Kitsune Udon literally means "fox udon," but don't worry, there are no foxes involved in making the dish (it's a reference to Japanese mythology). Despite having an unusual name, it's the most popular udon dish in Japan and also happens to be one of my personal favorites.
With thick, chewy noodles in piping hot vegan-friendly dashi broth, the defining feature of Kitsune Udon is the sheet of savory-sweet fried tofu on top, which is known as Inari Agé. In this easy recipe, I will show you how you can put together both components of this comforting bowl of noodles from scratch.
Why This Kitsune Udon Recipe Works?
- The traditional Japanese dashi stock used to make the udon soup is as simple as soaking some dried kelp and shiitake mushrooms in water.
- By making the udon broth using a combo of konbu dashi and dried shiitake mushrooms, you get a synergy of amino acids and nucleotides that multiplies the amount of umami in the soup.
- Using a combination of usukuchi soy sauce and salt creates a Kansai-style(Osaka-style) broth that is lighter and more delicate than a soup seasoned with soy sauce alone.
- Boiling the fried tofu in water removes excess oil from it, keeping it from being greasy. The water that the tofu absorbs also helps the flavors of the sauce disperse more evenly.
Ingredients for Kitsune Udon Soup
- Konbu - Konbu is a type of dried kelp used to make dashi stock. It doesn't have a strong flavor, but it contains a lot of glutamate, which is why it adds a lot of umami to the food it's used in. If you can find it, I recommend using konbu from the Rausu area of Hokkaido (as opposed to Rishiri or Rebun) as it has an almost meaty flavor that works very well for this dashi.
- Dried Shiitake Mushroom - Usually, dashi stock is prepared with a combination of konbu and katsuobushi (dried, smoked, and fermented skipjack tuna). It can also be with a combination of konbu and dried shiitake mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms naturally contain the nucleotide GMP. This synergizes with the glutamate in konbu in a similar way to the nucleotides in katsuobushi, which is how you can get such a flavorful vegan dashi without adding any fish.
- Soy Sauce - I use usukuchi (literally "light taste") soy sauce here. It's been fermented for less time than regular soy sauce, which gives it a lighter color and taste. Regular Japanese soy sauce will also work, but it tends to have a lower salt content than usukuchi, so you may want to add a little extra salt to make up for the difference.
- Salt - By using only a small amount of soy sauce and using salt for the rest of the seasoning, you get a lighter broth that allows you to enjoy the flavor of the dashi soup. There's no need to get fancy here, and regular table salt works fine.
- Sugar - In Japanese cuisine, sugar is used as a counterpoint to salt. It also helps bring out the taste of umami. Since the Inari Agé is quite sweet, I don't add too much sugar to the soup.
- Udon - Udon noodles come in a huge variety of thickness and form factors, so cooking times vary from a few minutes to twenty minutes. You can learn more about the noodles on my homemade udon post.
- Scallion - For Kitsune Udon, I like to stack and thinly slice the green scallion leaves at a 10° angle. This creates long thin strips that cling to the udon nicely. You can also just chop them up at a 90° angle.
- Shichimi togarashi - Shichimi togarashi literally means "seven taste chili pepper." It's a spice blend that includes ground chilies, sansho, sesame seeds, hemp citrus zest, green nori, and poppy seeds.
- Yuzu - I love the flavor of a twist of yuzu zest added to udon soup, but if it's hard for you to find fresh yuzu where you live, Meyer lemon or mandarin zest also work well.
Ingredients for Inari Agé
- Aburaage - Aburaage literally means "fried in oil" in Japanese, and it's a class of tofu products made by slicing firm tofu into thin sheets and then pressing excess water out of it before deep frying it in oil to puff it up. The result is a puffy fried tofu pouch that has a meaty texture and absorbs flavor like a sponge. It can definitely be found at Japanese grocery stores, but you may also find something similar at Asian supermarkets.
- Soy Sauce - Soy sauce is the primary seasoning for Inari Agé. I use the same usukuchi soy sauce I use for the Kitsune Udon soup to retain the light tan color of the aburaage, but regular Japanese soy sauce will work too.
- Sugar - Sugar balances out the saltiness of the soy sauce. I used evaporated cane sugar because I like the taste (and it's vegan-friendly).
- Sake - Sake naturally contains loads of amino acids that create the taste of umami. The alcohol in the sake burns off while you're cooking this. You can also use mirin, but you'll want to halve the sugar if you do. If you want to learn more about why the Japanese cook with sake, check out this video series on sake.
