Mott St.’s Mentaiko Kimchi Udon

It’s been a while, again. But at least it’s been months, not years this time. Momentum is a powerful thing, and once you’ve lost it, or let it go slack, it can be hard to get rolling again. It wasn’t out of pure laziness, though. Since my last post, I’ve accepted a new job, left my old one, and moved to an apartment with an even smaller kitchen. It is truly tiny. What this means for the blog is that, since my facilities are now limited, you’ll be seeing a lot more posts on something I can still make here– Cocktails.

Here’s the last dish I cooked in my old kitchen. It’s a work of genius from Mott St., one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. I’ve never actually tried this at the restaurant, but when I came across this video by Eater– in which the host declares it, “One of the best noodle dishes I’ve ever had”– I knew I needed to try it. And since Hong Kong is 7,787 miles from Chicago, well . . . it’s a damn good thing I can cook.

I won’t write much about this other than to say it lives up to the host’s claim. It’s a perfectly calibrated dish that stacks multiple layers of umami-rich fermented and preserved foods on top of each other, balanced with spice, salt, fat, and acidity.

Layer #1: Mentaiko. The essence of the sea with some chilli spice.

Kimchi Udon-9

Layer #2: Katsuobushi, another preserved fish ingredient. I’m using true katsuobushi here, not the pre-shredded stuff. This piece was inoculated with koji, then smoked and dried until it took the appearance and texture of a block of wood, then hand-shaved just before cooking.

Kimchi Udon-16

Laye #3: Kimchi. Yet another fermented thing, with the spice and acidity and funk we all love.

Kimchi nage:

Whoops, accidental Jackson Pollock.

Kimchi Udon CloseUp

Mentaiko Kimchi Udon, done.

Recipe (adapted from Tastingtable.com)

Serves 2

Kimchi Nage

2 cups kimchi juice (from the kimchi jar)

1 cup chicken stock

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Mentaiko Udon

2 blocks udon noodles

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup minced kimchi

4 tablespoons mentaiko

2 tablespoons tobiko

2 pinches of shredded Korean nori

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

2 pinches of freshly shaved bonito flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Kimchi Nage:

Bring kimchi juice and chicken stock to a simmer. Transfer to blender with the butter and blend until the butter is melted and the nage is smooth and creamy.

Assembly:

Boil udon noodles until warm.

Over high heat, add butter and minced kimchi. Stir until fragrant. Add mentaiko and lightly toast it, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of kimchi nage and stir to form a sauce. Add the udon noodles, with a splash of the cooking water to thicken the sauce. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add enough of the kimchi nage to make a sauce. When the sauce is the right consistency (thickened and reduced somewhat), transfer to a bowl and garnish with tobiko, nori, scallions, and bonito.

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