Udon Noodle Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

Close-Up Upon Noodle SoupForget macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, or meatloaf.   When I want comfort food, I look East for steaming bowls of soup.   Miso, sweet and sour, and wonton all warm my belly and delight my mouth, but it is noodle soups, like Vietnamese pho, that after slurping a bowl leave me content and satiated like nothing else.

Udon Noodle Soup with Spoon

The key to these soups is a broth that is unctuous, but not cloying; full of flavor, yet endlessly sippable. I’ve struggled for a while to create an udon noodle soup that achieved this balance.   I’m happy to report that this udon noodle soup, that uses both fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms for the most flavor, does just that.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

I’ve used dried mushrooms to make broths before, but I’ve often found the resulting stock one-sided and bland.  So I was curious when I read a recipe by David Chang (of Momofuku fame) that called for finely grinding the dried shiitake mushrooms in a food processor before adding them to a kombu-based  (more on this later) broth.  I tried out the technique and was seriously impressed by the added boost it gives the soup.

Dried Kombu

Kombu is the ingredient that may give you a little pause.   It’s dried sea kelp and it can be found in sheets at health food stores, specialty grocery stores, or any well-stocked Asian food market.   Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, it keeps indefinitely and is essential for Japanese stocks (“dashi”) and as a flavoring agent for sushi rice.   Before use, wipe off the kombu with a damp paper towel.  Add it to a pot with cold water and then slowly bring it to a bare simmer.  Bubbles should form on the kombu, but the water should not come to a boil as boiling the kombu can give your broth an off-flavor.  Despite being edible, after simmering the kombu for the indicated time in your recipe, most recipes call for you to remove the kombu and discard it.

Kombu after Soaking

You can make the mushroom broth 2 or 3 days in advance (and even freeze it, if you so desired).  Add the fresh shiitake mushrooms, spinach, mirin, soy sauce, and udon noodles right before serving.  After adding the ingredients, if the broth seems a bit bland simply add a splash or two of soy sauce to taste.   Happy cooking!

Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms

Chopped Spinach

Udon Noodle Soup with Mushrooms – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 2 as a main course

I picked-up the technique of finely grinding the dried shiitake mushrooms from a David Chang recipe.  It’s essential to this soup as it imparts much more flavor to the broth than just using dried whole mushrooms.

1 large sheet (about 1/2 ounce) dried kombu (kelp)
8 cups (2 quarts) water
1 ½ ounces dried shiitakes, ground finely in a food processor
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and sliced into thin sticks
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 lb fresh udon noodles
2 green onions, roots trimmed, white and green parts thinly sliced
Special equipment: cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer, food processor

Wipe the kombu off with a damp cloth.  Place the kombu in a large pot and cover with the water. Heat the water over medium heat until bubbles form on the kombu.  Reduce the heat and simmer the kombu for 30 minutes; don’t allow the water to boil.  Remove the kombu from the water using tongs and discard.

Add the ground shiitake and ginger to the broth.   Bring to a boil then remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes.   Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Discard the solids and rinse the pot.   Return the strained broth to the pot and heat over medium heat.

Stir in the soy sauce, mirin, sliced shiitake mushrooms, and fresh spinach and bring to a gentle simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender.   Taste the broth and adjust seasonings if needed.  Add the udon noodles and return the broth to a simmer.   Serve the soup in a large bowl garnished with the green onions.

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