02 May 2023
My Secret to Cooking Delicious Soba at Home
As spring arrives and temperatures begin to rise in Tokyo, I often find myself craving the cool and refreshing taste of chilled soba noodles. Living in Japan allows me to enjoy these delicious noodles with ease; however, during my previous stays abroad, satisfying this craving was not an easy task.
While ramen and udon establishments were abundant, locating a soba restaurant in a foreign country proved to be quite challenging. Consequently, I resorted to boiling dried soba noodles at home to satiate my craving. But despite my best efforts, my home-cooked soba never quite captured the exquisite flavors and aroma that I had grown to love at authentic soba restaurants in Japan.
Thus, to satisfy my insatiable craving for delicious soba, I began my journey of research and experimentation in finding the tastiest way to prepare dried soba at home.
Follow along as I'll show you step by step, my tried-and-true method on how to cook delectable dried soba with some extra tips that will give added flavor and aroma to your home-cooked soba.
Founder of MUSUBI KILN.
He is passionate about collecting unique tableware for daily use from various countries. His favorite weekend activities are outdoor activities such as fishing and camping, and cooking.
- About Dried Soba Noodles
- Preparation is Key
- Ready to Cook!
- Follow Instructed Cooking Time
- An Extra Bit of Effort
- Let's Eat
About Dried Soba Noodles
There are various types of dried soba noodles available at supermarkets. Today, I chose a widely accessible brand of soba for convenience. If you wish to savor the full flavor of soba, opt for 100% buckwheat soba (made exclusively from buckwheat flour without any binding wheat flour) or niwari soba (comprised of 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour), depending on your preference.
Preparation is Key
The very first step is not actually boiling the soba noodles. Instead, it is setting the table so that you can start eating the minute you set your cooked soba on the table as cooked soba loses its flavor and texture with each passing moment.
First, prepare the condiments that accompany the soba. This includes wasabi, ginger, green onions, and grated daikon radish. Grate the ginger, thinly slice the white part of the green onions, and grate the bottom section of the daikon (it's spicier). Set all the condiments in a small container or plate.
Next, set the soba dipping sauce and chopsticks on the table with the condiments.
On a side note, lately, whenever I eat noodles, I almost always use these chopsticks called "Kanzen-Muketsu." They are designed with unique grooves at the tip, which provides a firm grip on even the slipperiest of noodles. If I continue to find them as helpful as I do now, I hope to recommend them and possibly introduce them at MUSUBI KILN.
Once you get used to this routine, you will be able to efficiently set the table while waiting for the water to boil.
Ready to Cook
The secret to deliciously cooked dried soba noodles lies in this step.
Use a large pot and plenty of water, and set the stove at its highest heat setting. Maintaining a high temperature throughout the cooking process ensures the noodles turn out perfectly. When there's not enough water for the noodles to cook, the temperature drops significantly the moment the noodles are added to the pot. This drop in temperature can result in undercooked noodles, even if you follow the recommended boiling time. And if the noodles are boiled for too long, they will be overcooked with the soba becoming soft and mushy.
Generally, it's advised to use at least 1L of water for every 100g of dried soba noodles. Personally, I find using around 2L to be ideal. Today, I used about 4L of water in a 30cm (11in) pot to boil 2 bundles (200g) of soba. To cook the noodles, hold them horizontally and gently place them into the boiling water without the soba noodles excessively overlapping within the pot.
*If you only have a small pot, consider boiling the noodles in smaller portions.
Within about a minute after adding the soba, the boiling water will likely begin to foam up and may boil over. If you add water at this point to avoid the pot from boiling over, it may cause a big drop in temperature which is not ideal.
Instead, keep a close eye on the pot right until it's about to overflow, then lower the heat slightly. The circulating boiling water in the pot helps mix the soba, ensuring the noodles to be cooked evenly.
Follow Instructed Cooking Time
Dried noodle manufacturers have conducted numerous tests to determine optimal boiling time, which is printed on the package. Using plenty of water and following the specified boiling time will result in delicious noodles. The noodles I'm using today call for a boiling time of about 4-5 minutes and since I prefer my soba firm to the bite, I'll go for 4.
*As an exception, if you're boiling the noodles at high altitudes, the boiling point will be lower, and the water temperature won't rise as much, potentially resulting in undercooked noodles. In this case, take out 2-3 noodles after the end of the instructed boiling time, quickly cool the noodles under running water, and adjust the cooking time based on the taste and firmness.
An Extra Bit of Effort
Achieving the best quality soba noodles is within reach by following the above steps. That being said, there is one more important step that can take your cooked soba from good to great!
Quickly remove the cooked noodles from the pot and rinse them carefully under cold running water (you can drink the remaining boiling water by adding a bit to the dipping sauce to enjoy the aroma of soba). As soba noodles are very delicate, gently wash the noodles together for about one minute with your hands. But do wash them thoroughly as this step also helps remove any starch left on the surface. This will prevent the noodles from sticking together and becoming one large clump when plate. Lastly, lightly drain the cold noodles.
For zaru-soba (cold soba served on a strainer), plating the rinsed noodles in one-mouthful portions at a time also helps prevent clumping and will give your soba an appetizing presentation. As far as I know, soba restaurants in Japan almost always use this method when plating cold soba.
In hot weather or when tap water is lukewarm, immerse the rinsed noodles in ice water for a few seconds to improve texture.
Now, you are ready to eat! Savor the freshly boiled and chilled soba straight away, as that's when it's at its absolute tastiest! Hold a mouthful of noodles with your chopsticks, dip them into the sauce, and heartily slurp them up, making an audible sound. It's believed that by slurping the soba loudly, you can further enjoy the aromas of the soba.
Add condiments to the dipping sauce or place them on top of the soba noodles according to your preference.
In restaurants, after finishing your soba noodles, "sobayu," the remaining starchy water used to boil the noodles, is typically served for you to mix with the remaining dipping sauce. This cloudy white liquid is rich in plant-based proteins, making it a nutritious way to finish a soba meal. Try adding some of the boiling water left in the pot to enjoy sobayu at home.
So, this is my secret to making a delicious soba meal with dried soba. Before discovering this method, I used to think that dried soba noodles weren't very tasty. But now, I find myself enjoying them frequently at home.
And for those who have a passion for exploring the finer points like me, an additional factor that contributes to the flavor of soba is the mineral content of the water used when cooking and chilling the soba. This varies by region, so if you want to take your soba game to the next level, you can look into that as well. Personally, I feel that using soft water for boiling and rinsing creates a slight difference in taste but nothing that drastic.
Cooking dried soba noodles is a simple process, but with just a few additional steps you can enhance its flavor immensely. Why not give it a go and savor the one-of-a-kind taste and aroma of soba noodles? Different from ramen or Udon, this dish is sure to become an instant favorite.