Hot Somen with Chicken and Eggplant

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Spring dances toward Michigan with a leap forward, two steps back, and turn about. Yesterday was 70° (21°C) and bees were sluggishly sucking nectar from crocuses. Though crocuses wilt quickly when temperatures rise, today they are stiffly closed against a chilly 44° (6°C). There are rumors (otherwise known as weather forecasts) that it will snow tonight. This Japanese-style chicken noodle soup is comfort on a cold day. The pretty green peas and okra chips remind us that spring is coming.

Hot Somen with Chicken and Eggplant
from a library book (information on request)
serves 4

  • 2 Japanese eggplants
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 13 ounces chicken thighs, skin on
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup saké
  • 8 pea pods, stemmed
  • 5 cups udon broth
    • which is made with:
    • 4½ cups dashi
    • ½ cup Japanese soy sauce
    • ½ cup mirin
  • 12 ounces dry somen
  • 1 ¼ cups shimeji mushrooms
  • ½ teaspoon yuzu pepper (optional)

Pour the vegetable oil into a pot that is just large enough to arrange the chicken in a single layer. Heat over a high flame. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. When the oil is almost smoking hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until the skin becomes golden brown. Turn the chicken over and cook 1 minute longer, then flip again and decrease the heat to low.
Carefully pour in the saké, then cover the pot with a lid. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Add the udon broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then turn the burner off and let sit, covered for 45 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken from the pot and set on a plate until cool. Use your hands to shred the chicken into small pieces. Discard the bones.
Meanwhile, use a gas burner or boiler to cook the eggplants. Poke several small holes along each side of the eggplants. Grill them, turning every 2 to 4 minutes until the skin becomes charred and very soft, about 10 minutes cooking time. Cool to room temperature. Slice off the top and bottom ends and use your hands to peel off the skin, and discard. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch long pieces. Set aside.
Prepare an ice bath and place a pot of water over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the pea pods and cook for 45 seconds. Remove the pea pods and submerge in the ice bath. Drain. When chilled, slice each into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside. (NOTE: do not discard the boiling water: cover and keep warm until you are ready to cook the noodles.)
If you are using clay bowls, pour in the hot broth, then set each pot over high heat. Don’t do this if you are using bowls not designed to cook on a stove top!!!

Add the somen noodles to the reserved boiling water and cook aldenté, about a minute. Rinse under cold running water to remove starch. Drain well.
If you are using regular noodle bowls, bring the broth to a boil, add the somen, and heat for 30 seconds. Serve the noodles and broth topped with eggplant, mushrooms, and chicken. Garnish with pea post and yuzu pepper.

Once the broth comes to a boil, divide the somen equally among the bowls and top each with one-fourth of the eggplant, mushrooms, and chicken. Cover and increase the heat to high until the liquid returns to a boil. 30 seconds. Turn off the heat.
Set a folded paper towel in the center of 4 heatproof plates and rest the clay pots on top of them. Briefly remove the lids to garnish with the pea pods and yuzu pepper. Replace the lids to serve.
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