This dish is noodle-perfection! With the perfect blend of meats and vegetables, it’s an all-in-one meal in a bowl! Not only is it fun to make, it’s fun to eat! Grab a pair of chopsticks and dig in!
Comfort food in our house usually involves noodles, in some form. When I discovered udon noodles at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, it was love at first bite! Thick, chewy, and hearty – just look them, what’s not to love!!
What are udon noodles? They are a thick and chewy wheat-flour noodle used frequently in Japanese cuisine, and are a perfect accompaniment to soup or stir-fries like this one.
What is yaki udon? Yaki udon is Japanese stir-fried udon noodles mixed with meat and vegetables.
There are so many things to love about this recipe! Not only is it beautiful to serve – just look at those bright, bold colors – it’s fun to make and fun to eat! Even better, it is completely customizable: you can omit any ingredients you don’t like, add ones you do like, or add more or less of anything. The one thing that I wouldn’t recommend changing is the soup base. It gives this recipe such incredible flavor that it just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Some of the ingredients might be unusual and tricky to find, but this recipe is worth the extra effort! I would start in the Asian food aisle of your local grocery store, or even better, your local Asian market.
Soup base (mentsuyu): This soup base comes together quickly and is so full of flavor. It really makes this dish what it is. The ingredients are unusual but necessary. You won’t regret using this soup base for your udon noodles!
- Sake: Basically it’s a Japanese rice wine, common in cooking. You can find this in the alcohol aisle of your grocery store.
- Mirin: It’s similar to sake, but has more sugar and a lower alcohol content.
- Soy sauce: I think we are all familiar with this one…made from the fermented paste of soybeans.
- Kombu (dried kelp): Edible kelp that is widely eaten in East Asia. Kelp is actually quite good for you, if you are new to eating it, I recommend giving it a try. Not only is high in healthy iodine, it also contains iron, calcium, vitamins A and C.
- Dried Bonito Flakes (Katsuobushi): This is another unusual ingredient, but one that we have really enjoyed using in multiple dishes because of it’s strong, distinct flavor. What is it? Katsuobushi is dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. I usually use bonito flakes which is young bonito fish and is an inexpensive substitute for skipjack tuna.
Udon noodles: Typically, there are three ways to buy udon noodles: dried (like typical pasta), frozen, and fresh. And yes, some options are much better than others – way better in fact! I would never recommend buying dried udon noodles. When cooked, they do not have the texture that udon is known and loved for. I actually would avoid buying udon all together if dried was my only option. Frozen is a step up from dried and most brands are pretty good. But fresh udon is the absolute best way to buy udon. And I don’t normally promote brands on my blog, but Sun Noodles, are by far the best I’ve found. Since they are fresh, they are sold in the refrigerated section. They will expire quicker than dried or frozen, usually within a couple weeks of buying, so take note of the date. Follow the cooking directions on the package of whichever you buy. Fresh udon is only boiled for a couple of minutes, drained and then rinsed in cool water, to stop the cooking. Rinsing also removes some of the starch and prevents the noodles from sticking together. You’ll want your noodles to have a chewy texture, not mushy, so take care not to overcook them.
Meat: You have quite a few options for the meat…you could even make this vegetarian. I have made it with chicken, pork, and char siu. You could even do beef, cut into thin strips. Once I tried char siu pork, though, I was hooked and it’s how I always make it now. What is char siu? It’s a Chinese version of barbecue pork, with a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, fermented tofu (red), dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sherry or rice wine. I buy mine already made in the meat section, but you can certainly make it yourself.
Kamaboko (or steamed fish cake): Many of you may be wondering what this is. If you frequent ramen restaurant you most likely have seen it and eaten it. Basically it’s a cured, processed seafood product of Japan. It is made of puréed white fish, formed into different shapes including semi-cylinder loafs, and steamed until it becomes firm. High-quality kamaboko will contain as much protein as eggs, as well as many healthy nutrients. It will also be low in fat and calories. However, it may be high in sodium, so when you are purchasing kamaboko, you will want to check the ingredients to ensure you are making a health-conscious choice. Color is often added to give it that bold, bright pink color. It certainly does look pretty in this dish, but if you prefer to not have the color additive, you can buy kamaboko without the pink color added.
