An ode to takeout: Try making these stir-fried Udon noodles at home
Staying home for two months has afforded me the time to try new bread recipes, watch some interesting YouTube cooking videos, and try some new recipes. We have also supported our favorite local restaurants by treating ourselves to takeout meals at least once a week, as there are many dishes they make that I just cannot duplicate at home. But, thanks to Bon Appétit magazine, we are making and eating my take on their Better Than Takeout Stir-fried Udon Noodles at home regularly.
I love noodles! I have the best memories of coming home from school to find rolled and sliced homemade noodles dusted in flour on the kitchen table just waiting to be added to homemade chicken noodle soup -- pure comfort food.
Spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, farfalle and lasagna are part of a long list of Italian pasta shapes traditionally made with a coarse wheat flour. The shapes aren't different just for variety. They have a purpose. Some shapes have nooks that carry chunky sauce, while others are thin and allow oil-based sauces to cling well. And then there are those thick-cut pastas that serve as vehicles for heavy sauces such as fettuccine and Alfredo.
Then there are the Asian varieties; udon, somen, Shanghai and la mian are all made with wheat, but when those ingredients are joined by eggs or an alkalizing agent like soda water, the result is ramen and lo mian, but the choices don't stop there. Asian noodles are made from many other ingredient combinations, including rice, vegetable starches like sweet potato and mung bean, tapioca, kelp and even tofu, many resulting in gluten-free options.
Last but not least, is the buckwheat varieties like soba or naengmyeon, made with a combination of buckwheat flour and other starches like arrowroot and pea starch.
The udon noodle is the star of this recipe. Udon is a bright white, round, fat and chewy noodle made from wheat flour, water and salt, and is typically served in both Korean and Japanese dishes, often with mirin, soy and a light broth.
In this recipe, Udon is join by ground pork, cabbage, mushrooms, red bell pepper strips and scallions with flavors enhanced by ginger, sesame oil and seeds, along with the traditional mirin and soy. There is also a little heat from red pepper flakes. If you ask me, this recipe has it all: flavor, texture and "curb" appeal.
To achieve layers of flavor, it is important to follow the instructions carefully. Noodles are briefly soaked, drained and tossed with sesame oil. Cabbage and mushrooms are cooked until browned to add flavor and then join the udon off to the side. Pork sausage is allowed to cook undisturbed, a crucial step until it is brown and crunchy, adding even more flavor before adding the bell pepper, scallions and spices.
In the end, everything is back in the big skillet together and topped off with a bath of mirin and soy. I like to stir frequently at this point to make sure even distribution of flavor. One of the first times I made this recipe, I made the mistake of forgetting to turn the heat off, and some of the noodles browned a bit. But my error turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as all loved what caramelizing the noodles did to the finished dish.
A note about the noodles I use: I like the Ka-Me brand and have had success finding them in the Asian section of my grocery store and on Amazon. This is the one ingredient I feel like I am hoarding a bit, as I currently have a case of 12 packages in my pantry. The Ka-Me package contains two 7.1-ounce airtight packages of fresh and soft noodles that only need refreshing with a little hot water before using. I find they work well in this recipe.
As always, this recipe can be made your own very easily. If you don't like mushrooms, leave them out, and if you don't eat meat, add more mushrooms. Don't add the red pepper flakes if you don't enjoy spicy food, and if you prefer more green vegetables, add more cabbage. I no longer measure the vegetables and add what I have on hand based on how many people I am feeding. The sky is the limit.
I hope this column finds you healthy and at home cooking up a storm. And if you have a taste for Asian takeout, be sure to try this chewy, flavorful noodle dish -- you will not be disappointed. Be well.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.