On Soboro

Previously, on tastingmenu.wordpress.com:
* https://tastingmenu.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/morimoto-zhajiangmianza-jan-noodles-for-two/

As I had mentioned earlier, “….Growing up, my mother used to make me (乾)拌麵 “(Gan) Ban Mien” (Mand.) [“Giao Mi” (TW)] which literally means “(dry) stir noodles”. Basically, it was a ground meat sauce flavored with garlic, rice wine (read: sake), soy with whatever vegetables were on hand and thickened with a starch slurry to top fresh boiled pasta….“.

Upon reflecting on the matter, two points made themselves prominent in the considerations –

  • ankake – a thick meat and vegetable sauce for noodles that originated from Nagoya.
  • soboro – soy simmered ground/crumbled meat for rice

Fortunately, Elizabeth Andoh provided a wonderful exposition on soboro at https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/soboro-donburi-gingery-ground-beef-peas-over-rice

Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi helpfully provided a quick recipe for ankake sauce at https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/food/recipe/kyou_20363.html

The recipe from Elizabeth Andoh was very close to how I was taught to make soboro from my family at large, less the sugar and replacing the ginger with garlic.  The recipe very much echoed the notion of a dry stir fry to top noodles (instead of rice).  In fact, memories of my youth recalled the use of peas in the dish.  The family story is that my aunt taught my mother this dish while we were visiting Texas when I was quite young.  There was some confusion whether or not this family recipe was influenced by chili.  But it did seem to me that the recipe was a hybrid of soboro and ankake that made the soboro ‘pourable’ over pasta OR rice.

Murata-sama approaches the ankake sauce by combining

2 tbsp soy sauce (usukuchi?)
2 tbsp mirin
240 ml sake (16 T + 1/2t + 1/8t == 1 cup + 1/2t + 1/8 t)

which he brings to a boil and then adds 1/2 t of ginger juice and then 1 T potato starch to thicken the mix.

By comparison, in Tsuji’s book, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art , p. 447, Tsuji talks about a soboro ‘sauce’ made from

1 cup dashi/chicken stock
4 T dark soy sauce
1/2 T sugar

This sounded awfully close to what  I was taught years ago (but without the sugar nor the starch).  So perhaps I could hybridize the sauce by making:

4 T dark soy sauce
240 ml sake (16 T + 1/2t + 1/8t == 1 cup + 1/2t + 1/8 t)
1 T potato starch

In fact, that sounded like a lot, and so I thought I could make a half batch:

2 T dark soy sauce
1/2 c sake (16 T + 1/2t + 1/8t == 1 cup + 1/2t + 1/8 t)
1 T potato starch

Adjusting our family based on the guidance from Elizabeth Andoh and Chef Murata, my family recipe would become:

1 pound 85% lean ground beef
1/2 cup frozen English peas, thawed
1 tablespoon grated garlic (thank you Matsuhisa-sama)

portioning out the garlic, peas, sake in relation to the ground meat

So I would start by heating rice oil in a preheated hot wok (medium heat) and sear the ground meat; and on this occasion I was using dark ground

…looks not unlike ground beef this ground dark meat turkey does…?

meat turkey.  I would then add 1/4 c sake and  simmer on medium high heat for about 5 minutes (breaking up the ground meat until

seared ground meat with the sake added

crumbly).  At that point I would add the peas and garlic continuing to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat was no longer pink but

Adding in the peas and grated garlic

is still moist, about 4 minutes

incorporating all the pan ingredients

While that was cooking, I could make the modified ankake sauce by bringing the soy, sake to a boil. Using a trick from Iron Chef Chen, I

ankake sauce base players

could make a slurry with 1 T potato starch and 2 T water.

prepared potato starch slurry

To the boiling sauce and then add the slurry to thicken the entire mixture.

Bringing the sake soy mix to a boil

After adding in the slurry….

slurry thickened sauce into ankake

At that point I would add it to the soboro and mix to incorporate.  It was interesting to note that the ankake had the viscosity not

adding the ankake into the soboro!

unlike oyster sauce making it pourable  over pasta or rice.  As it would turn out, after tasting what was in the wok, I needed to correct

ankake incorporated into the soboro, tightening the mix.

the seasoning with an extra 1 t soy sauce.

I decided to leave the soboro/ankake mix in the state it was in with the thought it would loosen if it served with hot pasta, fresh out of the pot (a trick from italian cooking), or

soboro/ankake over freshly cooked Nobu-style buckwheat.

in the case, simply cooked buckwheat soba (the way Matsuhisa-sama cooks the buckwheat before turning it into ‘risotto’).  The resulting flavors were very much like the ones I had when I was growing up.  I vastly prefer this version with the sake/soy coming from the ankake, rather than the extra soy sauce in the soboro itself.


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