Authentic Yaki Udon (焼きうどん)
Yaki Udon is a Japanese stir-fried noodle dish that’s a close relative of Yakisoba. It’s typically prepared with inexpensive ingredients like cabbage, carrots, and onions, and yet it’s flavorful and satisfying. This has made it a street-food staple which can often be found at omatsuri, or festivals across Japan.
Although I’ve left out the meat from this version, and it’s brimming with flavor thanks to the shiitake mushrooms. If you’d rather make it with meat, simply stir-fry some thinly sliced pork or chicken before adding the vegetables.
Why This Recipe Works
- Yaki Udon is traditionally made on a large steel flat-top griddle called a teppan. The large surface area and mass ensure the pan doesn’t cool off when ingredients are added. This keeps the ingredients vibrant and fresh while imparting a bit of char. This is a bit difficult to achieve at home, but since the goal is to keep the surface hot, you can accomplish this in two ways. The first is to use a heavy pan, such as a cast-iron skillet. The second option is to use a large pan, even if it’s made of a less-dense material like aluminum. In either case, the extra mass retains heat better, and in the case of the larger pan, you have more surface area to spread the ingredients out over.
- Although this is a stir-fry, most home burners don’t put out enough heat to require continuous stirring. In fact, I like to stir and leave the ingredients for a bit before stirring again. How long you can leave them without stirring will depend on your specific stove, but the idea is to give the food a little char around the edges, which imparts the “wok hei” flavor of a good stir-fry.
- Since we’re using a frying pan, I usually like to toss rather than stir, but if you’re uncomfortable tossing food in a pan, or your pan is too heavy, you can use two spatulas to toss the food (I show both methods in the video below).
Ingredients for Yaki Udon
- Udon – Udon noodles come in various thicknesses in one of three forms: fresh, dried, or pre-cooked. I typically prefer fresh or pre-cooked noodles as the dried ones tend to be thinner, and don’t have the same springy texture. For this recipe, I’ve used 600 grams of thick pre-cooked noodles. Mine were sold frozen, so I defrosted them in the microwave before using them. If you use fresh udon, you’ll need about 300 grams of noodles, and you can boil them according to the package directions. For dried noodles, you’ll need about 200 grams, and you can boil them according to the package instructions. If you’re cooking your own noodles, be sure to drizzle and toss them with a little vegetable oil after draining them to keep them from sticking together.
- Shiitake Mushrooms – Shiitake mushrooms have a thick meaty texture and flavor, and they’re a common addition to yaki udon. They’re loaded with guanosine monophosphate, an amino acid that triggers the taste of umami in your mouth. If you can’t find fresh ones near you, you can use other flavorful mushrooms such as maitake, or even button mushrooms.
- Vegetables – I like using the traditional trifecta of cabbage, carrots, and onions for my Yaki-udon, but there’s a lot of room for improvisation here, and you can add almost any low-moisture vegetable that you have on hand. Broccoli, beets, zucchini, and corn are all good (though non-tradition) additions. The key is to find veggies that will add some good texture and color to your noodles when lightly sauteed.
- Soy Sauce – This is the most common seasoning ingredient for yaki-udon, but depending on who you ask, you’ll find a wide variety of seasonings ranging from chunou sauce to oyster sauce, to fish sauce.
- Worcestershire Sauce – Yakiudon is typically seasoned with soy sauce and chunou sauce, but since the latter can be hard to find, I’ve substituted a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and maple syrup. If you want to keep this plant-base, be sure to look for a vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce.
- Maple Syrup – My initial reason for using maple syrup was that I wanted a vegan-friendly source of sweetness. As it turns out, maple syrup works sublimely well in this dish because the earthy flavor of the syrup pairs beautifully with the meaty umami of the shiitake mushrooms. You can substitute any liquid sugar here like honey, or rice maltose.
- Black Pepper – I usually use white pepper for my yakisoba, but I prefer the bolder taste of cracked black pepper for udon.
