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Yakisoba is one of life's little pleasures. I used to love that stuff! Some of the best yakisoba I ever ate was bought from a little van parked alongside the road when I would go roaming around the island on weekends. Next best was probably at festivals. Here in the States, we buy Rodeo burgers or hot dogs at the ball park. Pork on a stick at a summer farmer's market, and so on. On Okinawa, a favorite fast food for me was yakisoba. The more remote from a restaurant, the better.
Well, one day I was talking with Kioko, our maid when we lived in Stearly Heights. I told her how much I had enjoyed my day and especially the yakisoba I had bought off the back of a tiny little van on the Chinen Peninsula. Kioko perked up and said she'd make some for me. The next day she brought all the fixin's and made up a pan of excellent yakisoba. As she prepared it, she told me to watch and to take notes. That was some 16 years ago - and my family still loves it and it is a given that I'll be whippin' up a batch every time the kids come home.
I've read so many recipes on the Internet that claim to be yakisoba. I even saw one that made me laugh in disgust - really! It said to make yakisoba sauce with 1/2 soy sauce and 1/2 catsup! Can you believe that!? Makes me want to barf!
Now, I don't claim to corner the market on know-how but I'm going to offer you this recipe and I want to hear from you after you've tried it!
I have to admit, right up front, that yakisoba is much like home-made spaghetti - everybody does it differently - but almost all of those sauces are good! But, friends, this recipe for yakisoba is the best I've ever done.
It's important to know, first of all, that making yakisoba is done in three steps.
1. frying the meat
2. Steaming the veggies, and
3. Frying the noodles.
Most recipes that I've read would have you preparing everything all in one pan. Sure, eventually it all ends up in one pan but the preparation is clearly in three stages.
To begin, here's the stuff you need:
SPAM. Yup! I did say SPAM. Now, before you go off and click outta here thinking, "There's no way in hell that I'm ever going to eat SPAM," let me tell you about it. In the days following the war there were few things that were available in abundance but SPAM wasn't one of those. It was plentiful and it was available. So, needless to say, as Kioko explained it, the Okinawans would do what they could with what they had. And they did. Once prepared, if done right, you'd never know that it's SPAM in there! None of my friends or relatives, the vast majority of whom love the stuff, have guessed right what the "mystery meat" in my yakisoba was. Okay, back to what you need to make this yakisoba:
Yakisoba sauce. Bulldog is a good brand as is the Otafuku. What I haven't yet found is a real recipe for making your own yakisoba sauce. It's very much like Worchestershire sauce - another thing that was plentiful in the US Army, and therefore on Okinawa.
So, remember I said it's done in three phases.
Phase One - preparing the meat.
Cut up some bacon into small pieces. I use the bulk bacon because it tastes just fine and it makes plenty of oil for frying up the SPAM. Don't be in a big hurry to do this step. If you cook it too fast the SPAM doesn't do right; if it burns you're screwed and have to start all over again. Stab a couple of holes in the bottom of the SPAM can so that you can shake it out onto a cutting board in one chunk. Cut it in 1/4" slices. Then julienne those slices so that you have a bunch of 1/4" x 1/4" by approx 1 and 1/2 inch pieces. I typically julienne two cans of the stuff.
Get the bacon pieces frying first. When they're about half-way to crispy, add the SPAM. Be sure to pull apart all the pieces of SPAM as they tend to stick together. Separate and sprinkle them all over the top of the bacon. Now, here's the hard part - getting it just right. Slow-fry the SPAM, turning it every 8-10 minutes so that all pieces get browned.
After all pieces of SPAM are browned and beginning to get kinda crispy pour in some Soy Sauce. Don't add the soy sauce too soon or it won't work out right. Continue to slowly fry until the soy sauce and bacon drippings are reduced. If done right, the SPAM is then nicely glazed and pretty firm. If you try to do this too quickly the SPAM doesn't get firm and will taste like SPAM. You DON'T want this stuff tasting like SPAM. (I tried something different today, 6-22-12, and like it a lot. Just before the glazing process is completed I added about a tablespoonful of minced garlic and some shredded - or julienned in a jar - ginger. It did add a nice zing!) When it's the way you want it, remove it from the pan, into a bowl and set that aside. I keep the bacon drippings for later frying the noodles.
