Tuesday, November 30, 2010

udon carbonara

cross cultural carbonara

And so it is fitting that today, for my final blog post for the month, I finally am catching up with all the dishes I had cooked before November began. I don't think I can maintain this one a day pace for December, but it would be nice to get entirely caught up with everything I've cooked in November as well.

This recipe is for an Italian carbonara with Asian flavors. You've got the traditional salty bacon, (traditional for all intents and purposes; I know real Italians use guanchiale), the egg yolk, the garlic and the American addition of cream. Sounds pretty run of the mill, right? Not so fast– the ingredient list also includes bonito flakes, udon noodles, sesame seeds and miso paste, not to mention corn kernels, chives and crab. Needless to say, this is not your Nona's carbonara.

Nathan's mom Tenli got the recipe from SFGate, and we made it while she was visiting Halloween weekend. We were able to find all the necessary ingredients at the Chelsea Whole Foods, save for fresh Udon noodles. It was fun to explore an unfamiliar section of the grocery store, but it really threw into sharp relief just how difficult it is to find Asian food products outside of China Town. Tenli lives out in Oakland, and it probably would have been a safer bet if she brought some of the stuff with her! Luckily, we pulled it all together even without Bay Area imports.

serving up spaghetti– I mean udon

The recipe came together beautifully. I was definitely skeptical about the Japanese getting their hands on my beloved carbonara, but the chef really blended those flavors into something new and delicious. Even with all the add ons, the creamy sauce and the crispy bacon still were the predominate elements. That is not to say that the unusual ingredients did not make their presence known. The dashi seafood broth gave it a very rich umami flavor, which, combined with the miso paste, gave the dish definite Asian undertones. There were just so many more layers of flavors than this simple dish normally contains. It's certainly a little bit more complex than carbonara original flavor, but you can definitely taste the difference.

I particularly appreciated the addition of the corn and crab, which gave the pasta an unexpected sweetness. I also liked the bright green chives, although we actually used the tops of scallions, thinly sliced. The only thing I might change would be to add the egg white in addition to the yolk. It might not make as pretty of a picture, but there's really no reason to let it go to waste.

japanese inspired carbonara

I didn't think that the recipe was particularly well laid out on the SF Gate website, so I'm including a slightly adapted version for you here. If you like carbonara, you should definitely try making this. It was an awesome change of pace and a surprisingly happy marriage of the Eastern and Western flavors. Yum.

Udon Carbonara
(recipe adapted from executive chef Sam Josi, of San Francisco's Umami)

2 pieces kombu (dried kelp), each about 4-inches square
½ cup dried bonito flakes
Wipe the kombu clean; give it a few slits with a knife to open up the tough, rough exterior. Place the kombu and 2 quarts water in a sauce pan over medium-high heat; bring to just shy of a boil - just until small bubbles are fully formed along the bottom. Lower the heat, discard the kombu and add the dried bonito flakes. Keep the pan over the heat until the bonito falls to the bottom of the pan, about three minutes. Skim foam then strain with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. This can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated several days, otherwise freeze.

Sauce and Pasta:
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into ¼ inch pieces
¾ cup yellow corn kernels (we bought ours fresh at the whole foods salad bar, but I'm sure frozen would be fine)
2 peeled garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
⅓ cup king crab or Dungeness crab meat, about 1½ ounces (optional)
⅛ tsp kosher salt
⅛ tsp ground white pepper + more to taste
1¼ cups dashi (see above, or substitute with instant dashi, water or shellfish stock)
1 tbsp miso paste
3 tbsp heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
2 individual 6-ounce packages fresh udon noodles (we substituted dry noodles, which worked but weren't as thick as the fresh ones would have been)
Lemon juice to taste
1½ tbsp chives, ¾-inch lengths
1 tbsp toasted black sesame seeds

Cook the bacon in large skillet over medium heat about 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon is somewhat crispy with some caramelization. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat; leave the bacon in the pan. Add corn, sliced garlic, salt to taste, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, and crab if using. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for a minute, stirring often. Meanwhile whisk the 1½ cups dashi and miso together, add to skillet and reduce by half. Add cream and reduce further until it resembles a loose cream sauce. Keep sauce warm, but do not simmer.

Meanwhile, cook noodles in well-salted water. Drain and add to skillet; toss until well coated; warm over medium heat until the sauce thickens and the noodles are heated through. Taste and toss with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the chives and more pepper and salt if needed. Take off heat.

Place all the noodles in one large bowl, garnish with remaining chives and sesame seeds. Make a small indentation in the middle of the noodles for the egg yolk. Stir at the table before serving.

If dividing into smaller portions, let noodles cool for two minutes, then stir in egg before serving. Garnish with remaining chives immediately.


  1. This post reminded me of a great Japanese movie appropriately called "Udon." It's a delightfully cute movie about udon-obsessed foodies.

  2. Great post about a lovely evening. We ate every scrap of that carbonara.

  3. I think you might be thinking of the movie Tampopo, which is a Japanese "Spaghetti Western" where they are obsessed with Ramen.