Seattle folks are so serious about Pho. There are at least 4 places within 8 blocks of my apartment where you can get Pho. I understand the appeal–hot broth, rice noodles, thinly sliced meat cooked right in your soup. In such a damp, cold city, people are definitely in need of nourishing soups. But honestly, I’ve never been terribly impressed with Pho. It’s good, but it’s not something I get excited about. Maybe it’s all the fennel. Not my thing.
Japanese Udon noodle soup, on the other hand, is something I get worked up about. It just so happens that the sushi joint closest to my apartment, Ha Na, has the best beef Udon I’ve yet had (not that I’m some kind of expert), and it’s less than $7 for a quart. The thick chewy noodles, thinly sliced beef, and rich salty broth are exactly what I want in a soup. I tried to replicate it via a recipe I found online, which turned out OK, but not great. The other night after a late shift at work and short on anything immediately edible, I made a very quick, bare bones version of Udon and was pleased at how satisfying the results were.
I had a little single-serving package of frozen Udon noodles in the freezer, so I started a pot of water to boil while I worked on the broth. I used a quart of my homemade beef stock, about a 1/2 cup of unfiltered organic Sake, and a few dashes of fish sauce, plus a little extra salt for flavor. I let it come up to a simmer so the alcohol would burn off, then poured it over the cooked noodles. That’s it. No beef, no green onions, nothing extra. But it was SO good and filling. The next night I used two tablespoons of brown miso paste instead of fish sauce with favorable results.
If you wanted to go all the way, you could add very thinly sliced raw beef, green onions, and perhaps some bean sprouts. My local butcher will slice up the beef for me if I ask them in advance, but if you don’t have access to a full-service butcher, or just want to try it yourself, all you have to do is freeze the meat and use a very sharp knife to slice it as thin as possible. Make sure to slice against the grain (the “grain” being the aligned muscle fibers), or the beef will be excessively chewy. I bought some pre-sliced beef from the Asian supermarket that was sliced parallel to the grain and had this exact problem. The heat from the broth will be enough to cook the meat through.
Of the two types of udon noodles I’ve tried, I definitely prefer the frozen noodles to the pre-cooked refrigerated type. Both types were wheat noodles, but what I’d really like to use are rice noodles (my roommate was wise indeed when he wrote “rice noodles > all other noodles”). I couldn’t find any at the Asian supermarket, but it was my first visit and honestly, I was overwhelmed. Hopefully my next visit will be more successful, or else I might even try making them at home. How hard can it be, right? Right?