Lessons for a novice, from a soba chef
Cool, slippery soba noodles dipped in a delicate sauce - the perfect summer food for a hot and steamy Shanghai day. Now I know buckwheat soba noodles are Japanese, not Chinese, but I'm living in a pretty international city here, with friends from every part of the world. Yesterday my youngest daughter was invited to a soba-making birthday party for a seven year old Japanese boy. I can't imagine any seven year old Australian boys volunteering to learn the art of soba for a birthday party, but I'm all for it.
Making my own noodles is something I would never have attempted two years ago, but now I think, why not? How hard can it be? Apparently very difficult if you want to be a Japanese soba master, but for the average noodle lover, like me, the aim is to make something edible vaguely resembling noodles, see the techniques in action, and subsequently learn to respect the noodle art of the true masters. Was I the only mother at the party more interested in soba-making than the kids? Possibly. But at least someone was paying attention..
Soba noodle making requires nothing more than buckwheat flour, wheat flour, water, a rolling pin, and a really, really huge knife. If a seven year old can make soba, I guarantee you can too.
- Start with buckwheat and wheat flour in a ratio of 4:1
- 400g buckwheat flour
- 100g wheat flour
- Add 200-250ml of cool water a little at a time, mixing first with your fingertips, then incorporating the water into a firm dough
- (If you don't an have an exquisite enormous red and black lacquer soba bowl like this one, don't worry, a regular bowl is A-OK)
- Now knead your little heart out, because a lot of kneading is required to get the dough to 'the consistency of a baby's ear'
- Press the dough into a disc and place on a floured table
- Roll into an oval, and then into a large square sheet 2mm thick, dusting with flour as you roll
- Dust the dough sheet again when finished
- Fold the sheet of dough in half, again, and again, making a rectangle eight layers thick
- place the rectangle on a large cutting board, with a second, smaller board on top (the soba chef has a special board with a right-angled lip, but any small wooden board will do)
- Line up the board along the long edge of your folded dough rectangle, and steady it with the fingertips of one hand
- Take your wafer-thin, super sharp soba-kiri knife (failing that, any thin, long, sharp-bladed knife will do)
- Shift the top board sideways by 2mm and slice through the eight layers of dough, making eight long straight soba noodles
- Continue, using a slight rocking motion with your knife to shift the board another 2mm before every cut
- Separate the noodles into bunches and place on a tray
- Bring a stockpot of unslated water to the boil
- Have a large bowl of cold water, and another large bowl of iced water at the ready
- Cook the soba in batches for 60-90 seconds
- Scoop the noodles from the boiling water using a strainer scoop, and plunge into cold water, 'washing' the noodles vigorously (this removes starch from the surface so they have the required slippery texture)
- Scoop out of the cold water and plunge into iced water, washing again
- Drain, and serve on a bamboo mat or plate
- Serve with a small bowl of dashi and soy, with finely sliced scallions, and grated fresh wasabi
- Plunge your noodles into the sauce mixed with condiments of your choice, and slurp noisily into your mouth!
For a more technical approach, try this soba tutorial.
For a lovely account of meeting a soba master, and some more home-cooking tips, I really enjoyed reading Betty Hallock's LA Times story, Making Soba Noodles the Easy Way.