Some of the most enjoyable, satisfying and memorable meals I have had in Japan involve soba (buckwheat). I can still smell the broth of a hot bowl of kake soba I had the winter after the Olympics in Nagano.
In Iwate Prefecture, the Wanko soba, served in mouthful portions to be eaten one at a time, has always been a challenge well worth meeting. My personal record is 17 bowls in a sitting. You can taste a wide range of soba and soba products, but the most satisfying are the noodles you have made and eaten with friends, right at home.
Handmade soba noodles (Te-uchi soba)
The very best soba noodles are made with just buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour and pure water. In this recipe, buckwheat flour is used in a 4:1 proportion with wheat flour and then 38-40 percent water is mixed in. Using this ratio, you can adjust this recipe to the number of portions desired. There are 180 cc in a cup and 15 cc in a teaspoon. Soba noodles do not freeze as well as other noodles. Fresh noodles may be kept refrigerated for up to one week or hung to dry, but the best way to eat soba is to boil it soon after it’s cut.
400 grams buckwheat flour (soba-ko)
100 grams all-purpose flour (komugi-ko)
1 cup filtered water + 1 teaspoon flour for dusting
1) Place flour in a large shallow bowl and combine well with tips of your fingers. Add 1 cup water and incorporate completely with the tips of your fingers, using both hands to work the mixture.
2) When well-incorporated, moisten hands with remaining teaspoon of water and work into a ball.
3) Knead the dough ball from the outside in a circular motion. This process, used by potters to work clay, is called kikuneri (chrysanthemum kneading) because the resulting ball of dough has a flower pattern on top. Kikuneri eliminates the air in the dough so it will roll out well.
4) When the ball is well-incorporated, place the flower pattern upside-down on a well-floured surface and shape into a pill, finally removing all the air. Then flatten the outside edge of the pill-shaped dough with the palm of your hand, leaving the middle to be flattened by the rolling pin.
5) Roll out the dough, turning it 30 degrees every few strokes to maintain an even rolling surface. While rolling, you want to turn the dough over once. To do this without breaking the dough, roll it onto a well-floured rolling pin and then roll it off in the reverse direction. Roll the dough so finally you have it in a large square shape to make it easier to cut the noodles evenly.
6) When the noodles are evenly rolled about as thick as a piece of cardboard, cut the dough in half evenly. After flouring well, fold each half onto itself three times so that there are eight layers.
7) With a sharp knife and a well-floured board to guide you, cut the noodles as wide as they are thick.
8) In a large pot, boil at least 1 liter of unsalted water per 100 grams of noodles. Drop noodles into the water when it reaches a roiling boil. Boil for just 45 seconds to one minute. When serving with a hot broth, strain in a colander — don’t rinse. Place cooked noodles in individual serving bowls and ladle hot broth over them. For cold soba, strain noodles and rinse well in cool water. Immediately immerse in ice water and agitate the noodles, washing them in the cold water. Strain the water thoroughly and serve with a cold dipping sauce.
9) 100 grams — 150 grams of finished noodles per person is a good guide. Serves 4-6.
In Osaka, cold soba noodles are served with a dipping sauce that is 4.5 parts dashi, 1.5 parts mirin and 1 part dark soy sauce (koikuchi shoyu), and then fortified with an addition of shaved mackerel (saba bushi). The dish is generally garnished with freshly grated wasabi, grated daikon, and thinly sliced and well-rinsed scallions. In Tokyo and eastern Japan, only the white of the scallion is used with the green portion discarded. In Kansai, we use the whole green onion, top to toe.
400-600 grams fresh soba noodles
2 cups zaru soba tsuke jiru (dipping sauce)
4 tablespoons nori seaweed, toasted and cut into fine strips
1 bunch scallions, chopped finely and rinsed1 tablespoon fresh wasabi, grated
1 tablespoon daikon, grated
1) Prepare and cook noodles as above.
2) Drain, rinse and chill in ice water.
3) Serve on a bamboo basket (zaru). Place 1/2 cup dipping sauce per person in individual serving dishes, and place garnishes on small serving dishes so each person may add to the sauce the garnishes of their choice. Serves 4.
Zaru Soba tsuke jiru
A fortified koikuchi 4.5:1.5:1. May be made several days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
4 & 1/2 cups dashi
1 & 1/2 cups mirin
1 cup koikuchi shoyu
50 grams saba bushi
1) Combine liquid in a saucepan and bring just to a boil, turn off heat and add saba bushi. Let cool without chilling, then strain out saba bushi.
2) Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Yields 630 cc.