Chicken Udon (鶏肉うどん)
Adding chicken to udon noodles is a fairly common practice in Japan; however, the soup is usually a dashi broth made using kelp and dried, smoked and fermented skipjack tuna. Since these ingredients can be hard to find outside of Japan, I wanted to create a chicken udon recipe that can be made anywhere.
The result was better than I could have imagined, and it’s now become a regular part of our lunch rotation here in Tokyo. To get an umami-rich soup that tastes authentically Japanese, I’ve come up with a few tricks.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using both store-bought chicken stock and fresh chicken makes this an easy fix that doesn’t require much time to prepare, and yet you get the flavor of homemade chicken stock from the chicken thighs.
- Seasoning the chicken stock with the right balance of soy sauce and a bit of sugar transforms it into a Japanese broth that goes perfectly with udon or soba noodles.
- Using skin-on chicken thighs allows you to brown them on the skin side without making the meat tough. The Maillard browning that happens as you pan-fry the chicken adds a lot more flavor to the soup than just boiling it in the stock.
- The oil that renders out from the chicken skin is used to caramelize scallion stems, making them tender and sweet. The resulting scallion oil then goes on to add richness and body to the soup.
Ingredients for Chicken Udon
- Chicken – I highly recommend using skin-on chicken thighs for this recipe. Pan-frying the chicken’s skin-side renders out most of the fat, making it easy to eat while adding flavor and body to your soup. The skin also insulates the meat from the pan’s high-heat, which keeps the chicken nice and tender. If you can’t find it, skinless chicken thighs will work, but you will need to add some oil to the pan when you brown it. I don’t recommend using chicken breast because it doesn’t have much flavor and will get dried out and mealy very easily.
- Scallions – In Japan, we have scallions with very thick stems that we use for dishes like this, but since these aren’t widely available outside Japan, I’ve substituted regular scallions in this recipe. The stems are fried in the fat rendered from the chicken, which makes them tender and sweet. The greens are added at the end for color.
- Sake – The fermentation process rice undergoes to make sake creates amino acids, including glutamate, which is the compound that triggers the umami taste receptors in your mouth. This has a synergistic effect with a compound called IMP in the chicken to give the soup tons of umami. The alcohol is burned off as you deglaze the pan, so you don’t need to worry about the soup being alcoholic. If you live in an area where it is not available, you can skip it, but keep in mind your soup will not be as flavorful. If you live in the US, Tippsy has a fantastic selection of sake including this one, which is great to use as both an ingredient and for drinking.
- Chicken Stock – If you have homemade chicken stock, that’s always going to taste the best, but because we brown some chicken thighs first, you can still get a very flavorful broth using store-bought stock.
- Seasonings – The soup is seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and salt. These simple seasonings transform the soup from a Western-style chicken soup into a Japanese broth with the umami from the soy sauce and a mild sweetness from the sugar. The amount of salt you’ll need to add will depend on how salty your chicken stock is. If you’re using a full sodium stock, you may want to cut back on the salt a little.
- Udon Noodles – The best choice here is to make your own udon noodles from scratch. But that’s not always realistic, so I always have a stash of store-bought pre-boiled frozen udon noodles in my freezer. These tend to have a great texture that’s comparable to fresh noodles. The next option is that you can get fresh store-bought udon and boil them yourself. If you do this, be sure to thoroughly wash the noodles after boiling them according to the package directions. My last choice would be to use dry udon noodles. These are generally the thinnest, and they tend to go soggy very quickly, so if you do use dried noodles, I recommend boiling them for a minute or two less than the package directions, so they don’t end up soggy when you add them to the soup.
- Condiments – The traditional condiment for traditional noodles soups in Japan is Shichimi Togarashi. This literally means “seven flavor chili” and is a spice blend that usually includes chili peppers, aonori, yuzu, sansho, black sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and shiso. I also like to garnish this with some fresh scallion greens.
How to Make Chicken Udon
Break an egg into a container with a spout and beat it. The spout makes it a lot easier to drizzle the egg into the soup later.
For the soup, mix the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, and salt together in a bowl until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved.
Cut the stems of the scallions into 2-inch long pieces. Stack the scallion leaves on top of each other and slice them into thin hoops diagonally.
Prep the chicken thighs by cutting them into bite-sized pieces. Be sure to leave a bit of skin on each piece of chicken.
Preheat a nonstick chef’s pan (or another high-sided pan) over high heat. Add the chicken skin-side down.
When some fat has rendered out of the skin, add the scallion stems between the chicken and let these fry undisturbed until both the scallions and chicken are golden brown. If the scallions are browning too quickly, you can flip them over once to keep them from burning, but don’t flip the chicken.
Pour the sake over the chicken and use it to deglaze the pan. When most of the liquid has evaporated, add the chicken soup mixture and bring this to a boil.
Once it comes to a boil, you will probably see some foam floating on the surface. Use a spoon or skimmer to remove this and discard it.
Add the pre-boiled udon and cook it in the soup until it’s heated through, and the chicken is cooked.
Add half of the scallion greens, and drizzle a thin stream of egg into the pan in a circular pattern from about a foot above. This should cause the egg to bloom into fluffy clouds.
The udon is done when the egg is cooked through. Serve the Chicken Oyako Udon garnished with the remaining scallion greens and some shichimi togarashi.
Other Udon Recipes
Chicken Udon is a broad class of dishes involving chicken and udon noodles. It can be either with or without soup. For this recipe, I’m making Chicken Oyako Udon with a chicken-stock-based soup.
Oyako Udon (親子うどん) literally means “parent-child udon” and usually refers to an udon noodle soup that includes both chicken and egg. Although similar, it’s not to be confused with Oyakodon, which is a rice bowl topped with chicken and egg.
Adding chicken meat to udon noodle soups is fairly common, and you see it show up in dishes like Nabeyaki Udon (鍋焼きうどん) or Curry Udon (カレーうどん). There is also a dish called Toriniku Udon (鶏肉うどん), which literally means “Chicken Meat Udon.” These are usually made using dashi-based soup stock, and it is not very common to use chicken stock for the base. That being said, making udon soup with chicken stock is exceptionally delicious, and given its widespread availability, it should be more of a thing.
Dashi just means “soup stock” in Japanese, but when it’s used without a qualifier (such as vegetable dashi or chicken dashi), it usually refers to a stock made from kelp and dried skip-jack tuna. This Chicken Udon uses chicken stock instead, making for a full-flavored broth that’s easy to make.
skin-on chicken thigh (cut into bite-size pieces)
scallions (stems cut 2-inches long, greens sliced thinly diagonally)
udon noodles (see note below)
Shichimi togarashi (for serving)
Prepare the soup mixture by adding the soy sauce sugar, and salt to the chicken stock and stirring it until they’re fully dissolved.
Heat a nonstick pan with high sides over high heat, and then add the chicken, skin-side down. Let the chicken fry undisturbed until some fat begins to render out from the skin.
Add the scallion stems between the chicken pieces and let everything fry undisturbed until the skin-side of the chicken is golden brown. If the scallions are browning faster than the chicken, you can flip them over.
When the chicken is evenly browned on the skin-side, add the sake and deglaze the pan.
When most of the liquid has evaporated, add the soup mixture, and bring this to a boil. Use a spoon or skimmer to remove any scum that floats to the surface.
Add the pre-boiled udon noodles and cook them in the soup until they’re heated through, and the chicken is fully cooked.
Add some of the scallion greens, and then drizzle a thin stream of egg around the pot from a foot above.
When the egg has bloomed and is fully cooked, serve the chicken udon topped with the remaining scallion greens and a dash of shichimi togarashi.