Udon, The Straight Noodle

A while back, I wrote a post on Ramen and its popularity here in the U.S. It hasn’t dwindled one bit, seems like, and ramen shops keep multiplying. And while I love ramen in all its forms, I’m also a great fan of udon; it might be my favorite noodle of all time. Of the three great noodles of Japan—ramen, soba and udon, I feel I can never get tired of udon. Soba is healthy, gluten free and probably the best summer food when eaten chilled; but many friends I know don’t like the texture or nutty taste. Ramen can get heavy when the broth is pork based tonkotsu, often to the point where I can’t finish it. It’s an amazing meal in itself though, I’ll admit.

On the other hand, there’s not much to dislike about udon. Unless you can’t digest wheat flour and you need to stay gluten free, udon noodles are satisfyingly chewy, adaptable to practically any kind of broth and condiments, delicious hot or cold and slippery good! Maybe the only complaint would be that you have to be fairly skilled with chopsticks to pick them up!

Udon is made by mixing flour with lightly salted water to make a dough, which is then kneaded, rolled and flattened like pizza dough, and sliced into the thin strips to look like udon. It really is the easiest type of noodle you can make at home. Most people use the “stepping on it with your feet” method to knead the dough (after covering with a cloth of course), because it’s easier than using your hands. If you have a breadmaker to knead it for you, all the better. Here’s a recipe from Zojirushi for Teuchi (handmade) Udon using their breadmaker.

A professional sous-chef at a restaurant uses a dough slicing machine to get perfect strands of udon noodles.

 

With summer and hotter days coming, you may think udon season is over, but you would be wrong! There are so many cold variations of this noodle, it doesn’t always have to be in hot broth. One of my favorites is this very simple dish called Bukkake Udon, where a cold broth is splashed over chilled udon. This is so unbelievably refreshing—I mean, take a look at these ingredients; katsuobushi (shaved bonito) flakes, green onion, grated daikon, and tempura crisps. Easy to imagine the flavor about to explode in your mouth, isn’t it?

Bukkake Udon with a beef bowl rice dish

 

An even simpler cold dish is Zaru Udon, which is eaten by dipping the noodles into a cup of cold broth, much like the popular Zaru Soba version. Learn how to make the dipping broth with this Zojirushi recipe.

Zaru Udon with dipping sauce

 

And not all udon is made with a hot broth. Being so closely similar to pasta, udon is often used in Western interpretations, like this wonderfully cheesy, rich and creamy Gratin Udon. This is my daughter’s favorite whenever we go to our main udon restaurant.

Cheese Gratin Udon

 

A popular tapas style appetizer at Japanese izakaya restaurants is this stir-fried dish called Yaki Udon. There are hundreds of versions, but here’s one you can make on your own with Zojirushi’s help. Yaki Udon is quick to make, you can use leftover ingredients, and you can have it year ‘round.

Yaki Udon

 

Some more traditional udon styles. Classic Kitsune Udon, with its signature deep fried tofu.

Kitsune Udon

 

Beef Udon, for meat lovers like me—but the beef is shredded to better suit this dish, and it’s not heavy or greasy at all.

Beef Udon

 

Kanitama Udon; crabmeat in an egg scramble—so sublime and perfect for crab lovers.

Kanitama Udon

What is your favorite udon dish?

 

photo credits: Bert Tanimoto, @ironchefmom, Zojirushi

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese Soufflé Pancakes

Have you seen these fluffy Japanese Pancakes all over social media lately? I stepped out of my comfort zone last weekend, just to try my primitive cooking skills at making these babies. Not bad, eh? I’d say it was a success! (But I have to admit after a lot of trial and error and a lot of eggs) Mind you, I’m not totally helpless—I’ve done pancakes before. I mean, breakfast is relatively easy. But these were a real challenge and nothing like regular pancakes. So good! Light, airy, jiggly and fluffy!

Equipment:
Zojirushi Gourmet Sizzler Electric Griddle
Turns out this was great for making pancakes because I had so much room to work with. The temp settings are too high for Japanese Pancakes but I was able to adjust by tweaking it a little. More on that later. The included lid is necessary, so I wished it was clear so I could have seen the pancakes as it cooked, but there’s ways to get around that too, if you need to.

Recipe:
My basic recipe was from Tasty Japan, but I also got a lot of tips from Just One Cookbook on the basics of baking.
Ingredients for 4 servings
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup pancake mix
1/2 cup milk

Japanese Pancakes require 2 things for success. Egg whites beaten to the right stiffness to make meringue and low temp steaming to bake. Making the batter was easy, the egg whites need to be finessed.

First get the egg yolks, sugar, pancake mix and milk into a bowl so you can whisk them together. Make sure not to leave it lumpy!

