This short rib beef udon uses a variation on a classic Japanese dashi-based broth to slow braise the beef, giving an incredibly flavorful base for this beef noodle dish. Comforting and delicious.
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As we've been exploring the menu of some local restaurants, we were drawn to a short rib udon noodle dish at a nearby Japanese cafe. It was a delicious meal, and I was determined to try to make a version of home.
This is typical 'brown food' where it doesn't look that exciting. Dull might even be generous. But that boring color hides lots of flavor, with tender beef, slightly chewy noodles and one wonderfully flavorful broth.
What are udon noodles?
Udon noodles are from Japan and are used in a broad variety of dishes. They are made simply from wheat flour, water and salt and have a slightly chewy texture. Typically, udon are relatively thick though the size and shape can vary from one region to another.
The exact origins of udon are a little unclear, with a few differing stories, but most involve the idea at least coming from China many centuries ago. Nowadays, though, udon, like soba made with buckwheat, are most definitely a key part of Japanese cuisine.
You'll find udon in dishes as broad-ranging as soups, salads and stir fry. Generally, they are served hot in winter and cold in summer. Soups are definitely one of the most popular, though, and I can understand why.
Udon soup variations
Most udon soups involve a dashi-based broth flavored with soy sauce and mirin (rice wine). The exact ingredients can vary, particularly that in Eastern Japan, they tend to use a dark soy, while in Western Japan, they use a light soy.
You then add your cooked noodles to the broth and top as you prefer. Often the toppings are quickly cooked, such as tempura or fried tofu. Some even just cook in the broth, like wakame seaweed or egg.
This dish is a little different from this 'classic' way of making a noodle soup as you cook the short ribs in the broth base. They need a long braise to get nice and tender, and the broth works perfectly. At the same time, the short ribs give a wonderful rich flavor to the broth.
While the ginger and garlic may not be typical in a lot of udon soups, I think they work really well here to add a little freshness. The beef adds a wonderful flavor, but risks being a little heavy which the ginger in particular counters.
Steps to make this dish
As I say, this dish is a little more involved and takes a bit longer than some other udon soups, but it is still relatively easy and mainly hands-off.
- First make the dashi base - you can use dashi powder, but choose a good one. It's also easy and quick from scratch - I made it just as I did for chawanmushi.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle salt and pepper all over the short ribs.
- Get some oil nice and hot then brown the short ribs all over. Don't skip this step as the searing helps add a layer of flavor.
- Add the soy sauce, mirin, ginger and garlic. Let them cook a minute to get a little sticky.
- Then, add the dashi and leave to simmer for two hours. This will let the short ribs become nice and tender.
- Ideally, you then want to let the broth cool slightly. Even a short while is better than nothing. This lets all the fat rise to the top as you want to skim the fat off to save it being part of your soup. It's OK if you don't get all of it, but get as much as you can.
- Remove the meat from the bones and shred it up. Add this back to the broth and remove the bones and any fat or other non-meat pieces.
- Cook the udon separately - this is partly as, like pasta, they can make the water quite starchy. Ideally, you want fresh udon but the packets of ready-to-use or frozen are also fine.
- Add the cooked udon to the broth and warm through, if needed, then serve.
Can you prepare this ahead of time?
While you are best to cook the noodles fresh (and they take mere minutes), you can cook the broth ahead of time. I'd suggest you remove the meat from the bones first, both as it will be easier while still warm and to have less to do later. Then, either chill in the fridge for a day or two or freeze.
The chilling/freezing actually makes it easier to remove the fat from the broth as it will harden. Just scrape it off before you re-heat the broth.
As I said, this is a dish that might not win any prizes for prettiness, but it certainly doesn't disappoint in flavor. This short rib beef udon is packed with flavor, comforting and just what a cold day needs.
Try these other comforting soups and stews:
- Bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew, with the beef braised in coconut water with lemongrass and other delicious flavors)
- Fesenjan (Persian chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranate - this dish is rich, but packed with delicious flavor)
- Beef bourguignon (the classic French stew, with red wine, mushrooms and bacon)
- Tortellini in brodo (a wonderful Italian dish of meat and cheese filled pasta in broth - making the pasta takes a little time but so worthwhile)
- Plus find more Japanese recipes and winter recipes in the archives.
Short rib beef udon
For rest of dish
- 2 lb beef short ribs 900g (or slightly more/less)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- ½ tbsp vegetable oil
- ¼ cup soy sauce 60ml
- ¼ cup mirin rice wine 60ml (or cooking sake)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger finely chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic finely chopped
- 14 oz udon noodles 400g, 2 portions fresh or 'ready to eat'
To make dashi stock
- Start by making the dashi by making cuts into the piece of kombu kelp and placing it in a small pot/pan with the water. Warm over a medium-low heat to slowly bring it to a simmer (it will take probably 10 minutes). Remove foam from top as it appears. Once it simmers, remove the kombu then add the bonito flakes. Bring back to a simmer, cook for 30 seconds then remove from the heat. Let the bonito flakes settle to the bottom then strain. (You can skip if using instant dashi/ready made but use good quality.)
To prepare beef and broth
- While the dashi is cooking, pat dry the short ribs as needed then sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in a pot/pan with a lid large enough to hold the ribs in one layer relatively snuggly.
- Brown the short ribs all over well so they get a good level of browning. Make sure you give them time to brown before turning and increase heat if needed to get a good sear.
- Once browned all over, add the soy, mirin, ginger and garlic to the pan with the ribs. Turn the meat to coat in the mixture. Add the strained dashi stock, cover and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid, lower the heat if needed to keep it at a low simmer and allow to cook for around 2 hours until meat is tender and will shred easily when pulled from the bones. Turn off the heat.
- You can either shred the meat from the bones in the pot, or more easily, take them from the pot and shred on a board/plate. Remove the bones and excess fat and sinew.
- Let the broth cool and settle as you are shredding the meat, or ideally a bit longer to allow the fat to rise to the surface. Skim off most of the fat from the top and discard. Return the shredded beef to the broth and warm through.
To finish beef udon
- Cook the udon noodles according to packet instructions - typically boil briefly in boiling water, drain and rinse. Add some noodles to the bottom of each bowl for serving then top with the broth, making sure you get a good balance of the beef and broth in each.
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