Phase Two - preparing the noodles.
If you're lucky and can find fresh yakisoba noodles then Hooray! You're going to be in fine shape. If you're really land-locked, like me, in Montana, you have to improvise. You can boil up some fetuccini or even plain spaghetti and use that, but it isn't as good as the real deal. My compromise is to prepare the noodles from those little bags of Ramen that you can get at the commissary for 12-cents apiece. [They cost a little more than that now, Sept 2, 2010]. Whatever you choose to use, prepare it, rinse thoroughly with cold water, drain it well and set that aside. I just leave it in the collander until I'm ready to fry it.
Phase Three - preparing the vegetables.
Now, here you can put in just about anything you want. What I use though is simply cabbage, onion, Bell pepper and carrots. I've gotten lazy in my old age and buy those little bags of already-julienned carrots.
You can steam the veggies before adding to the noodles but be sure that they are not soggy! My own preference is to put the raw, unsteamed vegetables into the pan immediately after stirring the sauce into the noodles. I let the veggies steam as the noodles fry. That way, the veggies are not at all soggy. Some though prefer vegetables a bit more "well-done" so, if that's you, partially steam them ahead of time. Otherwise, the noodles will burn because of the extra time it would take to get the veggies well-done/soft.
So, there you have three separate bunches of stuff; the meat, the noodles and the vegetables.
Next, in the pan, add a little vegetable oil and start to fry noodles. The first batch is always the best because it still has some of the bacon grease in the pan. When I cook yakisoba, folks know that they're going to have to wait their turn because it isn't all done at once. If I had a huge restaurant-style flat grill I could do it all at once but I don't so I can't. So, I cook it one or two servings at a time.
Put a couple of handsful of boiled and drained noodles into the pan and flip them around until they've begun to fry - but not so much so that they're hard and crispy. About half-way through frying the noodles add some yakisoba sauce. How much? I don't know... enough to be sure that all the noodles are brown. Too much and I think you've ruined it. Too little and it doesn't taste right. I just drizzle a spiral of sauce around after spreading the noodles out in the pan. (see photo) It's trial and error, friends. Just do it then adjust according to your preference.
Once the noodles are beginning to fry, toss in a bunch of the SPAM and bacon and flip that around a while.
Next, pile some of the raw or partly-steamed veggies on top of the noodles and meat, cover the pan and let it steam for another couple of minutes. If you put the vegetables in before the yakisoba sauce then it's not good; the vegetables will absorb some of the sauce, will discolor and, in my opinion, ruins the taste of the veggies.
Lastly, as it's just about done, mix it all up really good then scoop it out into individual serving dishes.
Before I left Okinawa I bought a bunch of those bento-no hako, little dark brownish red plastic serving trays with a clear plastic top that's typically secured with a rubber band... you remember those, right? If I'm making up a huge batch of yakisoba, like for family reunions, etc. I use those bento-no hako and stack them up in a big cooler to keep them warm. At home I just scoop the yakisoba into large soba bowls. Something that makes my family even more convinced that I am insane is that I swear that the stuff tastes better if eaten with chop-sticks! Use a fork if you like, but it's chop-sticks for me! I also bought a big case of those cheap balsa-wood-like chopsticks that are stuck together at one end. You have to pull them apart then whip them back and forth against each other to remove the splinters... you know what I'm talking about, don'tcha?
Anyway, there's my yakisoba recipe. If it doesn't taste "just right" the first time, then just experiment a little the next time.
NOTE: The photos in this feature are taken today, Dec 28th, as I was making up a batch for my kids who will be leaving tomorrow to go back to their respective homes in time to get back to work or to classes. To see full-size photo just click on the photo.
HEY! It's Jan 11, 2010 now and I just realized that I goofed! I told you all about the carrots and, lo and behold, when I made this batch for these pictures I had forgotten the carrots! Jeeese! Oh, well, too late....
So, if you tried this recipe, please let me know what you think of it.
Whether I get a good or a bad review I'll post your comments here to share with everyone. You guys be my judge!
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