Beef Udon Noodle Soup (肉うどん)
Niku Udon, which literally means "meat udon" in Japanese, is a popular lunchtime meal in Japan that's both comforting and satisfying. With thick, chewy udon noodles in a steamy bowl of dashi broth, the easy noodle soup is elevated by topping it with thinly sliced beef and scallions simmered in a savory-sweet sauce. I have a few tricks in my Beef Udon recipe to ensure the meat ends up nice and tender with enough oomph to give the udon broth a rich beefy flavor.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using a well-marbled cut of beef sliced very thinly allows you to cook it until it's tender in about 15 minutes.
- By dividing the scallion stems from the greens, you can cook the stems with the beef until they're creamy and sweet, while the greens get added at the end to add a pop of color and fresh flavor.
- The udon soup is just lightly seasoned dashi, but by serving the beef on top of the noodles and stirring it in, the meat imparts a rich beefy flavor and mild sweetness to the broth.
Ingredients for Beef Udon
- Dashi - Dashi is the Japanese word for "soup stock," and it generally refers to a broth that's made from katsuobushi (dried, smoked, and fermented Skipjack tuna), along with konbu (kelp). You can use instant dashi powder, dashi packs, or I have a recipe to make dashi from scratch.
- Sake - Sake is made from fermented rice, and the process breaks down the protein in the rice into amino acids. These amino acids create the taste of umami, which is why sake is used so much in Japanese cooking. Sake also contains alcohol, but because ethanol has a lower boiling temperature than water, all of the alcohol will have burned off by the time the beef is cooked. If you want to learn more about sake, check out this series of videos about sake.
- Soy sauce - Soy sauce is the primary seasoning for the soup and the beef.
- Salt - The soup for udon is usually seasoned with soy sauce and salt, so the soup doesn't end up too dark in color. I recommend tasting the soup before adding the salt, as the salinity of dashi stock can vary greatly depending on how it's made and the ingredients you use.
- Sugar - Most recipes call for sugar in both the beef and the soup, but I've found that adding a bit of sugar to the meat, along with the scallion stems, provides plenty of sweetness. By serving the beef on top of the noodles, the sweetness percolates down into the noodles providing the perfect balance of tastes without getting overly sweet.
- Beef - The beef needs to be sliced very thinly (1-1.5 mm) to cook through quickly and become tender. Meat sliced for sukiyaki, hot pot, or Philly Cheesesteak. If you can't find it, you can partially freeze the meat (until it's stiff but not rock hard) and then use a very sharp knife to slice it paper-thin. I recommend using well-marbled beef as the fat keeps the meat from getting dry and tough as it cooks.
- Scallions - You want to use both the stems and the leaves from the green onions. I recommend cooking the stems (white parts) with the beef, so they have a chance to become sweet and tender. Then you can add the greens in at the very end for color and texture. You can also make Beef Udon with onions by slicing them up and adding them in with the beef.
- Udon noodles - Raw udon noodles are usually available dried or fresh. While dried noodles are easier to find, fresh noodles have a much better texture and taste, and I recommend looking for them. You can also make fresh noodles from scratch using flour, salt, and water. The other option is frozen pre-cooked udon. I'm not sure how they do it, but these have a marvelous texture that rivals fresh udon, and since they're pre-cooked, they only need to be reheated. If you have a Japanese grocery store nearby, I recommend looking for these.
- Shichimi togarashi - Shichimi togarashi literally means "seven tastes chili peppers." It's a Japanese spice blend that includes ground chili peppers and other spices such as sesame seeds, hemp seeds, yuzu zest, green nori, sansho, ume powder, shiso powder, etc.
How to Make Beef Udon
Making beef udon is not hard, but there are three components you need to make: the soup, the beef, and the noodles.
I recommend starting with the soup by adding the dashi and soy sauce to a pot and bringing it to a boil. Then you can taste it and adjust the seasoning with salt as needed. For my homemade dashi, I added ¼ teaspoon of table salt. If you're using dashi packs or dashi granules, these usually include quite a bit of salt, so you will probably need less salt. Then you can keep the soup warm over low heat on a back burner while you prepare the beef and noodles.
Put a large pot of water on to boil to cook the udon. When you add the noodles will depend on how long they take to cook. If you've made my fresh udon noodles recipe, they'll take 12-13 minutes, whereas frozen pre-cooked noodles will only take 2-3 minutes.
For the beef, put a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining dashi, sake, sugar, and the white parts of the scallions. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then add the beef. Stir the mixture to free the individual slices and prevent them from clumping.
Reduce the heat to keep a gentle simmer going, and then cook the beef until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is tender. This took me about fifteen minutes. Be sure to stir the beef periodically to ensure it gets seasoned evenly.
For the noodles, check the package directions and add them to the pot of boiling water based on how much time your beef has left.
When the udon and beef are nearly done, add the scallion greens and mix them in until they wilt. Divide the soup between two serving bowls. Drain the udon, shake off any excess water, and split the noodles between the bowls. Then you want to top both bowls with the cooked beef and any remaining sauce in the pan. Serve with a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi for garnish.
Other Udon Recipes
Beef Udon is known as Niku Udon (肉うどん - literally "meat udon") in Japanese and is made by topping a plain bowl of udon noodles and dashi stock with beef that's been simmered in a savory-sweet sauce with onions or scallions.
Beef Udon is a 4-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ni like knee
ku like cool
u like oops
don like donut
Udon is supposed to be a quick noodle soup, so the meat used for Beef Udon needs to be sliced very thinly, so it cooks through and gets tender quickly. You should be able to find thinly sliced beef for sukiyaki or hotpot at Asian supermarkets. If you live near Philadelphia, you should also be able to use beef sliced for Philly Cheesesteak.
For udon noodle soup
- To make the udon soup, bring the dashi and soy sauce to a boil. Taste it and add more salt if necessary. Set this on a back burner over low heat to keep it warm. Put another pot of water on to boil for the noodles.
- To make the beef, add the dashi, sake, soy sauce, sugar, and white parts of the scallions to a frying pan and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Add the beef and separate the sheets of meat, so they don't clump together. Turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cook the meat, stirring until it's tender and there is almost no liquid remaining (about 15 minutes).
- Add the udon noodles to the boiling water based on the time they need to cook. For example, if your noodles take 2 minutes to cook, you'll want to add them when the beef is 2 minutes away from being done.
- When the beef is tender, add the scallion greens and stir them in.
- Split the soup between two bowls.
- Drain the udon and split the noodles between the two bowls.
- Finish the Beef Udon by topping both bowls with the meat and pouring over any remaining sauce in the pan. Garnish with shichimi togarashi to taste.