Wednesday, March 12, 2008

CSA week 15 - yakisoba, sort of

I was due another clear out the refrigerator dish and I was craving noodles so I decided to go with yakisoba or some facsimile. There were a range of noodle dishes up and down the east Asian coast I could have done and since I wasn't paying close attention to the mix of vegetables the major differences were in the type of noodle and the sauce.

An interesting thing about yakisoba, I learned as I was researching the dish, is that apparently it is very difficult to do well outside of Japan. All but the least ambitious recipes I saw were preceded by a lament over the fact. Maybe it's just people complaining that they can't reproduce what their favorite childhood corner dive made, but I'm willing to take them at their word that I've never actually had a decent example. Given what I've had at Japanese restaurants I actually wouldn't be at all surprised.

The first problem is finding the flat egg noodle required. As I wasn't planning a trip out to the Asian grocery I didn't even try. I used the instant yakisoba noodles I had in the freezer. Upon inspection they replaced the egg with yellow die #5; that was a bit of a disappointment.

The second problem was the sauce. It's amazing how many recipes there are on the web that do a basic Chinese noodle sauce and think that's good enough. The better recipes called for Japanese ingredients that I at best don't have handy and often didn't even recognize. The key seemed to be trying to approximate the meaty and fruity flavor of the traditional ingredients. I grokked the variety of recipes and came up with this:
1/2 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon mirin
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil

A lot of the sauces were sweeter, but that didn't make a lot of sense to me. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be a balanced sauce. It plays as an earthy base for the slivers of pickled ginger and nori that I belatedly discovered I was out of.

Beyond the sauce, some recipes called for steaming the vegetables, but I just did a stir fry as it was easier. I started with the mei qing choy stems, broccoli and the leftover roasted chicken. After a couple minutes I added the mei qing choy leaves, mizuna tops, garlic chives, scallions and ham. After those were nicely wilted I added the noodles, omelet slices and the sauce. Let that cook until the sauce was reduced a little and served.

I'm pretty happy with how the vegetables were cooked; the broccoli stems were still al dente while the mei quing choy were more tender. The rest wilted away but still had a bit of chew to them and some individual character. And please note the quite good noodle/vegetable ratio. That's not something I usually get right. The sauce wasn't bad although it clearly was missing sharper flavors to play against. Some bean sprouts would have helped making the dish yakisobier too. I'll make a note for next time.

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