Whilst certainly not an everyday affair, noodles made from a simple fish paste are eaten in various forms in different regions of Japan. In the central western area of Kansai – elegant, trim uo-somen are enjoyed as a starter course in broth or with a dipping sauce whilst in southern Japan a thicker version of the noodle called sakana-udon is eaten topped with hot soup much like regular udon. Although you can sometimes find dried surimi-men in Japanese supermarkets the fresh version has a lot more flavour. The mixture can also be used for small dumplings if piping isn’t your bag!
Fish paste noodles
- 400g of deboned white fish fillets (or half white fish half prawn meat)
- 1 egg white
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp potato starch
- 1 litre (4 cups )dashi (either kombu dashi or or mild regular dashi – see Note)
- 1 tbsp usukuchi, light Japanese Soy
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sake
- 4 small cooked prawns, peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthways
- a handful of fresh mitsuba (Japanese parsley) or flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 4 julienne strips of yuzu or lemon zest, each tied in a tiny knot
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To make the noodles, pick over the fish ensuring there are no bones or sinewy bits. Chop the fish into even pieces (about 3cm x 3cm ) and place in the chilled bowl of a food processor with the egg white and process until as smooth as possible. Add the potato starch and salt and process again until as smooth as possible. The mixture should be a soft consistency and very easy to pipe – if it feels a little stiff, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it loosens a little.
Meanwhile to make the broth, bring the dashi just to the boil in a large saucepan then reduce to a steady simmer. Put a quarter of the fishpaste mixture into a piping bag with a 2-5mm round hole nozzle. The thinner nozzle will produce ‘noodles’ resembling spaghetti and the thicker 7-8mm will produce a fat udon (see Note). Make them to your liking. Pipe the paste directly into the simmering stock and allow it to float to the surface and cook a further few seconds if thin noodles and around 10 seconds if thicker noodles. The fishpaste will have turned pale and opaque and be aldente – but not rubbery to the bite. Scoop out with a mesh strainer and drain well before placing into one of four small bowls. Repeat with the remaining mixture until there are noodles in all bowls.
Strain the dashi and return to a clean saucepan. Add the soy, mirin and sake and allow to come just to the boil. Remove from heat and pour in enough broth to come just to the top of the noodles. Top the noodles with two pieces of prawn, slightly overlapping and float a few mitsuba leaves on top with the yuzu or lemon zest knot and serve immediately. Japanese soup bowls sometimes come with a lid which you apply as soon as the aromatics are added and each diner removes just as they are about to eat – this is the best way to appreciate the aroma of the yuzu so use them if you have them.
• Kombu dashi is commonly used in delicate fish dishes in Japan in order not to mask the natural flavour of the fish. Cooking the noodles in plain water and serving in the dashi mixture also results in a more delicate finish - but it's entirely up to your tastes - cooking in regular dashi will give a fuller flavour.
• This recipe uses a 7-8mm piping nozzle for the noodles.
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Tiffany Page.