Colorful Hotpot – Nabeyaki Udon

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Literally translating to “cook in hotpot udon,” nabeyaki udon is a dish made of thick, chewy udon noodles with mushrooms, chicken, spinach, carrots, poached egg, and tempura shrimp served in flavorful, piping hot soup in an earthenware pot. This is a perfect, comfort dish to serve on a cold winter day.

It’s believed that udon noodles were brought to Japan from China sometime during the Nara period (710-794). Back then, udon was considered a wealthy man’s food. Today, udon is one of the most popular noodle dishes in Japan along with the icon ramen. Udon noodles are thick and chewy, made wheat flour noodles, and prove to be not only incredibly satisfying, but also perfect for slurping. Japan has so many versions of udon depending on the time of the year and the region. Udon can be served either hot or cold, in soup or sauce, with topping or plain. Most of the variation comes down to the type of soup. In the Kanto region, the broth is stronger and richer which the Kansai area has lighter and thinner.

The first thing I noticed when I was making this dish was that there are a lot of ingredients, and it seems like it may take a while to prepare. But trust me, this udon is so much better than getting the prepacked/instant udon. Seriously, once you try this, you’ll never go back to that stuff.

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I think the two most important parts of this recipe are obviously the soup and the noodles. Many of the other ingredients end up being like decoration.

I took a short cut and used dashi powder to make the soup base, but I’ve heard many people swear by making dashi stock from scratch. In my opinion, it doesn’t make THAT much of a difference to spend more time making the stock. Just make sure to get a good quality dashi powder. Be careful! Depending on the brand of dashi powder and soy sauce, the soup can get salty pretty quickly. I would recommend using a low sodium soy sauce so you can get the flavor and not as much salt. You can always adjust the saltiness with additional salt once you’ve tasted it.

When it comes to noodles, I used these frozen bricks of fresh udon noodles and just let them defrost before I used them. Be careful not to overcook the noodles because the texture is one of the best parts of udon. So when cooking everything in the earthenware pot, you want to make sure there is enough time to cook the chicken thoroughly, but not too much time that it overcooks the udon.

The shrimp tempura batter is typically made with the batter mix and water, but I recommend swapping out the water with beer. This is a trick I learned from my mom who swears by using beer in all her batters. The air bubbles in the beer give the tempura coating a lighter, crisper texture. The worst is getting soggy tempura. If you desire an even crisper tempura, add more corn starch to the batter mix.

Another tip in terms of deep frying. It’s important to get the oil at the right temperature before frying the shrimp because if the oil is too hot, it will burn without fully cooking the shrimp. If it isn’t hot enough, the shrimp tempura ends up absorbing a lot of the oil and doesn’t become crispy. The best way to check if the oil is hot enough is by sticking a chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon into the oil. If bubbles start forming, then the oil is at a good temperature.

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This recipe is adapted from Just One Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Warm water
  • 1 bunch spinach, rinsed
  • 1 inch carrot, sliced into flower shape
  • 5-6 slices of kamaboko fish cake
  • 1 handful enoki mushrooms, bottoms trimmed
  • 2 scallions, rinsed and sliced diagonally
  • 1 small chicken breast or 1 chicken thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 packages udon
  • 1 egg
  • Shichimi togarashi, to taste

Udon Soup

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 ½ tsp dashi stock powder
  • Water that mushrooms soaked in (see directions)
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. salt

Shrimp Tempura

  • Vegetable oil
  • 4-6 shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 tbsp. tempura batter
  • 4 tbsp. cold beer
  • Corn starch

Directions

Prepare ingredients:

Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of warm water. Place a smaller bowl on top of to keep the mushrooms under the water. Let them soak for 15 minutes. Then, squeeze out the excess water and cut off any stems. Set aside. Keep the leftover mushroom water for the udon soup.

In boiling, salted water, blanch the spinach for 1 minute and then submerge in cold water to stop the cooking process. Squeeze out the excess water, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces, and set aside.

Prepare Soup:

Bring the water to a boil and add the dashi stock powder. Add the mushroom water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, add the mirin, soy sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and set aside.

Prepare Shrimp Tempura:

Heat a pan with a couple inches of vegetable oil over medium high heat.

Mix the tempura batter with the beer so there are no lumps in the batter. Sprinkle the shrimp with some corn starch to lightly coat. Place the shrimp into the tempura batter and make sure they are evenly coated.

Fry the shrimp in the oil, flipping the shrimp to get even coloring. Once cooked, place on a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.

Assemble:

In an earthenware pot, layer the noodles at the bottom. Then arrange the shiitake mushrooms, carrots, kamaboko fish cake, enoki mushrooms, scallions, and chicken on top. Add the udon soup and cover the pot with a lid. Bring the soup to a boil over medium high heat. When the soup begins to boil, leave the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Lower the heat and cook until the chicken is fully cooked through.

Add the spinach and the egg. Cover and cook until the egg is cooked to the preferred consistency.

Add the shrimp tempura on top and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi. Serve hot.

Serves 3-4.

 

 

A Pleasant Surprise

Ding dong. Amaya Hori’s pencil skidded across her notebook at the sudden sound of the doorbell.

Chikusho!” she cursed, dropping her pencil and glancing at the clock. It was a little before five so whoever was at the door better not stay too long. She had to go out to pick up her little brother from day care soon.

Hori padded out to the front door in her indoor slippers wondering who could be visiting her house at this time in the day. It wouldn’t be one of her friends because they usually hang out right after school. Plus, we all had to study for our college entrance exams. Everyone in Hori’s year was studying for these tests.

