In the same way I prefer not to call my raw fish and rice preparation “sushi”, I baulk at calling these “soba” in the traditional sense of the noodle. Just as a true sushi chef trains for 10 years in order to expertly handle a handful of ingredients to deliver a true expression of the dish, a soba master trains for many years and specialises solely in the preparation of the noodle and its associated condiments. It is equal parts humbling and inspirational to watch a master perform.
A true buckwheat soba contains only water and 100 per cent buckwheat flour. However, it is more common now for store-bought dried noodles to contain about 20 per cent regular flour. That small addition makes the noodle significantly easier to make but, I would argue, the result is slightly less than masterful.
Buckwheat is a crop that grows quite well in Australia, and there are some excellent local producers supplying buckwheat grain and flour with relatively low-impact farming. It is also gluten-free, so we are starting to see it used regularly in gluten-free pasta products.In a most welcome way, soba noodles have increasingly snuck into our homes as a convenience meal – even in basic, warm-salad form they are generally delicious. This preparation of the dish sits halfway between convenience and experience. Sometimes it’s just nice to allow the time to enjoy the preparation, and with practice the simplicity of the dish becomes its beauty.
Making your own noodles with a rolling pin is hugely satisfying. Buy more flour than you need and allow for many mistakes. Or, search YouTube for videos of soba masters nailing it gracefully, concede your inadequacy, and buy a packet off the shelf.
Serves 4 as a light lunch
Time: 30 minutes preparation + cooking
- 1 daikon
- ½ bunch spring onion
- 80ml cold water
- 100ml mirin
- 20g katsuobushi (or shaved bonito flakes)
- 50ml light soy
- 400g buckwheat flour
- 50ml water
- 10ml sesame oil
- 10g toasted sesame seeds
- 20g toasted buckwheat
- 6 shiso leaves
- Prepare the broth and the condiments before starting on the noodles – once you begin preparing the noodles it is crucial to focus solely on that.
- Julienne the daikon and very finely shred the spring onion. Wash them both together in iced water and drain well. Mix them together and place into a bowl to serve.
- Bring the cold water and the mirin to a boil and then remove from the heat. Add the katsuobushi and the soy and let cool to room temperature. Pour into a serving bowl suitable for dipping your noodles into.
- Sift the buckwheat flour into a wide and shallow mixing bowl. Slowly incorporate the water in three parts, reserving one part. Mix very gently using your fingertips so that the flour stays smooth and fluffy. It will eventually take on the appearance of large rice grains, at which point add the reserved bit of water to bring the dough together. Compared with regular pasta or noodle dough, the consistency of this dough should resemble clay. Avoid making the dough sticky: add only enough water to bring it together so it is easy to roll on your work surface.
- Manipulate the dough gently for a minute or so before forming it into a ball. Try not to use a tearing motion, as you might with other doughs. Rather, just gather and form it into a smooth ball before placing it onto your work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle that is twice as long as your longest knife. I find it cuts well as a single fold but if it’s rolled up too much the noodle can break. Cut your noodles into thin strips to match the thickness it has been rolled out to (about 1.5 millimetres).
- Transfer the noodles to a tray and then cook in gently boiling water for about one minute. Plunge them straight into ice water and drain. Toss these noodles in the sesame oil, sesame seeds and toasted buckwheat and then plate onto a large serving bowl. Tear the shiso leaves over the top.
- Enjoy the noodles by dipping them into the cold broth and adding the crunchy daikon to your bowl.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 4, 2023 as "Buck the trend".
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