I’ve always been a big fan of Sunset magazine which features my home-region; the West. I would venture out there and crow a bit about how west is best … but that would be rude. Instead, I’ll focus on the fabulous udon recipes I came across in the recent March 2014 issue.
I’m wildly fond of ramen but haven’t messed about much with udon, so I thought I’d delve a bit deeper. Udon is a thick wheat flour noodle used in Japanese cuisine. It’s often served in a hot soup base, in it’s most simplistic form as kake udon which consists of udon noodles floating about in a broth made of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. You’re then free to dress it up with whatever accompaniments you’d like. The meaty duck and mushroom udon recipe called to me. I’m all about deep flavors and enjoy coaxing as much “umami” as I can from ingredients.
Which gave me the perfect excuse to try duck for the first time (at 43? gasp! how tragic …) as well as hunt down some long-anticipated nama shoyu which came highly recommended from Cooking Light’s Senior Food Editor, Tim Cebula. And who am I to argue with Tim? A carnivore who went vegan for a month and not only lived to tell the tale, but went on to produce a fantastic March issue focusing on umami-rich vegetable-centric recipes I’m excited to cook as well.
Unlike regular soy sauces found readily in local grocery stores, Tim recommends nama shoyu as it is a raw, unpasteurized sauce with live enzymes (wow!) and a deep, complex flavor. I found this organic brand by Ohwawa at Whole Foods and I have to admit, it gives anything you use it in less of a salty soy-sauce flavor and more like a more intense version of what the food really is. If you find it, give it a try.
Looking at the image above I’m suddenly alarmed at how much I’ve already used – good thing I bought two bottles.
First, let’s discuss duck, then we’ll move on to the recommended broth. The Sunset recipe recommends Pekin over Muscovy duck breasts. Having never eaten duck, I went for the Pekin which is a smaller bird and supposedly has more, um, well … tender breasts than the larger Muscovy. You can also use chicken as discussed below, but honey, after having this with duck, I would go to hell and back to find me duck breast before I buckled and made it with chicken (sorry, chicken – I love you, but … it’s duck, man). Duck was not easy for me to source. I ended up buying it online, but if you can find it locally, please help the world by keeping your carbon footprint smallish. Future generations will thank you for it. One positive about purchasing meat online is you can source meat that is raised humanely which is something very important to me.
The preparation for the duck is relatively simply – you’re basically searing the breast in a hot skillet until you’ve rendered the fat from it, then you’ll be marinating it overnight in a simple marinade of soy sauce, mirin and sake. This is a two-day ordeal, though, so read through the entire recipe before you start so there are no surprises!
Look at all that lovely duck schmaltz … be sure to harvest this from the pan after it’s cooled. You’re going to want to use it to fry hashbrowns, eggs, and hey – mushrooms! The original recipe calls for simply cooking the fresh mushrooms in the dashi broth, but I wanted to amp up the meaty flavors even more by sautéing my ‘shrooms in the duck-fat until they were golden brown. I know. I’m sick. But I felt it added even more depth to the broth.
Toward the end of the recipe, I’ve included Sunset’s recommendations on using and cooking fresh/frozen udon noodles as opposed to dried, but sometimes, you’ve got to work with what’s available. I’ve mentioned before I’m located in a remote corner of the world and I haven’t made it to an Asian grocer lately. I did hook up with a darn decent dried udon noodle made by Koyo. Not locally, mind you, but again at a Whole Foods (I likes that store). I think I bought 10 packages and the clerk asked if I liked to watch Doomsday Preppers. “Just bag the goods, lady,” I replied, swiping my debit card haughtily. Okay, she did say that, but I wasn’t haughty. I might be one day, though, I’ll keep you posted.
It’s true, fresh udon is thicker and ultimately more delicious, but these noodles were reliable and I’m recommending them in a pinch (which is where I often find myself).