The egg whites need to be beaten with an electric blender. Some recipes called for them to be beaten with powdered sugar, instead of using granulated sugar in the batter. Preference thing, I guess. Anyway, the trick is to whip the egg whites until they get stiff enough to form peaks. I would do it at the highest speed.

Here’s one I did with powdered sugar. See the peaks?

By the way, did you know there are such things as egg white separators? This was a great gadget! No mess and it really gets all the whites separate from the yolk! Lot better than transferring the yolk from one shell to the other like old school!

This really works!

Next you fold the meringue into the batter. Don’t mix it in so thoroughly that it flattens the egg whites. All you’re doing here is combining the two parts.

And now you’re ready to put it on the griddle! Here’s a word about the griddle. This is a soufflé pancake, so you’re supposed to cook it on low heat for a long time, and covered with a lid. This recipe called for 10 minutes, while the steam did most of the cooking. My Zojirushi Griddle’s temp setting only goes as low as 300°F, which is way too hot for slow cooking these pancakes, so I actually had it on a setting barely above Keep Warm.

Here’s my setting.
The pour!

I used a bowl to steam it on low heat. Clever, right? With this griddle there was plenty of space so it was easy to do this. I did a couple with a pancake mold, which some of these recipes call for, but you don’t really need them to get them to come out fluffy and tall. If you do use molds, make sure they’re made of silicone like this one. You don’t want to scratch the griddle surface with metal. To get your pancakes taller, spoon the batter onto the surface, wait a little as it starts to cook, and layer more batter directly on top of it. It’s cooking so slow anyway, you’ve got plenty of time to do this.

“Update: Zojirushi does not recommend using this griddle at this temperature setting or using glass bowls on the surface. This post does not reflect usage guidelines provided by the manufacturer.”

Looking good…

When you’re ready to turn them over, put a spatula under it and roll them over gently. You can’t flip these guys. Dress with strawberries or powdered sugar or whatever you like. I really didn’t even need any syrup—they were already just the right sweetness all the way through.

Yummy!

For more pancake recipes from Zojirushi, try these. They’re not the soufflé kind, but they look delicious!

Blueberry Whole Wheat Pancakes

Gluten Free Pancakes

All photos by Bert Tanimoto

Tell a Story Day

April 27th is National Tell a Story Day. Libraries around the country actually participate in National Tell a Story Day by holding special storytelling times for children. Storytelling is the ancient practice of handing down knowledge from one generation to the next—over thousands of years. It encourages creativity, communication and the lost art of listening. So in honor of National Tell a Story Day, our new Zojirushi drink mug (seen above) is going to flip its top, spout off, and tell the tale of How Rice Saved The Great Wall of China. 😂

Thousands of years ago, around 220 BC, in the great kingdom of China, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to start building a wall to keep the Mongol barbarians of the north from invading his country. In order to accomplish this monumental task, he captured and enlisted over 300,000 soldiers and forced them to labor. The Emperor would never live to see his creation become reality, but the massive project was kept alive for almost 2000 years, as governments came and went over the ages. During the Ming Dynasty, when the wall construction was at its peak, there lived the brothers Huang, who were a family of commoners indentured in servitude to build the Great Wall of China.

The eldest brother, Shang, was a hard drinker who always wanted to forget his troubles with several cups of wine even before he made it all the way home. He had lost so many friends to mudslides and the freezing storms, as they carried heavy boulders up the mountain, day and night. Indeed, many men lost their lives building the wall and were simply laid to rest near it, being too poor to have a proper burial at their hometowns. It is said the Great Wall is also the world’s longest cemetery.

The middle brother, Zhou, was a kind and gentle man who loved his parents and tried to help them with their rice farm whenever he could, working in the rice paddies when he wasn’t at the wall. The problem was that there were so many rice farmers, the Emperor’s traders didn’t really have to buy from the smaller farms. Zhou’s parents struggled to compete with the larger rice brokers. But Zhou worked tirelessly to keep the farm alive, and Shang respected and loved his younger brother for his dedication, even against seemingly hopeless odds.

The youngest brother, Meng, was the most practical and the smartest of the three. He too, had to slave at the wall, but he was always trying to figure out a way to become free of this burden and to make a better life for himself. He looked up to his older brothers, but he never could understand the point of trying to keep the family rice farm going, “Why do you work so hard when you know Mother and Father are going to lose this farm?” he always asked Zhou. And he worried about Shang, who was always drinking too much.

