The final product.
My most recent at-bat hosting our weekly food related night of debauchery I decided, as was no surprise to anyone, to take us to Japan once again. The original four course plan quickly turned into seven as I came up with further ideas, but it was the first course that seemed to be the show stealer. It was an extremely simple bowl of cold noodles tossed in a light dressing. It was the texture and balance of the dish that made everyone so enthusiastic about it. So much so that I was prodded to post the recipe, and soon! It's made with Japanese Somen noodles and a simple “vinaigrette” (in quotes because there's no actual vinegar involved).
For those of you unfamiliar with Somen, it is essentially the Japanese equivalent of the Italian Angel Hair pasta, only much thinner and much more delicate. A wheat noodle, it's texture, cold or hot, is like silk. Much more befitting of the common moniker bestowed upon the Italian variation, which is, by the way, known to the natives as Capelli D'Angelo. As much as I love the Italian pastas, this is, by far, my favorite noodle. Bar none. It takes seconds to cook, it is well suited to hot or cold preparations, and, as I mentioned, the texture is like nothing else. It is widely available these days, as well. No need to seek out an Asian market. I've seen it at chains like Kroger and Meijer. If you have a hard time finding it Soba will do in a pinch, but it's texture is much rougher, so it's worth the search to find Somen.
Another key ingredient was the Usukuchi soy sauce in the dressing. A generic reduced sodium soy sauce is a good substitute, but there is something magical about a Japanese Usukuchi. The company Yamasa was my source for this product, and it's a fairly common brand, so finding it shouldn't be all that difficult.
This is a delicate operation, so you really need to taste your way through it. Every step, the addition of every ingredient, you need to taste the progress.
So here ya go, cold Somen noodle salad with soy vinaigrette:
The players of an alternate build I did steeping konbu and bonito into the soy sauce before building the vinaigrette. Can be omitted.
3 bundles dry Somen noodles
1 bunch thinly sliced Scallion
Half cup of Usukuchi Soy Sauce
3 Tblsp. Lime juice
3 small cloves Garlic
5-6 one inch round thin slices peeled fresh Ginger
2 cups dark Sesame Oil
1 Tblsp. Dijon Mustard
1-2 Tblsp. Chili/Garlic paste
Black and white Sesame seeds for garnish
They always come with this little band of paper holding them together.
Begin by filling a large pot with water. Set on the stove over high heat and add enough kosher salt to make the water taste just a little less salty than sea-water (TASTE-TASTE-TASTE!). When at a boil, unbind the Somen and let it fall from your hand like a cascade into the pot, turning your hand as they fall (this helps prevent the noodles sticking together). Stir the pot every 10-20 seconds. Take a noodle out every 30 seconds after the first 2 minutes and bite into it. If it's cooked drain immediately and run under cold water, if not, continue until you've reached that point. Once cooked and cooled, place in a mixing bowl, toss with a splash of sesame oil (a ounce or so, about 2 tablespoons to prevent clumping), and set aside.
Slowly drizzling in the sesame oil.
In a blender, place the garlic, ginger Usukuchi soy sauce, and lime juice. Turn on high or liquify, whatever the settings say on your blender. The goal is to reduce the garlic and ginger down to a smooth texture. It will probably only take 1 minute. At this point, blender still running, add the Dijon and slowly drizzle in 1 cup of the sesame oil. Now taste. The goal here is to be able to taste every ingredient at the same time. Is the Lime being drowned out? Add a splash more. Is the soy still too strong? Add more Sesame oil. You probably won't need the full 2 cups of oil, if you managed to get your hands on the Usukuchi soy I'm guessing you'll need just under that amount of oil to balance the party out. Balance is the key to this dish. Bear in mind that the flavors will be very strong, but it's going on a starch, and noodles can take a punch. Just be sure the flavors are balanced. If you can't taste the mustard very strongly though, that's ok. It's really only there for backbone and to keep the dressing emulsified.
Once you've tasted your way through the dressing, and all components are in harmony, all that's left is assembly.
Tossing them well, and gently!
Add your dressing to the noodles, toss in the scallions, and mix well. The measurements I gave should be just about perfect, but don't add all the dressing at once. Reserve a little to make sure you don't over-dress and end up with noodles floating in sauce. Again, I stress, add a little at a time and taste your way through it. Once you're satisfied with the dressing/noodle balance, add he chili/garlic paste. This is purely a point of discretion. Add as much as you like to suit your personally preferred heat index. I only used about 1 tablespoon, just enough to taste it, and not enough to melt anybodies face. Garnish with a small sprinkling of the mixed sesame seeds.
This dish exemplifies the Japanese philosophy of simplicity. The inspiration for it was found one night at work. I was, early in the night, experimenting with a new menu item concept. The first half of the night was slow, so I started by cooking the noodles. After they were cooked and tossed in a little sesame oil we started to get busy, so I didn't have time to finish the project. At the end of the night, cleaned up, and ready to leave, my co-worker and I had not had time to eat yet that day. He asked what I did with the Somen, and dressed it with some chili oil to slurp them down quickly before we left. That was the “ah-ha!” moment for me. I took a small bowl full and dressed the noodles with scallion, chili oil, chili/garlic paste and a splash of soy sauce. After slurping that down I thought, “I can make that better... fuck... I can make that awesome!”.
I hope you, the reader, have access to a local Asian or Japanese market to faithfully recreate this astoundingly simple and equally astoundingly good dish. It would suit any picnic, boxed lunch, or first course of any intricate Japanese themed meal. If you don't have such access, the substitutions listed will do well enough.
My next post will be another recipe I loved from that evening of camaraderie with the boys here at the Estate (none of the girls could make it that night, sux to be them!) a home made Ponzu-Shoyu. I have decided that it is my favorite condiment and favorite flavor in the world.... So I must share the recipe... Throw out that bottle of store-bought crap, this will put it to shame...
Until then, live well and eat better!