Japanese Fried Noodles

When you wander the streets of Tokyo late at night, drunk and hungry, forget the sushi and head to those little places that sell fried udon, add plenty of chilli flakes and the morning will be only half as painful. Well, as you’re not likely to be wandering those streets anytime soon, here’s how you can make them in the comfort of your own home. Preparing all the ingredients can be a bit of a slog, I admit, so do it early, have a drink while you chop and mix and enjoy the work.

Fried noodle recipes always look a bit daunting. Once I had written it all down, it was just a long list of seemingly never-ending things to do. But it’s really very simple, trust me. I have broken it down into very clear sections, so as long as you remember that you can’t really screw it up all that much, you will be fine.

All that you need:

  • 50ml soya sauce
  • 80ml mirin (or sake, or rice wine)
  • dash of white pepper
  • ¼ Chinese cabbage
  • 12 Japanese shishito chillies (or 4 green chillies, cut into quarters)
  • 5 spring onions
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • chilli flakes to taste
  • ½ Tbsp ginger garlic paste (see Note)
  • 400g udon noodles
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 250g minced pork or beef (or lamb, but preferably not chicken)
  • 2 Tbsp oil

Step 1 – Getting ready:

Getting ready is always the most time consuming part of cooking. In a professional kitchen it takes up 70% of the time. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can do it hours in advance and then when it comes to cooking time, it’s all really quick.

  1. Start by mixing the soya sauce and mirin and stirring in a little finely ground white pepper.
  2. Cut the quarter cabbage into 2cm strips.
  3. Cut the top and stalk of the shishito chillies and cut them in half lengthwise.
  4. Cut the bottom white part off the spring onions and chop it roughly.
  5. Cut the top green part of the spring onions into 1cm rings.
  6. Just before cooking, or at most half an hour before, pour hot water over the udon noodles to soften and separate them.
  7. Drain, put in a bowl and toss with the sesame oil.

Step 2 – Starting the wok:

  1. Put one tablespoon of oil into a wok and heat on high heat.
  2. Make sure your cabbage is completely dry, then add it to the wok and fry until the edges start to brown and the middle part is still a little crunchy. Do not salt or pepper the cabbage at all!
  3. Remove from the heat and keep. You can do this up to an hour in advance, but keep the cabbage at room temperature.

Step 3 – Ready to serve:

Keep calm, read the points below and then just remember the order of the items I’ve underlined and you won’t go wrong. Hopefully.

  1. Heat one more tablespoon of oil in the wok until smoking hot.
  2. Add the mince and stir fry for just one minute, then spread it out in the wok and leave it to fry until all the water at the bottom of the wok has evaporated and the mince has browned. Resist the temptation to stir it, or it won’t brown at all. Once you see the edges go brown, you’re ready.
  3. Add the ginger garlic paste and stir fry for one minute.
  4. Add the shishito chillies and the white part of the spring onions and fry for one minute.
  5. Now add the udon noodles and fry for one minute.
  6. Pour in the sauce and continue to stir fry until the sauce has thickened and is coating the noodles lightly.
  7. Add the fried cabbage, stir in, then add the green part of the spring onion, the sesame seeds and half the chilli flakes, give it a quick stir and dish it out.
  8. Garnish with more sesame seeds and the rest of the chilli flakes and take it to your guests with a flourish.

NOTE:          You can replace the mirin with sake or rice wine, or stock, the Chinese cabbage with white or green cabbage, the shisito chillies with any other fresh chillies (watch the heat!), the spring onions with wedges of brown or red onions, the chilli flakes with chilli oil, the ginger garlic paste with chopped garlic and ginger and the udon noodles with yellow noodles. You won’t get a Japanese noddle, but then, who’s watching?

If you are using ginger and garlic regularly, it is worth making a batch of ginger garlic paste and keeping it in the chiller. It will be good for at least 4 weeks. If not, just chop ginger and garlic finely and use that instead.


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