Then during one particularly terrible monsoon season, after it had rained for what seemed like weeks straight, a huge mudslide came crashing down on one section of the wall, burying hundreds of laborers alive under the mud. Zhou was right in the middle of it. He would surely have been killed, if Shang had not kept his brother’s head above the mud and saved him from drowning, The heavy rocks, however, crushed his legs and he had to be sent back home, never to be able to work at the wall or his rice fields ever again.

Shang was furious that day and nearly attacked the guard who was keeping watch on the workers. “Why hasn’t the Emperor done anything to make it safer for us?” he screamed. “Doesn’t he see what is happening here?” Luckily, Meng was right there to hold his brother back from swinging his shovel at the guard. But he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Zhou had been killed.

Meng took over for Zhou at the rice farm after that. He didn’t want to see him get more depressed as he sat helplessly in his chair while his parents gradually lost their farm. After a year of working the fields though, Meng started to understand why Zhou loved farming so much. He came to appreciate the feel of the cool water of the paddies and why Zhou lovingly picked each stalk of rice during harvest time. Each grain of rice became precious to Meng as he gratefully ate his one bowl of rice a day. Meng never wasted his rice. Even old rice was put to good use, to make rice milk, rice bread, rice wine, and RICE GLUE. Meng had discovered that the sticky rice made a wonderful paste that he could use to mend all kinds of things around the house. And that was when he got his amazing inspiration.

Meng made a huge batch of sticky rice glue and brought it to his brother Shang at the wall. Together they started packing the rice in between the stones as they built their section of the wall, to see if it held together better when the next big rains came. Luckily, they had several days of dry weather ahead for the rice to completely bond the rocks, and when the summer storm came, the wall was ready. It worked perfectly. Other sections of the wall started to crumble from the rain, but their section stayed firm. Excited, Meng and Shang brought their discovery to the guard, who had become Meng’s friend after the day he had stopped Shang from doing something reckless. He agreed to tell the Emperor about the rice glue that held the wall together.

Thanks to the Huang brothers, and a lot of sticky rice, building the Great Wall of China became safer for everyone, and this also pleased the Emperor. He rewarded the Huangs by giving them a lifetime contract to produce as much rice as their little farm could handle, so they would never have to worry about losing their farm again.

The End 😊

Images: Great Wall illustration William Alexander rice field by muffinn rice plant by U. Leone

Creative Commons license

Kitchen Tool Quiz

What is this? I’ll give you a hint: they’re used in pairs, usually; and they’re used to cook these, affectionately known as “Japanese pancakes.” A friend of mine used to give me a tutorial on how to handle these, and he was able to flip his massive creations in one quick, skillful motion. After mixing the batter and all the ingredients, we would pour it on the teppan, or steel griddle, then wait patiently for it to cook. Armed with one of these tools in each hand, he would slide it under the pancake on each side and deftly flip the whole thing on the first try, to cook the other side. Did you guess we were cooking Okonomiyaki? If you want to try cooking your own, you can see the Zojirushi recipe. Then go to your Asian supermarket to find the right tools for the fun of flipping them over! (This is called a “kote” in the Kansai (western) area of Japan, where okonomiyaki was born)

How about this? A piece of string? Sticks? Why are they tied together? You’ve seen these before and probably used them at home or in a restaurant, but yours were probably much shorter. In Japan, these are used for cooking when you don’t want to get too close to the hot stove or hot oil, like when deep frying. It takes a bit of skill to handle these, so if you’re not that confident, I would recommend tongs instead—no embarrassment in that. So why are they tied together? Just to keep from losing one, I think. But it’s also handy for hanging them from a hook. If you want to learn more about chopsticks, you can read more about how they’re made.

This one is easy—just paper, right? But how is it used in cooking? Since the Japanese do a lot of deep fry cooking, this paper is used to blot the excess oil that comes off of just-fried tempura or ebi fry (fried prawn). Americans deep fry a lot too, but we seem less concerned with making our fried chicken look good on the table—we’d probably just lay it on paper towels. It serves the same purpose, but these papers make tempura look so much better. Learn how Zojirushi does it.

This device can be found in American kitchens as well, but this happens to be a very small personal one that can be placed right along side your sushi, grilled fish or maybe tofu. Think about it—what condiment is normally served with sushi? The answer is wasabi—and if you’re a fan, you haven’t had great wasabi until you’ve had the fresh version that doesn’t come in a tube. How about grilled fish? Many people love fish (myself included), but the oiliness can sometimes get to be too much, so you’ll often see it served with a small mound of white daikon radish, which not only enhances the flavor of the fish but also aids in digestion. And tofu? Small blocks of tofu served chilled (hiyayakko) or hot (yudofu) are sometimes dressed with a bit of ginger paste to give it additional spice. What do all these condiments have in common? If you figured out that they all need to be grated, you win the prize. If you want to make yudofu at home, here’s a simple recipe from Zojirushi.

