The hubby loves yakisoba day in our house. While he’s too dignified to do the happy dance, he does get a spring in his step and it’s not unusual to see him licking the bowl clean. Hmm, maybe that’s the reason we eat in so much…. Right, so despite it’s Chinese origins, 焼きそば yakisoba really doesn’t taste much like chow mein, the similarities pretty much stop at the wheat-based egg noodles and the fact that they’re stir-fried. And although “soba” is part of the name, yakisoba is not made with buckwheat soba noodles which are usually eaten cold and dipped in dashi-soy based sauces (like ざる蕎麦 zarusoba) or in soups (like きつね蕎麦 kitsune soba) but wheat noodles called 中華そば chuka soba or chukamen that are similar to Chinese chow mein noodles–actually, “chuka” means Chinese style. Hey, I can’t help it. I’m a science nerd at heart but I love all forms of info.
I like to make my own sauce but there are also commercial yakisoba sauces available and the key ingredient is strangely enough Worcestershire sauce. Yup, that strange amalgamation of salty, sweet, and tangy flavors from England. Apparently there’s a secret Japanese-English taste bud connection cuz Worcestershire sauce makes appearances in many quintessentially Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki (a savory “pancake” usually with veggies like cabbage inside and almost any other type of ingredients you can think of like pork belly, squid, kimchi, mochi,… which makes sense since お好み okonomi means “whatever you like” and drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce and sweet Japanese mayonnaise). Take a peak here for a cute visual on Japanese cuisine Worcestershire-ness🙂. As I’m sure you’re coming to realize, I like quick dishes that give you the flexibility of tossing in whatever veggies strike your fancy/are looking sort of neglected in the veggie drawer and this is no exception. Traditionally you’ll see cabbage, onion, and carrots but truthfully almost anything works, except maybe tomatoes and celery. And probably bitter melon. So clean out that veggie bin and slurp down some tender, savory, tangy noodles while you’re at it.
Hint me please:
1) This seems like an easy recipe to make vegetarian, right? If you can find vegetarian Worcestershire sauce then you’re good to go. Eh? You see, the secret ingredient in Worcestershire sauce is anchovies. It’s the last ingredient on the label and to me, all I taste is sweetly sour sauce but English or Japanese brands think it’s important enough to the overall taste that it’s still there. I’ve come up with a vegetarian yakisoba sauce recipe recently that tastes very similar to the traditional one below and is sardine-free🙂
2) I don’t have mirin, can I substitute something else for it? Many times 味醂 mirin is used in sauces for its smooth, sweet flavor but in this instance, it mainly provides that glossy sheen you see in the photos (it’s not oil that’s making the noodles look shiny but the mirin) so you can just leave it out and add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp sugar instead.
3) Ugh, I have to roast the squash first? Either that or par-cook it. The squash has such a long cooking time it has to at least be partially cooked before adding it to the yakisoba otherwise the rest of your veggies will be sadly limp by the time it’s cooked. I like to roast it cuz it adds that “browned” flavor to it and while it’s roasting, I can multitask by prepping the other veggies and making the sauce.
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 tbsp soy sauce (I like Yamasa brand)
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sugar
3 tsp (3 cloves) crushed garlic
2 tbsp (~4 inches) minced ginger
1/2-1 tsp Sriracha (optional)
In a small bowl mix together all the ingredients. Set aside.
1/3 of a small kabocha squash or 1 yam (~1 lb), skin removed in 1-inch cubes (kabocha skin is edible but I remove it cuz it’s too fibrous even for me)
2 + 3 tsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 oz chicken breast or thighs, in 1-inch pieces
1/2 small sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
8-10 baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise
1 c sugar snap peas or snow peas, strings removed
1 lb fresh yakisoba or chukamen (ramen) noodles
Preheat oven to 450F. (I like to prepare my veggies while the oven is preheating and the squash is roasting.) Grease a small roasting pan with 2 tsp oil then place squash in a small roasting pan for 10 minutes, flip over squash and roast for another 10 minutes then remove from oven and set aside. You can turn off the oven as you’ll no longer be needing it.
Season chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper and set aside.
In a large wok or large (at least 3 quarts) pot heat 3 tsp vegetable oil over med-hi heat and brown chicken ~1 minute per side then remove from wok (leaving oil in wok) and set aside. Sauté onion till soft and translucent ~3-4 minutes. Add carrots, baby bok choy, and sugar snap peas and sauté till they release their juices ~3-4 minutes. Stir in squash and put vegetables aside in a large bowl. Add half of noodles and mix in half of yakisoba sauce, fold noodles to mix with sauce (I find this works better than stirring with long noodles like these as they tend to break or try to escape from the wok otherwise). Add remaining noodles and sauce and fold to mix in sauce. Add chicken with any accumulated juices and vegetable mixture. Mix thoroughly and remove from heat. Makes 4-6 servings.