- Garnishes – I like to garnish my Yaki Udon with scallions and benishoga (red ginger. These add a vibrant splash of green and red to the noodles, and they add some fresh onion and tangy ginger flavor to the dish as well. One thing to be careful about here is that some Benishoga uses cochineal, a type of insect, to give it its red color. Be sure to carefully read the ingredients if you want to make this plant-based.
How to make Yaki Udon
As with any stir-fry, this comes together in minutes, so it’s important to have all your vegetables prepped and your sauce mixed before you start cooking.
To make the sauce for the Yaki Udon, combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, and black pepper in a small bowl and stir them together.
Heat a 12-inch or larger frying pan over high heat until it’s hot. This is crucial as a cold pan will cause your vegetables to steam and get soggy.
Drizzle the oil around the pan and then add the cabbage, onions, shiitake, and carrots, and toss to combine. Let this fry undisturbed until the vegetables start to brown on one side and then toss again to redistribute everything.
Add the cooked udon and toss the noodles and vegetables together.
Drizzle the sauce over everything and toss continuously until every strand of udon is coated, and uniform in color.
Stop stirring for a few seconds to get some Maillard browning on the noodles and then toss to redistribute. Repeat this until the veggies are cooked, and the sauce has caramelized around the noodles.
Plate the Yaki Udon and garnish with chopped scallions and red ginger.
Asian Noodle Stir-Fries
Ya-ki U-don has four syllables, and each one is pronounced as follows:
ya like yacht
ki like key
u like oops
don like door no
With its large surface area and steel construction, a wok is ideally suited for stir-fries like this. Unfortunately, most Western stoves do not put out enough heat to take advantage of a wok. In fact, since Western stoves were designed to heat a flat bottomed pan evenly, you’re most likely better off using a large frying pan.
Yaki udon is made with udon noodles. These are typically made using wheat flour, salt, and water and come either fresh, dry, or pre-cooked and frozen.
The primary difference between the two is the type of noodle used. Yaki udon is made using thick udon noodles, which are made with wheat flour. Yakisoba is made using alkaline wheat noodles like ramen. Additionally, Yakisoba tends to be seasoned primarily with a tangy, sweet, and spicy sauce called chunou sauce. Yakiudon is usually seasoned primarily with soy sauce or oyster sauce, but I like adding a bit of Worcestershire sauce to give the savory soy sauce another dimension.
Traditionally Yaki-udon usually includes some type of meat like pork or bacon. For my version, I’ve made this plant-based. Just be careful you get a Worcestershire sauce that is vegan-friendly as many traditional ones include anchovies.
The shiitake mushrooms in this recipe provide plenty of meaty umami; however, you can easily add your favorite protein to it by stir-frying your favorite meat, seafood, or plant-based analog before adding the vegetables. If you’re going to add a protein, I suggest seasoning it first with salt and pepper.
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 100 grams cabbage (~2 leaves, chopped)
- 100 grams onion (~1/2 small onion, sliced)
- 60 grams shiitake mushrooms (3 mushrooms, sliced)
- 60 grams carrot (~1/2 carrot, julienned)
- 600 grams pre-cooked frozen udon (defrosted *see note)
- 2 Scallions (chopped, for garnish)
- Benishoga (for garnish)
- Make the Yaki Udon sauce by mixing the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, maple syrup, and black pepper.
- Heat a large frying pan (12-inches or bigger) over high heat and add the vegetable oil.
- Add the cabbage, onion, mushrooms, and carrot and toss to combine. Let the vegetables fry undisturbed until they start browning and then toss them around again to redistribute.
- When the vegetables are partially cooked and browned around the edges, add the udon noodles and stir-fry.
- Pour the sauce all over the noodles and then toss until the udon is evenly coated with the sauce.
- Let the udon fry undisturbed for a few seconds to brown some of the sauce around the noodles and then toss and repeat it until the udon is well glazed and the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
- Garnish the Yaki Udon with chopped scallions and benishoga.