Udon is a traditional thick wheat noodle, extremely popular in my home region of Kansai. There are any number of ways to make Udon: recipes change from region to region and from season to season. The Japanese version of Wikipedia lists no fewer than 29 regional variations – some dryer, some wetter, some wider, some narrower, some cooked soft, others almost “al dente”.
In Shikoku – the spiritual home of udon – they eat it without any dashi, just soy sauce and, sometimes, with a raw egg on top. That doesn’t appeal to me very much, but I’ll tell you what does: Tsukimi Udon. Literally “watching-the-moon udon”, this is a seasonal automn recipe my husband loves, a noodle soup with poached eggs.
As with many udon dishes, you could also make this with soba – buckwheat noodles. You could, but I wouldn’t: as far as I’m concerned, soba is “northern” food. Where I’m from, it’s udon or bust.
Before we start, please be aware – Udon is not Italian pasta. The “common sense rules” you learned cooking spaghetti will not work here. And, whatever you do, do not cook the noodles in the broth! You really do need to cook them separately, drain them, cool them, rub them with your fingers, and only then add them to the soup. Trust me, it makes a big difference.
Osuimono is the other basic Japanese soup: the main alternative to miso soup when you’re making 1 soup-1 dish. At its best, osuimono is a very light broth: it should never be weighed down with too many ingredients, too much salt or – and this is a common mistake – too much soy sauce.
The basic ingredients are water, dashi, soy sauce and sake, but there’s a lot of room for variation with what you put into it. Dropping a beaten egg in it, for instance, works wonderfully. For this recipe, however, I used a filet of sole, some spring onion and lime rinds.
In Japan, I would use sea bream rather than sole, but we’re having trouble finding sea bream in Montreal, and frozen sole filets work well like this. Also, in Japan I would use yuzu rinds – which are soft enough to eat – rather than lime rinds – which you have to discard before serving. Living so far from home, you have to make some compromises.
Miso soup is a Japanese fixation: a shocking number of people in Japan will have a salty bowl of miso soup with every single meal, alongside the obligatory white rice. Even if we’re not quite so fanatical about it, we still make it at least three or four times a week at home.
Of course, there are different kinds of miso (white, red, brown) and you can add in different combinations of vegetables, tofu and/or seafood. So there is some room for variation. But the basic idea is always pretty much the same: miso paste suspended in dashi broth.
In Japan, we add vegetables according to the season. Since it’s fall, we thought pumpkin was a good choice.