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Yoko, my Japanese "mom", cooked this for me years ago and it was the most unique nabe I had ever tried. She used ground quail (bones and all) to make the tsukune, but I use chicken for mine, because finding ground quail is next to impossible. One of the greatest aspects of this nabe, is that you fry the udon noodles and then add to the nabe. It adds a great texture and actually helps to lightly thicken to the broth.
Note: The udon noodles need to be fresh for this dish, meaning you can use the fresh frozen ones. Using dried udon will not work for this preparation
1 pound ground chicken thighs
½ small onion, finely diced
Zest of 1 lemon or yuzu
1 teaspoon Yamatsu Tsujita Sansho
1½ teaspoons sea salt
Rice bran oil for frying
2 packs fresh udon noodles, thickest possible
1 cup potato starch
1½ quarts Dashi (preferably made using Aimono Rausu Konbu)
2 tablespoons Suehiro Usukuchi Soy Sauce
3 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
½ head Napa cabbage, halved, core removed, cut into ½-inch strips
5 green onions, cut on the bias into 1-inch slices
5 ounces Maitake or Shimeji mushrooms, trimmed, pulled apart
Yamatsu Tsujita Yuzu Shichimi Togarashi
Add the chicken, onion, zest, sansho & salt to a bowl and mix well using your hands. Continue to knead the mixture until it becomes tacky, then form into balls about 1½ inches in diameter. Set aside.
Heat the oil to 350℉ in a medium skillet. While it heats, remove the udon noodles from their package, gently pat them dry, then lightly dust them in the potato starch. Add the noodles to the oil, using a strainer or spider to keep a circular shape. Fry just until the noodles start to turn golden brown.
Bring the dashi, soy sauce, sake and mirin to a boil in the donabe. Add the tsukune (meatballs) one by one, making sure they don't stick to one another. Return to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage & green onions, cover again, and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and cook, uncovered, for a further 2 minutes. Finally, add the fried udon and cook, still uncovered, for 2 more minutes.
Ladle into bowls, and serve with shichimi togarashi and/or yuzu kosho.