It took a village to bring these udon noodles into existence. The inspiration came from Marc Matsumoto at No Recipes who recently wrote about homemade udon. His description of how it was done made me feel like I should be able to tackle this without dying in the process. The detailed instructions came from Harumi Kurihara who taught me through her book how to knead the dough with my feet. And lastly, the list of ingredients came from the package of my favorite brand of frozen udon. [Since I can't find the fresh kind in my area, don't like the dry type as much, and can't stand the unpleasant texture of the instant or almost-instant type that comes in plastic packages, frozen udon is the only choice.]
Basing the experiments on my favorite frozen udon was a risky business. This is because it contains tapioca starch which is missing from the majority, if not all, of the homemade udon recipes which I have found. Homemade udon noodle recipes by respectable sources call for either all-purpose flour, bread flour, or a combination of both. Most commercial udon noodles, except for the 3-4 that I’ve seen, also list wheat flour as the sole source of starch.
However, the risk is mitigated by the fact that I am replicating something I know I like . And if the people who make my favorite udon add tapioca starch into their bouncy and chewy noodles, I thought perhaps I should too. To quote the Barefoot Contessa, how bad can that be?
Not being Japanese or having grown up on authentic and/or homemade Japanese cuisine, I am not of the authority to say how or whether adding tapioca starch to udon noodles affects authenticity. It could be that most brands, sold at the same Japanese market, adhere to the true principle of udon making by using only wheat flour, whereas this brand, for whatever reasons, committed an irresponsible act of contaminating the once-pure udon gene pool with tapioca starch. And, Leela, not being an udon connoisseur, can’t tell the difference between good udon and not so good udon, so she has unwittingly chosen an inferior brand as her favorite. It’s possible. It is also possible that there are several types of udon some of which contain only wheat flour and some contain both wheat and tapioca flour. One is not superior to the other; they’re just different. If anyone knows anything about all this, please enlighten me. I’d like to learn more.
All I know is that I like these homemade udon noodles – whether or not I should. I have also experimented with a version that contained only bread flour and one that contained 70% bread flour and 30% all-purpose flour, and have found that the ratio of roughly 90% bread flour and 10% tapioca starch creates udon noodles that are not too tough and chewy and yet not too mushy and gummy — slurpably great, in other words.
Makes exactly 1.5 lbs of fresh noodles
Recipe tested with King Arthur bread flour
- Mix together 5 1/2 cups of bread flour and 1/2 cup of tapioca starch in a mixing bowl.
- Dissolve 3 teaspoons of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons of regular salt) in 1 1/4 cups of warm water (110-115 degrees F) and pour about half of the water into the flour bowl.
- Mix with your hands, making sure the flour is thoroughly moistened but not too wet. The mixture should form a shaggy ball of dough – not so dry that it falls apart and not so wet that the surface is sticky. If the dough is so dry you can’t form a ball, add the remaining water to the dough, one teaspoon at a time. Add less water than you think you need; you want to err on adding too little than too much. The remaining water should be more than sufficient; in fact, you should not need all of it.
- Put the dough ball in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Let all the air out and seal the bag. Place the dough bag on the floor and knead it with your feet (with or without socks is your call, but definitely no shoes)about one minute. [The dough is too stiff to knead properly by hand or even with a heavy-duty mixer, so, per Kurihara's instructions, it is best to knead it with your feet. This allows your body weight to do the work which could be too great for your upper body alone.] After one minute, take the flattened dough out of the bag, fold it like a letter, and put it back into the bag; knead for another minute. Repeat this process two more times.
- Once the dough has been kneaded, place the dough bag in a warm place and let it rest for at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours. This allows the gluten to relax, making the dough easier to roll.
- Once the dough has rested, cut it into 4 equal pieces and work on one piece at a time while keeping the remaining dough covered.
- Roll each piece of dough on a floured surface into a large rectangle with 1/8 of an inch in thickness. Dust the surface of the rectangle with more flour and fold it over itself like a letter to form a smaller rectangle. On a floured cutting board, with a very sharp knife (I use a heavy Chinese cleaver), cut the folded dough into 1/8-inch strips. Keep the strips detangled by dusting them with more flour; cover them with a towel while working on the remaining pieces of dough.
- The fresh noodles should be cooked right away to ensure the best texture. (I have never experimented with refrigerating or freezing the uncooked noodles, so I can’t say if that can be done.) You want to use a very, very big pot and a large amount of water. Fresh noodles are starchy and with all the flour you use to dust them with in the process of rolling and cutting, they can easily turn mushy and gummy if cooked in too little water (which creates a situation in which you’re — visualize this with me — cooking pasta in hot gravy instead of water). (If you don’t have one huge pot, use the biggest pot you have and cook the noodles in batches, using fresh water for each batch.) The general rule is: use more water than you think prudent and just when you think you’re using too much water, add more. It doesn’t matter how well-prepared your udon dough is, if you use too little water, your noodles will be gummy and doughy.
- Add the noodles to the pot only after the water comes to a rapid boil. Lower the heat just a tad to let the noodles boil gently. After about 3 minutes, the noodles will float to the top; let it boil for another 2-3 minutes and take them off the heat. Immediately drain off the cooking water and rinse with cold water. The noodles are now ready to be used in your recipe.