Opening the door, Hori was startled to see a boy around her age standing there holding hands with her younger brother Toru who had blood running down his nose.

Oneechan!” Toru cried out, flinging himself against Hori’s leg.

“Toru, what happened to you?!” Hori questioned, baffled at the situation. She was just as worried about the boy waiting by the doorway as she was with her otouto’s bloody nose.

“He got accidentally smacked in the nose on the playground,” the boy said politely as he shifted his backpack from one shoulder to the other. “I thought it would be easier to bring him home since I walk by it every day than have the teacher call you to pick up your brother.”

“Thank you,” Hori replied gratefully and then paused to think. “Wait, how did you know he’s my brother? And how did you know I live here?!” Hori’s voice creeping a little higher with concern and her grip on the front door and her brother tightened.

“Amaya-san, we’ve been in the same class throughout junior and senior high. I live a couple blocks from here.” The boy raised his hands in surrender and inched away from the door as if to give Hori and her brother space.

Hori could feel her face heating up with embarrassment and squinted at him, adjusting her glasses. He did look familiar…

He gave an awkward smile, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m Sato Takashi. I’m sorry if I startled you. I thought you would recognize me after six years.”

“Sato-san?!?” Hori exclaimed in surprise. Where were his glasses? What happened to his hair? Since when did he have earrings?

Before she could say anything else, Hori felt a tug at her pants and realized she completely forgot about Toru. Hastily, she turned her attention to her little brother and guided him towards the bathroom.

“I’m really sorry!” Hori called over her shoulder, following her brother into the bathroom. “Please, come in.”

As she grabbed paper towels to clean the blood from Toru’s nose, she heard Sato shuffle through the door and murmur a polite, “pardon the intrusion.” A few minutes after cleaning Toru up and sending him to his room to change his clothes, Hori found Takashi in the living room sitting stiffly on a couch, his shoes left by the front door and his heavy coat draped neatly on the side of the couch.

“Sorry again, Sato-san,” Hori apologized, bowing her head. “I knew you were in my class, but I just couldn’t recognize you without your glasses and your different hair.”

“Do I really look that different?” he wondered out loud, but before Hori could reply, he commented, “You also look pretty different than you do at school, Amaya-san.”

Hori thought of her glasses, her hair in a messy bun, her face without a stitch of makeup and almost smacked herself in the head. How could she forget? No one at her school besides her best friend has seen Hori without in such a disheveled state. Hori was known for always looking put together.

Ah well, there’s nothing I can do about that now, Hori grimaced and then stated, “I’ll get some tea” before slipping into the kitchen. After brewing some hot tea and placing some cookies on a tray, she returned to the living room with the tray in hand. Takashi, now looking more like himself with his glasses, was already diligently working on his math homework and glanced up when Hori set down the tray.

“Sorry,” Takashi said sheepishly, gesturing to his notebook. “But math is kicking my butt. I’ve got to finish this assignment.”

“Do you want to work on it together? I was working on it before you came.”

“Yeah, that would actually be very helpful!”

Hori brought her stuff from her room to the tea table in the living room and began collaborating with Takashi on their math homework as well as their other assignments. Toru eventually brought his toys to the room and played while the other two worked and snacked. Being the top student in her math class, Hori was able to help Takashi through the math assignment. She was also pleasantly surprised by how good Takashi was at English as he proofread her paper and caught a couple of her errors. She briefly wondered why he never spoke more in class. He was clearly one of the best English students in Class A which was impressive because the students in Class A had the best scores in the school.

When Hori and Takashi finally finished their homework and studying, it was already 6:00pm. Toru had curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.

Takashi stood up and stretched before beginning to pack up his belongings. “Thanks for this, Amaya-san. It was very helpful.”

Hori nodded in agreement as she placed the empty tea cups and plate back onto the tray. She hesitated before asking, “Sato-san, would you like to stay for dinner? I’m about to start cooking, and I could use some help.”

“You’re parents aren’t coming for dinner?” Takashi asked surprised.

“They are, but they get home late and are usually too tired to make anything decent. It’s easier on them if I make something so Toru and I can eat earlier.” Hori was used to this routine by now. In all honesty, she often felt like the parent of the house.

“Sure, I’ll help. What are you making?” Takashi responded, setting his stuff back down and rolling up his sleeves.

“Nabeyaki udon,” Hori replied. “It’s the first dish Okaasan taught me how to make, and since it’s chilly outside, udon sounds like a good idea. I mainly need help cutting and washing all the ingredients.”

They both worked in the kitchen. Takashi helped peel, wash and cut the carrots, spinach, mushrooms, onions and chicken. His knife skills were a little shaky, but he managed to cut everything somewhat evenly without cutting himself. Meanwhile, Hori prepared the soup and the shrimp, her favorite part. After assembling all the ingredients, Hori skillfully assembled a few earthenware pots with the udon and soup before decorating the tops with the ingredients Takashi prepared.

Half an hour later, Takashi, Hori and Toru sat at the dinner table with their own bowls, chopsticks and soup spoons with a bubbling pot of nabeyaki udon between them. Hori helped Toru get his portion, making sure to avoid any mushrooms or spinach and added extra shrimp tempura to his bowl. Takashi then got his bowl and Hori followed.

Itadakimasu!” they all chimed in before digging into their udon.

The only sound for a while was the slurping of noodles, but Toru eventually broke the silence tugging on Takashi’s shirt and saying, “Ne, Oniisan, can you come again tomorrow?

Takashi glanced over at Hori questioningly, and Hori shrugged and smiled, gesturing it’s up to you. Takashi grinned and turned back to Toru, ruffling his hair. “Sure kid. I’ll be here.”

 

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