Obviously this is what you probably think it is. But why is it so flat and shallow? In Japanese cooking, many recipes call for hot pots or nabe dishes. As the ingredients cook, scum or foam rises to the surface of the water from the protein produced by the soup stock. Skimming this off keeps the stock nice and clear, and not cloudy. This handy gadget is more indispensable than you think, when you’re making a traditional Mizutaki hot pot.

What th-? It’s so groovy, man. Did you know that Japan is a huge consumer of the sesame seed, importing almost 160,000 tons every year from Latin America? There are 3 different kinds of sesame used in various ways in Japanese cuisine. White Sesame is the most common and the most popular because it has the lightest taste and can be used in salad dressings or to garnish salads. Black Sesame is more distinctive, with a nutty taste, so it’s often used for marinades or crushed to a paste to enhance salads and desserts. Golden Sesame is found in what we might call “rice sprinkles”, or furikake, a very popular seasoning for white rice and onigiri (rice balls). You can buy crushed sesame seeds in packages, but it’s always more fragrant and tastes better if you use this simple tool and do it yourself.

For more crazy and exotic kitchen gadgets found only in Japanese cooking, check this out.

 

 

 

photo credits: Bert Tanimoto

@ironchefmom

This month I’m going to introduce y’all to my favorite Instagrammer. @ironchefmom cooks and plates the meals herself, takes her own shots and posts them just for fun. Her teenage kids made her open the IG account and stuck her with the name, back when the Japanese Iron Chef cooking show was so popular. I can honestly say all the food she’s posted, tastes as delicious as they look—mainly because @ironchefmom is my wife and I get to eat like this at home!

Our family eats all kinds of food at home; and our weekend activity is usually finding new places to eat around Los Angeles, so our menu is pretty varied. Of course, my favorite is Japanese, so there’s always a lot of rice involved. She is Korean-American, so there’s a lot of kimchee involved too. And our kids are pretty Americanized, like my daughter who’s very partial to pasta (like the tarako spaghetti above ).

Yes, we own a Zojirushi Rice Cooker (NP-HCC10); not their top of the line, but a very advanced one with a lot of menu settings. Since we often eat plain white rice with our dishes, it’s important to buy quality grain and have it cooked perfectly. Good quality rice does have a flavor—contrary to what most people might think. And what most people may not realize is how rice is so verstile, it complements almost any kind of food, beyond just Japanese. I’ll eat it with anything—steak, eggs for breakfast, chili, marinara meat sauce, Swedish meat balls, hot dogs. It really does substitute for pasta or bread, more than the other way around.

We had Mexican Chicken Chile Verde once, which we ate with white rice. @ironchefmom prepared it in our new pressure cooker—man, was that meat tender!

This Creole Gumbo was done in our slow cooker…as soon as I can get my hands on the new Zojirushi Multi-Cooker, I’ll ask her to make it again! So good with white rice…

Some nights we eat out of cans. I love this dish—Miso Marinated Sardines on steaming hot rice. Simple and nutritious even from canned foods.

This is Korean style oxtail stew called Kalbi Jjim. Sometimes it’s so spicy it makes my eyes water, but it’s a hearty dish that I can eat with the rice even after all the meat is gone, and all that’s left are vegetables.

Speaking of vegetables, last year we decided to go on a vegetarian diet to see if we could get healthier. I think we did pretty good. It lasted for 40 days without cheating! Not bad, huh? Even when we went out to restaurants we stuck with it, but boy was it hard (and a little boring IMO). It was actually tastier at home, where we had meals like Vegan Cantonese Lettuce Wraps with Japanese Kabocha Soup:

And Vegetable Curry…

And Vegetable Sukiyaki…

If you ever try to do this, my advice is to just get started and stay focused. You can do it too!

So have I made you hungry yet? @ironchefmom loves to cook and posts strictly for fun, and we obviously get the benefits; but of course there’s a downside. I don’t always get to eat the beautiful dishes you see here because I get home late. My daughter is the lucky one, and I usually have to assemble a look-a-like version. I’m not complaining though—it still tastes the same! And when we’re out at restaurants, we’ve grown accustomed to waiting until she gets all her IG shots done before we can dig in. She’s gotten faster at taking the pictures, and we’ve gotten more patient, LOL.

Today is @ironchefmom’s birthday. Happy Birthday! Help us celebrate by giving her page a LIKE, okay? And if you leave a comment, she’ll more than likely respond. I’m going to leave you guys with a couple more of my favorites. When it was my birthday, I got a week’s worth of personal requests! Best present ever, I gotta tell ya!

Hamburg Steak with Demi-glace sauce:

Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly):

photo credits: all by @ironchefmom