Yaki udon

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One of the easiest and most accessible ways to cook Japanese food at home, this udon noodle stir-fry combines slices of pork belly with onions and peppers. What makes it really special however is the chopped pickled greens, which are bursting with flavour and an incredible thing to have in your fridge for all sorts of dishes. The quality of the noodles is also of paramount importance – take a look at how to make them from scratch here.

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First published in 2020




Pickled greens

Yaki udon

To season


My version of Yaki-udon always involves using pickled greens. This pickle will keep well in your fridge and can be used in various ways, such as an additional seasoning as well as a matured umami flavor to a dish, so it’s a good idea to always have a jar at home. For example, if you’re making onigiri rice balls, instead of seasoning your rice and using nori sheets to wrap them, you can simply use the leaves on these pickles and it will act both as flavorsome seasoning and a wrap. Another easy way to use these is to simply chop them finely and add into your stir-fried rice, dumpling mix or sauce for steamed fish
Other than the pickled greens, my general rule with Yaki-udon is that there is almost no rule, and it is best to put in whatever is in season. For this recipe, I have chosen three types of peppers that are in full season at the moment – shishitou peppers (small Japanese peppers a bit like padron peppers that turn sweet when cooked, unless you hit the jackpot and get a spicy one), Manganji peppers (bigger hand-size peppers that have glossy skin and thick sweet flesh) and Fushimi peppers (slender long pods with sweet and crispy flavor). These are joined by spring onion and pork belly
I thought this would be a great recipe for the Great British Chefs Signature Series as it's one of the easiest ways to get into cooking Japanese food and udon. It’s also a very versatile dish, doesn't involve making dashi (which seems to still scare many people!) and is a great way to eat seasonal vegetables
Start by pickling the greens, which you should do a week in advance. Pickling greens is a great way to not waste any part of your vegetables, and works with most vegetable tops and greens such as turnip tops and Swiss chard
To make the pickle, simply wash the greens, pat them dry and weigh them. Work out 4% of the weight, then add that amount of salt to the greens. Massage and punch the stems for around 5 minuets to break them down and get the water going – this will fast-forward the process, although I would recommend leaving this for a week to mature in your fridge or a cool place
  • 1 handful of Swiss chard, turnip tops or whatever leafy greens are in season
  • salt
Layer the greens and any liquid tightly in a container, adding a few pieces of dried kombu and the dried chillies, then put a weight on top to make sure all the greens are submerged in liquid. If you’re not making a big batch, you can pickle in a plastic bag which would work well too. Place it in the fridge
After a few days reverse the top with bottom so the greens get pickled evenly. After a week they should be ready
When you are ready to cook the yaki udon, give your pickled greens a quick squeeze to remove excess liquid, then finely chop and set aside. How many pickled greens you put in your yaki udon is down to personal taste, but start with a small handful for 2 servings and go from there
Slice the pork belly and place in a bowl, then add the sake and a pinch of salt. Set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the vegetables
Chop the onion, spring onions and the peppers (or whatever seasonal vegetables you’re using). Don’t cut them too finely, so they retain their crunch. Place the spring onions in iced water to crisp them up. Peel the ginger and cut into thin needles
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1 handful of peppers, Shuko uses a mix of Shishitou, Fushimi and Manganji, but you can use whatever vegetables are in season
  • 1 knob of ginger, large
Add the vegetable oil to a large frying pan over a medium heat. Pat the pork dry then add to the pan, then cook for around 5 minutes each side until golden. Remove from the pan and set aside
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
In the same pan, add the onion and pickled greens, then stir-fry for a few minutes until they turn almost translucent and soften slightly. Add the peppers, cook for a further few minutes, then return the pork belly to the pan
Add the noodles, along with the soy, sake, mirin and sesame oil. Give everything a stir, then cover the pan and leave to cook for a minute or 2 to allow the noodles to soak up the seasoning
Drain the spring onions and add to the pan along with the needles of ginger. Give everything a quick toss and cook for around 30 seconds
To serve, divide the yaki udon between 2 bowls. Sprinkle with bonito flakes and the pickled ginger

Shuko Oda spent much of her life living between Japan and the UK, making her the perfect person to combine traditional Japanese cooking and seasonal British ingredients at Koya – one of Soho’s most cherished restaurants.

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