dashi powder (normally I would scoff at the dashi powder, but with the amount of miso we’re putting in here I’m sure no one could tell the difference).
  • ~4+ tbsp (75g) hatcho miso — I think we’ve talked enough about the miso, but if you can’t get this one, probably red is the best substitute. Some recipes also suggest adding a little bit (a tbsp or less) of white miso, or even “whatever miso,” in addition to the hatcho. I’m not sure why, but it was not particularly noticeable to me either way.
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) mirin
  • 10g sugar — this is more than most of the recipes on the internet seem to require, but the actual one at Yamamotoya was noticeably sweeter than what I got when I followed the internet recipes exactly.
  • 150g chicken thigh — cut into bit-sized pieces.
  • Green onions — sliced into either rings or into ~2-3cm long pieces. My household seems to prefer the rings.
  • 4 slices kamaboko — two slices per person, unless you, too, have a three year-old who is obsessed with kamaboko, in which case give her like eight slices.
  • 1 sheet aburaage — this is thin, pre-fried tofu that’s available in the freezer section of most Asian grocery stores.
  • 2 eggs — the eggs are added raw at the very end of cooking, and will be (very slightly) cooked by the lava-like miso broth before eating.

STEPS: Making the udon

  1. Slowly add the 80-90ml of water to the udon flour while mixing by hand. You may not need all of the water, if all of the flour has absorbed water and you’ve still got some (5-10ml?) leftover, that’s fine. You don’t want the dough to be too wet.
  2. Form a big round ball from the water/flour mixture.
  3. Knead the dough excessively. This step will probably take about 15 minutes. I usually knead it by hand for a minute or so, then put it in a large plastic freezer bag and stomp on it until it’s flat. Take it out of the bag, roll it back into a ball, and repeat 4-5 times. When I first started making udon, I thought that the stomping, called 足踏み in Japanese, was a bit ridiculous and unnecessary. But it turns out that it’s by far the easiest way to knead it with the necessary force. You CAN do it with just your hands, or a rolling pin or something, but it’s going to take longer and be more tiring. (Apparently all this kneading is to produce gluten, which gives the udon its bite.)
  4. When you’re doing kneading, wrap the dough up in a tea towel and let it rest (寝かせる, literally “put to sleep”) for around two hours.
  5. After sleeping time is over, roll the dough out into a ~5mm thick sheet. (Note that this is slightly thicker than normal Sanuki udon, which is maybe 3-4mm.)
  6. Dust the udon sheet with potato starch, to prevent sticking, and fold it over itself for easier cutting.
  7. Using your udon knife, cut into ~5mm wide noodles (again, thicker than usual).

STEPS: Cooking!

  1. Assuming that, like me, you do not (yet) own a number of individual-sized clay nabe pots, heat the dashi, mirin, and sugar in a large pot on high. Either a big family-sized clay nabe or some other large pot.
  2. When the dashi is hot, but not boiling, add the miso(s). I usually take a scoop of water out of the pot and mix it with the miso either in a soup ladle or a little bowl until it’s a paste, then add it back to the pot.
  3. When the water is boiling, add the udon and set a timer for 8 minutes. (Note! You only want to boil it for 8 minutes if you’re using fresh, uncooked (生) udon. If you’re using pre-cooked frozen noodles from the store, you’ll want to cook the chicken first, then add the noodles along with the other ingredients later, otherwise they’ll be overcooked.)
  4. Leave the heat on high until until the water re-boils, then add the chicken and, if you’re using them, white parts of the onions.
  5. Turn down to medium high and stir occasionally during the 8 minutes so that the udon doesn’t stick.
  6. Add the green onions, aburaage, kamaboko, and raw eggs. If you’re planning to serve it in the nabe, arrange the non-egg ingredients attractively around the outside of the pot and put the two eggs in the center.
  7. Cover and cook for 1-2 minutes, depending on how cooked you want your egg and how chewy you want your noodles.

SERVING
Ideally, each person should get an individual nabe pot placed in front of them, with the lid still on, which is removed to reveal a nearly-boiling stew of miso and noodles and their own preferred mix of ingredients. In our house, I either put our big cast-iron nabe in the middle of the table with individual bowls for everyone or — since it’s logistically easier with a three year-old — just move it to the bowls myself, in the kitchen, before serving.

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