How to Make Kitsune Udon
To prepare the broth for the udon soup, steep the konbu and dried shiitake mushroom in the water until they rehydrate. Depending on how thick your ingredients are, this can take up to an hour.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Check your package of udon noodles to see how long they're going to take to cook. If you're using noodles that take more than 10 minutes to boil, I'd recommend adding them to the boiling water before you start making the seasoned tofu. If they take less time, you can start them after the tofu is done, but before starting the soup.
To remove excess oil from the aburaage, bring a pan of water to a bowl and add the fried tofu. Flip it over a few times until the water starts getting cloudy. Next, transfer the aburaage to a cutting board, and slice it in half. If your shiitake has rehydrated already, you can also trim the stem off and cook it together with the aburaage.
Wash out the pan you boiled the tofu in and add the sugar, sake, water, and soy sauce. Bring this to a boil, and then add the aburaage and shiitake. Simmer the fried tofu pouches flipping repeatedly until there is almost no liquid left in the pan and the Inari Agé is golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside while working on the soup.
Remove the konbu (and shiitake if you haven't already) and strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, leaving the last bit of liquid behind (it can be gritty). Add the soy sauce, sugar, and salt to this and bring the mixture to a boil. Use a spoon to skim off any scum that floats to the surface. Lower the heat all the way and keep the broth warm until your udon is done.
To assemble the Kitsune Udon, add the soup to a serving bowl. Add the cooked udon to the soup. Top with the Inari Agé, scallions, and yuzu zest and serve with a sprinkle of Shichimi Togarashi.
The noodle bowl with the cat, the hand-painted condiment box, and the gold chopstick rest shown in the photos are available on Musubi Kiln. They have a fantastic selection of classic and modern Japanese ceramics and tableware, and they ship worldwide. You can get 5% off your order by using coupon code “NORECIPES” at checkout.
Other Udon Recipes
Kitsune Udon is an udon noodle soup topped with seasoned deep-fried tofu pouch called Inari Agé. If the name sounds familiar, that's because Inari Agé are the savory-sweet deep-fried tofu pockets used to make Inarizushi.
In Japanese mythology, the Shinto god of rice is said to have the ability to transform into a white fox. Inarizushi is often presented as an offering to the rice god as a prayer for a good harvest because they look like bales of rice. Kitsune Udon (literally "fox udon") gets its name from the association of Inari-Age with this shape-shifting god.
Kitsune Udon is a five-syllable name that is pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts.)
ki like key
tsu like eat soup
ne like nest
u like oops
don like donut
Udon noodles are made with flour, water, and salt, making them relatively simple to make at home. I have a recipe for homemade udon if you want to try making it yourself.
Kitsune udon is typically eaten hot as a noodle soup, but it can also be served as Hiyashi Kitsune Udon. This is usually made with chilled udon noodles and a bowl of concentrated udon broth as a dipping sauce. It can also be served with the broth simply chilled.
This recipe uses a konbu and shiitake mushroom dashi, making it both vegetarian and vegan friendly. However, if you aren't making it yourself, be careful as many versions contain katsuobushi in the dashi stock used to make the soup.
For udon soup
- 1 ½ cup water
- 4 grams konbu (credit card sized piece)
- 3 grams dried shiitake mushroom (1 small mushroom)
- 2 teaspoons usukuchi soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For Inari Agé
- 1 aburaage (about 50 grams)
- 1 tablespoon evaporated cane sugar
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon usukuchi soy sauce
- 1 serving udon (boiled according to the package directions)
- 1 scallion (thinly sliced)
- Yuzu (see video for making garnish)
- Shichimi togarashi (to taste)
- Add the konbu and dried shiitake mushrooms to a bowl with 1 ½ cups of cold water. Let these rehydrate fully. This could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.
- To make the Inari Agé, bring a pan of water to a boil and add the aburaage. Boil this for about a minute or until the water becomes cloudy with oil from the fried tofu.
- Drain the water and clean out the pan. Slice the aburaage in half.
- Add the sugar, sake, water, and soy sauce to the clean pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the aburaage to the pan. If your shiitake has rehydrated, you can also trim the stem off and add that in as well.
- Flip everything repeatedly until there is almost no water left in the pan. Then, turn off the heat and set the Inari Agé aside while preparing the udon broth.
- Once the shiitake mushroom and konbu are rehydrated, remove them from the soaking liquid and set them aside. Pour the soaking liquid into a saucepan through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the last bit of water at the bottom of the bowl.
- Add the soy sauce, sugar, and salt to the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the surface.
- To serve your kitsune udon, pour the soup into a serving bowl. Add the boiled and drained udon noodles and then top with the Inari Agé, scallions, and yuzu zest. Serve with Shichimi Togarashi.