Julia Busuttil Nishimura's Mushroom Udon Will Transform The Way You See Noodles

A deeply savoury dashi (stock), mushrooms and tofu make this slurpable dish rich but nourishing

Photo / Supplied

Udon noodles are something that I always keep in the freezer. They are so great for emergency lunches — served cold with a dipping sauce or with some butter, soy sauce, black pepper and blanched greens.

Other times I like to make a heartier meal with them, something that feels rich but also nourishing. The key is to create a deeply savoury dashi (stock) by toasting dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu and soybeans, something that my husband Nori taught me how to do.

Once the dashi is made, it’s as easy as preparing the kaeshi (base flavouring) and pan-frying the mushrooms and tofu. If you don’t want to make your own broth, you can buy good-quality mushroom dashi from a Japanese grocer. Adding ginger at the end makes everything hum with warmth, too.

This is something I love to make, even if it’s just me at home. If you can’t get your hands on frozen udon, the next best option is good-quality dried udon.

Serves 4

400g udon noodles

Shiitake Dashi
7 dried shiitake mushrooms
10cm × 8cm piece of kombu
20 dried soybeans

3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp saké
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp sea salt

Garlic-butter Tofu and Mushrooms
2 king brown mushrooms, halved lengthways
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for drizzling
300g firm tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
400g mixed mushrooms, such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Sea salt

To Serve
Finely grated ginger
Sliced spring onion
Toasted sesame oil

1. To make the shiitake dashi, first toast the dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu. This is best done over an open gas flame, sitting on a small wire rack, but if this isn’t possible you can also toast the shiitake and kombu in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Toast the shiitake and kombu for 1-2 minutes each side, until slightly smoky. Toast the soybeans in a dry frying pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until just beginning to colour. Place the shiitake, kombu and soybeans in a large bowl and cover with 1 litre of cold water. Allow to soak in the cold water for at least 4 hours but ideally overnight, especially if the shiitake are larger. This will ensure that the dashi has a deeper flavour.

2. Transfer the shiitake dashi, including the shiitake, kombu and soybeans, to a large saucepan over medium heat, then just before it comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low to prevent the dashi from coming to the boil. It is very important that the dashi does not come to the boil as it will become very bitter and slimy from the kombu.

3. Cook very gently, at barely even a simmer, for 15 minutes, then strain into a smaller saucepan and keep warm.

4. To make the kaeshi, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

5. To make the garlic-butter tofu and mushrooms, place the king brown mushrooms on a wire rack. Set over a medium gas flame and toast for 1-2 minutes each side until coloured. You may need to do this in batches, depending on how big your rack is. If you don’t have access to an open flame, drizzle the mushrooms with a little vegetable oil and cook in a chargrill pan over medium heat until coloured on both sides.

6. Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and fry for around 3 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Add the shiitake and oyster mushrooms to the pan along with the butter. When the butter starts to foam, add the garlic and cook for around 2 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and beginning to colour. Sprinkle in the sesame seeds and season with a little salt.

7. Meanwhile, cook the udon noodles according to the packet instructions.

8. Divide the kaeshi and udon among four bowls and ladle the shiitake dashi over the top. Top with the mushroom and tofu mixture, making sure everyone gets half a king brown mushroom each. Finish with a little finely grated ginger, sliced spring onion and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Recipe from Around the Table by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Macmillan Publishers, $50.

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