Finding inventive ways to make use of leftovers is a problem home cooks have no matter what country they’re in, so it should come as no surprise that Japanese cooks have been putting their excess portions of curry to good use for decades, stretching them out as fillings for doughnut like breads or turning them into soups. Karē udon is a perfect example of this respectful attitude towards “waste” food, by adding leftover pork and vegetable curry to a fishy broth and some thick, chewy noodles you can create a wholesome, warming dish perfect for getting you through these freezing Winter nights. It might not seem like the obvious choice to use a dashi based stock for this soup, but it creates a wonderfully rounded savoury flavour rather than anything particularly fishy tasting. This combination of dashi, sake, mirin and soy sauce as a soup stock is known as mentsuyu, and is the classic starting point for many udon and soba dishes, even being used as a refreshing dipping sauce for cold noodles.
Karē udon, perhaps one of the country’s most popular comfort foods, has the same effect on the Japanese as a plate of macaroni and cheese might on an American or a bowl of hotpot on a Lancastrian. It has the incredible power of evoking nostalgic memories of childhood, relieving emotional stress and giving a feeling of the security of being at home, somewhere you belong. Not bad for a bowl of soup.
- 400-500g karē roux from our recipe here, which is approximately a half quantity (or you can use four to five cubes of store-bought instant curry roux)
- 300g thinly sliced pork
- 400g assorted root vegetables (we used a mixture of renkon, carrot, onion and potato)
- 600g udon noodles
- 1 sheet aburaage
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon sake
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1.5 litres dashi stock
- 3 tablespoons potato starch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 hard or soft boiled eggs
- spring onions and rayu (chilli oil) for serving
- Prepare your vegetables by peeling and cutting them into bite sized pieces, then add them to a hot saucepan with the tablespoon of vegetable oil. Fry the vegetables for two to three minutes and then add the thinly sliced pork and continue to cook, stirring frequently.
- When all the pork has turned opaque, add the dashi stock to the pan and turn up the heat. Gently simmer the pork for about ten to fifteen minutes until the vegetables are almost cooked through. Ladle a few spoons of the cooking liquid into a bowl and add your curry roux, stirring well to loosen the paste, then add this with the sake, mirin and soy sauce into the main pan.
- Bring the curry back to a gentle simmer and add the udon noodles, straight from the packet- we find that the noodles take on much more flavour if they’re cooked in the sauce rather than being boiled first and then added.
- While the udon cook in the sauce, slice your aburaage into strips about 1cm wide and rinse them in a sieve under boiling water to remove any excess oil leftover from the tofu’s production, then slake the potato starch in a couple of tablespoons of water.
- After about four or five minutes of cooking the noodles should be just about done, add as much or as little of the potato starch as you feel you need, stirring as you go until the soup thickens- the thickness of the soup is a very personal preference, so make it thin or thick depending on how you like it. Finally add your aburaage and let the soup simmer for a minute longer before portioning it into deep noodle bowls.
- Top each bowl of karē udon with half a boiled egg, a mound of finely sliced spring onions and a drizzle of rayu to add a blast of nutty, oily spiciness.
As with most noodle soups, karē udon is especially tasty when served with a plate of gyoza on the side.
Serves 4 people.