As far as the broth is concerned, I did not make the udon broth directly from the Sunset recipe because it called for dried sardines when making the dashi broth and I did not have them on-hand. What I did have was the stuff to make regular dashi, so the recipe is basically the same, I’ve just omitted the overnight soaking of dried sardines (which I think would be lovely – more umami!). I guess that’s why I browned my mushrooms – I knew I’d need a bit more kick.
The end result was a lovely bowl of hot soup with springy noodles, a deeply flavored broth (as opposed to the more mild dashi) and the best damn duck I’ve ever tasted. Marinating the seared duck overnight in the mirin, soy and sake was genious and a quick trip under the broiler crisped up the skin deliciously. Smoky scallions cooked in a dry skillet topped the whole thing off.
This was a delicious dish and well worth the effort. I hope you’ll try it.
Duck and Mushroom Udon
Adapted from Sunset Magazine, March 2014
1 pound Pekin or Muscovy duck breast, or boned, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
12 green onions
1/4 cup very thinly sliced green onions (white and pale green parts)
3/4 pound fresh, frozen or dried udon noodles
3 1/2 cups Udon Broth (below)
7 ounces mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, such as chanterelle, shiitake, and trumpet, tough stems trimmed off and mushrooms cut into bite-size pieces – or any fresh mushrooms you can get your hands on.
- 3-in.-long piece kombu (dried edible kelp)
- 1 1/2 ounces dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- 1/3 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- Put kombu, and 8 cups water into a medium pot. Cover and chill overnight.
- Set pot over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. When small bubbles form along sides and bottom of pot, but before it actually begins to simmer, remove kombu.
- Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add bonito flakes, pressing down with a spoon to submerge, and return to a boil; then immediately turn off heat. Let flakes settle to bottom of pot, about 15 minutes.
- Strain broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a bowl. Wring out all liquid from cheesecloth into bowl. Rinse pot, pour in strained broth, and heat over medium-high heat. Add mirin and soy sauce; simmer 5 minutes.
- *If you’d like to use instant dashi, cook according to package instructions, then add the mirin and soy sauce and simmer for five minutes.
- Heat a medium frying pan (not nonstick) or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until very hot. Meanwhile, if cooking duck, score skin in a crosshatch pattern with a very sharp knife, being careful not to cut through the meat. (If cooking chicken, there’s no need to score skin.) Pat duck or chicken dry and put in pan, skin side down. Immediately reduce heat to low.
- Cook duck slowly, without turning, until most fat has rendered and skin is crisp, 7 to 10 minutes for Pekin (20 for Muscovy), reducing temperature if skin is getting too dark. Turn over and cook until medium-rare (cut to check), 4 to 5 minutes more (8 to 10 for Muscovy). Cook chicken until well browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn over, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook through, 7 to 8 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, bring soy sauce, mirin, and sake to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and boil 2 minutes. Let cool. Put poultry in a resealable plastic bag, pour in soy sauce mixture, seal, and chill overnight (1 hour for chicken).
- Preheat broiler for poultry and bring a large pot of water to a boil for udon.
- Meanwhile, prepare green onions: Cut whole onions into 12 (2-in.) lengths (white and pale green parts only). Heat a small (not nonstick) dry frying pan over medium heat. Cook green onions until charred on two sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
- Put sliced green onions in a bowl of cold water and vigorously swish around with your fingers to separate into rings. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer. Repeat twice.
- Boil udon (see “Udon Essentials,” below). Using a large strainer, scoop out noodles into a large bowl and save water to heat soup bowls.
- If you’d like, brown your mushrooms in a bit of the leftover duck fat (you remembered to save it, right?). If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can put them in the pot of broth fresh.
- Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and simmer 2 minutes. Meanwhile, broil duck or chicken, skin side up, until skin begins to crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Very thinly slice poultry crosswise (if using Muscovy breasts, halve lengthwise first to make small slices).
- To serve, warm 4 soup bowls by dipping them into hot udon-cooking water. Divide noodles among bowls and top with duck slices. Arrange 3 charred green onions in each bowl and ladle broth over noodles. Top with sliced green onions.