Vegetables: This is where you can get really creative. You could add a variety of vegetables that I don’t have listed. I have seen people use mushrooms, bok choy, baby corn, asparagus, peppers, or snow peas. You are really only limited by your creativity!
- Cabbage: I prefer napa cabbage, also called Chinese cabbage, for this dish. Cabbage will cook down to almost nothing, seriously! The first time I made this, I used 5 big leaves, and by the time I finished cooking the yaki udon, I could hardly find the cabbage. My husband actually said, “you know what would go good with this? Cabbage.” So the next time, I added more – a whole head, to be exact! Trust me, it cooks down! To prepare the cabbage, I remove the outermost leaves and discard. I then separate the remaining leaves and cut out the thick rib in the center of each leaf, just using the tender outer edges of the leaves. You can either cut or just tear the leaves by hand, but don’t make the pieces too small, or they will be nonexistent when cooked.
- Carrots: I like to julienne the carrots (cut into long thin strips), but you could also just slice them thin.
- Onion: I use a sweet onion, roughly chopped. You could also use yellow onion.
Most of the work to make this dish is in the prep; making the soup base and cutting up the meat and the vegetables. But once the prep is done, it comes together quite quickly. Don’t let the length of this post or the ingredients intimidate you. This is a dish worth making! I hope this will become a favorite in your home, like it is in mine! If you make this, comment and let me know! How did you customize your yaki udon?
If you enjoyed this recipe, check out my Curry Udon Soup.
Noodle Soup Base, (Mentsuyu) :
- ½ cup sake
- 1¼ cup mirin
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 2×2 inch piece kombu (dried kelp),
- 1 cup dried bonito flakes
- 28 ounces udon noodles, fresh or frozen, (preferably 2 packages of fresh Sun Udon Noodles).
- 2-3 tablespoons neutral flavored oil
- 1 pound meat, (8 ounces to 16 ounces), char siu, pork, chicken, or beef, chopped.
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1 roll (6 oz.) kamaboko, (steamed fish cake), sliced
- 1 head of Napa cabbage, cut out center vein and use the soft leaves
- green onions, sliced
Noodle Soup Base Instructions:
- Gather all the ingredients. In a medium sauce pan, add the sake and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Let the alcohol evaporate for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Add the mirin, soy sauce, kombu, and bonito flakes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until it has cooled down.
- Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and set aside until ready to use.
- Gather all ingredients.
- Roughly chop the onion.
- Julienne the carrot (cut into long thin strips).
- Remove and discard the first outer layer of cabbage leaves. Separate the remaining leaves. For each individual leaf, cut out the thick, hard vein from the center of the leaves, only using the tender outside of the leaves. Tear or cut into large pieces. Use most or all of the cabbage. It will seem like a lot, but it cooks down.
- Chop your meat into bite-size pieces, set aside. Slice the kamaboko (steamed fish cake), set aside.
- For udon: Discard any sauce that came with the noodles (you'll use the soup base you made). Follow boiling instructions on package. After noodles are boiled, drain and rinse in cold water. Rinsing in cold water stops the cooking process and also removes some of the starch so the noodles do not stick together. Set aside until ready to use.
- Meanwhile, in a wok or deep frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add your choice of meat and cook until almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook until translucent and soft. Add the carrots, kamaboko, and cabbage. With tongs, gently toss the ingredients as the cabbage begins to wilt.
- Add most or all of the soup base (depending on how soupy you want you dish) to the wok or frying pan. Continue to toss with tongs, to evenly coat the vegetables and allow the soup to heat up. Add the cooked udon noodles, and toss gently to allow the noodles to absorb some of the soup, about 5 minutes.
- Serve and garnish with green onions.