Many of you know that my father Kuni is a chef. Classically trained in Tokyo, he worked in several Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles and the Bay Area before opening his own, Sushi Kuni, in 1994. There, my father made the sushi and my mom Hideko cooked in the kitchen – both my brother and I worked there through high school (back then it seemed like punishment). My parents retired a couple of years ago (Sushi Kuni is still in Cupertino, but now with new owners), which has Kuni quite restless – but he's a grandpa now which keeps him busy.
Kuni has popped up on this blog many times over the years, more recently in the column Ask Sushi Kuni. I decided to resurrect this to have him show us how to make the abura-age (deep fried tofu) for kitsune soba, which is also the same tofu that can be used for inarizushi. The contrasting savory and sweet flavors of the tofu are delightful and surprisingly easy to make.
Kitsune means fox in Japanese, and they have long been venerated in Japan for their shape-shifting qualities. This dish is named "kitsune soba" simply because they say that foxes can't get enough of this abura-age.
In Japan, you can get this as kitsune soba or udon, to your preference. I honestly prefer this as an udon dish, but I'm 40 now and must start being more health-minded!
Makes 2 servings
3 sheets of abura-age
240ml (1 cup) water
40ml (about 2.7 tablespoons) soy sauce
40ml (about 2.7 tablespoons) mirin
20ml (about 1.3 tablespoons) sugar
1.25ml (0.25 teaspoons) No MSG Dashi
1 stalk of scallions
1. Abura-age can come in squares or rectangles. If squares, cut them in half, diagonally, so you have triangles. If rectangles, leave as is. We used the squares so cut them into triangles.
2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add in the abura-age, just for a few minutes to blanch them. Kuni does this to get rid of the excess oil from the abura-age.
3. After a couple minutes, rinse abura-age under cold water.
4. Squeeze out any excess water gently by pressing with both hands.
5. Now, make the seasoning for the abura-age. Add the water, soy sauce, mirin, and sake into a pot, as well as the sugar and the dashi pellets. Bring to a simmer.
6. Add the abura-age.
7. Simmer slowly – you'll see that the abura-age will start to suck in all the liquid. After about 10 minutes, they will look like this:
8. While you're making the abura-age, boil the soba and make the tsuyu. Depending on how strong you like your broth, adjust with water – if you like it salty, add more tsuyu.
Once the soba is boiled, strain and run under cold water. Kuni says this is called bikkuri mizu which shocks the noodles for better texture.
9. Put boiled soba into the tsuyu that you have going on the stove. Simmer this for another 2 minutes, which incorporates the tsuyu with the soba.
This method is hotly debated between putting the soba into the tsuyu and boiling together, or putting the soba directly in a bowl, and pouring the tsuyu over it. We prefer the former for hot soba or udon because the noodles then soak up some of the tsuyu.
10. While the soba is cooking in the tsuyu, cut scallions. For a fancier look, cut them diagonally like this:
11. Put the soba and broth into a bowl. Lay a few pieces of abura-age on top, and sprinkle with scallions.
The abura-age should ooze with savory sweetness at every bite.
Thanks Grandpa Kuni (we call him Jiji)!