We Tried It: A Step-By-Step Attempt at Making Chef Morimoto’s Udon Noodles
Make your own udon at home with the Iron Chef’s recipe.
Whether in a soup or in a stir-fry, udon has always been one of my favorite carbs. In Honolulu there are two restaurants that satisfy my craving (Marukame and TsuruTonTan) and two stores where I can buy a decent frozen substitute (Mitsuwa and Whole Foods). But in the D.I.Y. spirit and to lessen my consumption of single-use plastic, I set a challenge for myself: making my own udon, with a recipe from Masaharu Morimoto, owner of two stylish Waikīkī restaurants and all-around Japanese cuisine legend. (Scroll to the bottom for the original recipe.)
The Dish: Shabu shabu rib-eye beef, fish cakes, bok choy and udon in a simple and light broth.
Is the challenge of making my own noodles ambitious? Yes. Within reach? Hopefully. First time lucky? Absolutely not. Here’s how it went:
Give Me Some Space
To be honest, I had never thought of the process for making udon and was nervous about this challenge. But Morimoto’s recipe only called for three ingredients: all-purpose flour, kosher salt and water. Lay out everything you need before you begin because once you start, you will have clumps of sticky dough all over your hands. Mixing all three of the ingredients using my hands was one of the most satisfying parts of the process. It seems that the process of working the dough first in the bowl and then on the flat workspace is over quite quick, but you knead (!) to give it time.
The instructions don’t call for this, but after repeatedly ending up with a too-sticky mass after four tries, I found that putting the dough in the fridge overnight, instead of simply leaving out to rest for an hour, helped when it came to folding and slicing it later. Maybe it’s the humidity here in Hawai‘i, but rolling out “room temperature” dough, folding it to create three layers, slicing perfectly even strands and then unfolding the noodles did not work for me at all. I gave it a few tries, varying my method each time, and ultimately chose to knead the dough one more time before storing it in the fridge.
If at First You Don’t Succeed …
Starting with chilled dough worked miracles for me. I was able to make much more defined slices and did not have the same issue of the three layers of dough melting into each other after separating the noodles.
One of Morimoto’s recipe photos showed the sliced noodles transferred to a bowl and then tossed with a little bit of flour to prevent sticking. Again, this didn’t work for me because within minutes the strands were stuck together.
Instead, I lay each one out on the table and lightly dusted them before handling.
If You Can’t Take the Heat
I prepared an ice bath for the cooked noodles while waiting for the water in a pot on the stove to boil. I was excited. I wanted to get this right so I took my time—constantly stirring and adding cold water to prevent the pot from boiling over. After 12 minutes, I transferred the noodles to the ice bath and began rubbing each strand to remove the starch. Looking back, I should have done this a little bit more.
Unfortunately my noodles came out on the flat side and broke easily at the original points I folded the dough.
Looks Aren’t Everything
I kept the noodles in the ice bath while I brought a pot of my go-to homemade broth to a boil and added fish cakes, bok choy and beef.
While I plated my meal, I cringed at the look of my udon. But it was love at first bite. It wasn’t perfect, but I had made my udon for very little money and, to top it off, had very little environmentally unfriendly waste. And let’s not forget the taste and texture: bouncy, chewy and oh so fresh.
You can bet your budget I’m going to do this again. But this time I know where to focus my attention and will plan to freeze half of the noodles after the initial boil.
With something as tricky as making noodles for the first time (and without special equipment) I was right in feeling nervous. Having been through it now, I know how I’ll approach the next attempts:
- Udon dough has a tradition of being stomped on to develop its characteristic chewiness, so really work it. Keep folding, pressing and twisting.
- Make sure your knives are sharp. I never noticed how blunt my knives were until the moment of no return.
- Work in batches when slicing. Make five cuts, separate and lay out flat. Repeat. I found this prevented noodles from sticking and gave me a chance to review my technique before the next batch.
- Cook right away and then decide what to do (eat or freeze).
- Wash each strand thoroughly to remove starch.
Recipe appears in Iron Chef Morimoto’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking. Reprinted with permission.
Makes 2 lbs (4 portions)
- Rolling pin
- 600 grams all-purpose flour (about 5 cups), sifted through a strainer, plus more for dusting and tossing
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1¼ to 1½ cups water
Making the Dough
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, stir, then add 1¼ cups of the water. Use your hands to mix until the dough starts to come together in a few large lumps. Start to firmly press and knead the dough, incorporating the loose flour until there’s none left. If necessary, add a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you can incorporate all of the flour.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour, add the dough, and knead (folding and firmly pressing with your palm, folding and pressing) until the dough looks and feels fairly smooth, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface with ample room, knead it again for about 2 minutes. Lightly dust both sides with flour, then use the rolling pin to roll the dough, occasionally rotating the dough 90 degrees and lightly dusting with flour if it threatens to stick to the pin, into a rough, approximately 17- inch circle with an even thickness (slightly less than ¼ inch). If you are having difficulty rolling, allow the dough to rest for 5 to 10 minutes as needed. This allows the glutens to relax and make it easier to roll out. Fold the dough into thirds, then slice widthwise into approximately ⅛- inch- thick noodles. Gently separate the noodles and toss them with a little bit of flour, just so they don’t stick together. Cook right away.
How to Cook Homemade Udon
The way you cook homemade noodles is slightly different from the way you cook purchased noodles. Follow these instructions whether you’re planning to serve the noodles hot or cold. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare a large bowl of icy water. Add the noodles to the boiling water, stirring frequently and adding ¼ cup of fresh water if the water threatens to bubble over, until they’re fully cooked but not mushy, 10 to 12 minutes. (Unlike Italian pasta, they shouldn’t be al dente, but don’t let them get mushy.) Drain them, then transfer them to the icy water. Briefly and gently rub them with your hands to remove some of the starch. Drain very well.