I have been buying packaged fresh udon noodles from Costco. The primary value is convenience however these packaged meals have a lot of potential for personalization. The result is a quick and easy lunch or dinner that builds on multiple flavors and textures.
A word about Japanese noodles. I am not a Japanese noodle aficionado but I do enjoy them and given the option of a good noodle restaurant over anything else, it’s a toss up. There are 5 kinds of Japanese noodles that dominate Japanese dishes. Udon, soba, and ramen noodles are most prevalent when served with broth and seasonings. I will use the terms udon and ramen interchangeably but I do understand that these are very different products. The point is that both noodles are neutral in flavor and easy to work with across a range of dishes.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and have a much nuttier flavor and far different texture than ramen and soba noodles. There is a classic northern Italian pasta called pizzoccheri that is also made from buckwheat that is highly regarded for taste and texture… but let us get back to Japan.
I saw these fresh udon noodle “kits” at Costco one trip and thought they would be great for my kids, who love udon and ramen noodles. They are packaged in a manner that makes it easy for the boys to prepare their own meal, which is a plus.
After looking at them in the refrigerator for a week or so, I picked them up to play around with them. Even though they are a pre-packaged stir-fry meal, I thought a simple broth would go well so I tried several variations and all were enjoyable. I prepared the noodles per the instructions which is simply to put them in boiling water for a few minutes as they are already cooked!
In a bowl with a cup of boiling water, I added the drained noodles and mixed in the teriyaki seasoning. Now I have broth instead of stir-fry, and a tablespoon of tamari (soy sauce but less salty) round out the flavors nicely. Fresh cut scallions, peas, pulled chicken, and a poached egg all come together in a fulfilling meal that can be made quickly.
What is fun about this starting point is that so many options are available to you. I save the shells from prawns, storing them in my freezer for when I want to make a wonderfully sweet and light broth that works well in place of the teriyaki seasoned broth. Pork broth is another option or add a tablespoon of fish sauce to the water for a stronger broth that does not give up any sweetness.
Add pork belly or thinly sliced pork loin instead of chicken. Any protein will work. Carrots are a nice addition, julienned or cut on the bias. Hard boil an egg instead of poaching, slice and serve on top of the noodle bowl. Fresh garlic punches up the flavors. You are only limited by your imagination.
I have spiced up the bowl with a liberal dose of Sriracha or gone the other way with Thai sweet chili sauce. Red pepper flakes can also be used to punch up the heat without taking anything away from the base ingredients. Fresh jalapeño!
What motivated me to write this post is that I often hear from people that they don’t have the time to prepare a meal from scratch. I get that and with a busy family that is getting pulled in a lot of directions on a daily basis, I struggle with this fact as well. However, we live in a time when food science has evolved to the point that there are many options available to us that feature preserved food that retains flavor and texture. Costco udon is a great example of this and if you can use it as a base for a healthy meal that takes less than 10 minutes to prepare, that is a big win.