Noodles are an important part of the Japanese diet. Mention Japanese cuisine and most of us think sushi or fish, but noodles are eaten throughout the day and are a vital source of nutrition and calories. By far the most widely available Japanese noodle in the United States is ramen, a favorite of many dorm dwellers and available at almost any market including many gas station convenience stores. Personally, I am happy to see other, more interesting varieties, gaining popularity such as udon, somen and soba (SOH-buh), which is the star of today. Unlike its counterparts that are primarily made of wheat, soba is most often made with buckwheat, which in spite of its name, is not wheat or not even a grain, it is a grass much like wild rice. Traditionally, they are a brownish-gray color but there is a little known cousin called Chasoba which is made with green tea. The later, was what I chose for my amazing creation presented today.
It all started when I received my recent edition of Saveur Magazine. Claiming “Cold Weather Comforts” as its March theme, I was immediately enticed to see what its contents would reveal. I was further intrigued by a feature focusing on soba noodle preparations. Soba can be served either hot or cold but nothing is more appealing to me than a steaming noodle bowl on a blustery day. Much of the focus of this feature is about making your noodles from scratch (an art in itself) but I chose to use dry noodles for their ease. Before I continue, however, I must warn that this recipe is not a quick fix meal and requires a few specialty ingredients. The Dashi stock, which serves as your base and the Noodle Base Sauce or Kaeshi, for basting the chicken, giving it its amazing flavor, and also added to the stock giving it its gingery flair must be made first. The good new is, you can do as I did and make the Dashi and the Kaeshi several days ahead leaving cooking the chicken, noodles and spinach for final serving. I hope this doesn’t make you shy to try this as the individual steps are not difficult and the result was so deeply satisfying it was worth every ounce of energy. My husband said it rivaled the noodle bowl offerings at one of my favorite restaurants, Umami. I am not sure about that, but I took it as a compliment as their food is to die for.
Here is how it went down.
Hot Soba with Chicken and Egg
Featured in: The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles Saveur Magazine, March 2016
4 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
1 cup Kaeshi (see below)
7 1⁄4 cups Dashi Stock (see below)
1 (6-inch) piece ginger, peeled, plus 1 (3-inch) piece ginger peeled and julienned
8 oz. Fresh Soba Noodles or dried noodles
2 cups baby spinach
2 soft-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise (7 minute egg)
1⁄4 cup minced chives
1 tsp. toasted black sesame seeds
1 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds
Togarashi, to garnish
Heat the broiler. On a foil-lined baking sheet, arrange the chicken skin-side-down and, using a paring knife, lightly score the meat every 1⁄4 inch and season lightly with salt. Broil the chicken thighs, basting every 4 minutes with 1⁄4 cup of the sauce base and flipping halfway, until cooked through and golden brown, about 16 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, let rest for 10 minutes, then slice each thigh into 3 thick slices.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 3⁄4 cup sauce base with the dashi. Using a Microplane set over a fine sieve set in a bowl, grate the 6-inch piece of ginger into the sieve, pressing on the solids to drain as much juice as possible into the bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of the ginger juice into the saucepan and discard the rest or save for another use. Bring the soup to a boil over medium heat and keep warm.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the soba noodles until al dente, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, lift the noodles from the water and transfer to a colander and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Drain the noodles again and divide among 4 large serving bowls. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Drain the spinach, pressing to remove as much water as possible, and divide among each serving of noodles.
Ladle the warm soup over the spinach and noodles in each bowl and top each with 3 chicken slices. Place 1 egg half and one-quarter of the chives in each bowl and then garnish with one-quarter each of the julienned ginger and both sesame seeds. Garnish each bowl with togarashi and serve immediately.
8 cups filtered water
3 dried shitake mushrooms
1 (3-inch–square) sheet kombu
2 oz. bonito flakes
In a medium saucepan, combine water with mushrooms and let stand for 1 hour. Add kombu and bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the mushrooms and kombu, and stir in bonito flakes. Let steep for 10 minutes, pour the dashi through a fine sieve set over a bowl, and discard the bonito flakes. Store the dashi in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Kaeshi (noodle sauce base)
This salty–sweet sauce from Sonoko Sakai, most notably eaten with soba noodles, is a building block of flavor in various sauces used throughout Japan.
1 cup soy sauce
2 1⁄2 tbsp. mirin
2 1⁄2 tbsp. sugar
In a small saucepan, combine soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
You can adapt this to your own taste adding other vegetables such as carrot or radish or switching protein, if desired. Depending where you live, you may be able to find the specialty ingredients like togarishi, bonito flakes, kombu and mirin in the ethnic section of your grocery but, if not, these can all be found in Asian markets and online. If you are unfamiliar and a bit intimidated please don’t be. Once you have these products in your pantry they will serve as a gateway to making many other delicious Japanese specialties.
The addition of the togarishi adds a bit of heat and the toasted sesame seeds bring a bit of contrasting texture and crunch to offset the soft chewiness of the noodles. This makes for a delightful bite. A special thank you to Sonoko Sakai for her lovely soba recipes. I can only say, the completed bowl looks and tastes as if each ingredient was chosen carefully, plays an important role and is living in perfect harmony with the others. I seriously cannot wait to make this again!
Last week our culinary feature took us to India, this week, Japan. I wonder where our palate will travel next? We can learn much about other cultures by exploring their food. Thanks for coming with me on this culinary journey. I hope I have offered up some inspiration for your next food adventure. Regardless of whether you wish to explore or stay with the much loved tried and true, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Until next time, stay warm, stay safe and be kind. Sending love from my kitchen to yours, Jeanne