Wikipedia article "Soba".
Japanese Soba and the Broth of Life
Yunhee Kim for The New York Times; Food stylist: Stephana Bottom. Prop stylist: Deborah Williams.
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: April 26, 2012
A bowl of soba is a beautiful, exotic and delicious centerpiece for a Japanese meal: the not-too-soft, nutty buckwheat noodles sitting in a mahogany broth — dashi — that’s as clear and glossy as beef consommé, not only salty and umami-complex but sweet as well. My favorite variety, tamago toji, is egg-topped. When it’s made right, the egg is almost foamy, soft-scrambled and tender, deliciously flavored by the dashi, a bit of which it absorbs.
Made by me, however — even guided by intuition, experience and recipes — tamago toji was if not pathetic then hardly superb, a series of bad guesses resulting in an edible batch of decently cooked noodles in a cloudy, not-especially-good-tasting broth, with clumps of overcooked egg.
Which made it a perfect dish to tackle with professional help, for which I asked my friend the estimable Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He hooked me up with a chef named Yoshitaka Nakamura, who explained that my dashi wasn’t bad; it was simply the wrong broth for the job. Soba dashi contains bonito flakes (dried and shaved from a fish in the tuna family and available in every Japanese food market) but no konbu (seaweed, which I’ve always included in dashi), and it involves soy and mirin in far larger proportions than I ever used. With the right recipe, dashi is a snap.
The egg technique is a bit more complicated. Let’s just say that given a lifetime, I would never have got there on my own, though it’s pretty easy once demonstrated. You make the broth; you cook the noodles until just about done; and then you shock them in ice water. (You don’t see that in Italy.) You boil the broth in a pot with a spout (imagine the Tin Man’s oil can) and add the beaten egg one-third at a time to the boiling mixture. (The broth must be at a boil, or the egg absorbs too much of it and turns an execrable color.) The last third of the egg is barely cooked; the retained heat of the broth finishes it beautifully. Through the spout and under the egg, you pour the broth into a bowl. Add a bit of nori, slide the egg on top and garnish with minced scallion and serve.
That’s if you want to make one serving. In restaurants, making four servings at once just isn’t done, and few if any people make this kind of soba at home, which was part of the fun for me. Even if you were to find a larger spout-fitted pot, the pouring would be ungainly. Without that pot, it’s virtually impossible to not sully the broth with broken egg, which ruins the appearance, if not the flavor.
After a day of experimenting at home, I solved the problem by making extra broth and cooking the egg in that surplus after combining the broth and noodles, then spooning the cooked egg into the bowls. Not as elegant, perhaps, but it works.
You can serve soba by itself, of course, but why would you? This recipe is straightforward enough that you’ll have time for a couple of simple classics. Follow the soba with a simple salad with an Asian vinaigrette and some salt-broiled mackerel. This fast-brining technique, used by home cooks throughout Japan, firms up the flesh and has helped me make mackerel lovers out of several friends. Finish with a refreshing green-tea granita. Don’t forget the sake.