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Soba

Soba—Japanese buckwheat noodles—wearing nothing at all.
difficulty:
yield:

About 9 ounces of noodles, cooked

time:

About 1 hour top to bottom

introduction

In Japan, master soba makers trained in their craft from childhood make soba noodles by hand. One hundred percent pure buckwheat noodles are notoriously difficult to fabricate and famously driven to break. The reason: buckwheat flour is weak, lacking the strength given to wheat flour by a protein called gluten. For our own handmade soba, we had to cheat a bit by blending fresh, mountain-grown Japanese buckwheat flour and Farina di Maccheroni ‘00’ Crema, a superfine pasta flour made from wheat, to create Ni-Hachi Sobakoh. With this custom-blended flour, we have managed to reduce soba noodle’s susceptibility to fracture and keep the buckwheat flavor high at the same time.

The noodles themselves conjure herbs, wet earth, and dark, roasted tea.

Cooking Remarks

To make the noodle dough, we use boiling water to gel the starch present in the buckwheat component of our sobakoh (the Japanese term for the flour used to make soba). When this starch is elastic, warm, and hydrated, it interacts with the glutinous properties of the wheat flour in our sobakoh to help create an extensible dough.

The hydration of this dough is sensitive—it can jump from too dry to too wet tout de suite. Any number of factors—your measuring technique, your measuring cups, and the way in which you’ve stored the flour—may necessitate minor adjustments of water or flour once you’ve first mixed the dough. Feel free to make these adjustments, but do so cautiously, as directed in the recipe below.

Soba, which is intended to be eaten fresh, is generally prepared, cooked, and consumed on the same day. Don’t make the noodles too far in advance of serving. If the cooked noodles stick together, gently rinse them in cool water before plating them.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a food processor, a small saucepan or teakettle, a heatproof liquid measuring cup, a rolling pin, a bench knife or chef's knife, a pasta machine, a drying rack (real or improvised—a wooden rack for drying clothes works extremely well and a suspended broom handle will do in a pinch), a stockpot, a pair of tongs, and a colander.

    • 5
      ounces (1 cup) Anson Mills Ni-Hachi Sobakoh, plus additional if needed
    • Spring or filtered water
    • ½
      teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 1
      tablespoon table salt for the soba cooking water
  1.  

    Place the sobakoh in the bowl of a food processor. Bring spring or filtered water (at least ¾ cup) to a boil in a small saucepan or teakettle. Measure the salt into a heatproof liquid measuring cup and pour boiling water to a level slightly above the ⅓-cup line (about 3 ounces). Stir to dissolve the salt. With the food processor running, pour the water through the feed tube and process until the dough chases itself around and forms a ball, about 20 seconds. If the dough remains crumbly, add hot water, ½ teaspoon at a time, with the machine running. If the dough feels extremely soft and sticky, add sobakoh by the teaspoon, processing after each addition.

  2.  

    Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead lightly for a couple of minutes without adding more sobakoh—it should have the consistency of smooth, supple, strong pasta dough. Flatten the dough into a 4- to 5-inch disk and place in a bowl covered very lightly with plastic wrap. (Do not seal the wrap around the bowl—steam must be allowed to escape.) Let the dough cool and rest for 20 minutes.

  3.  

    Set up a pasta machine. Cut the dough into quarters with a bench knife or chef’s knife. Return 3 pieces to the bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Lightly flour the fourth piece and with a rolling pin, roll it into a band about 3 inches wide and 6 inches long. Run the dough twice through the second widest setting on the pasta machine, then twice through the fourth setting, adding sobakoh as necessary. The band of dough will now be about 10 inches long and 4 inches wide. Hang the dough across a wooden drying rack or a suspended broom handle anchored on both ends. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 pieces of dough. Dry the sheets of dough for about 30 minutes, turning them occasionally; they should be firm and dryish but not leathery.

  4.  

    Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a stockpot over high heat and add the table salt. Set the pasta machine to cut linguine. Flour the bands of dough lightly with sobakoh and feed each through the machine. Loop each batch lightly in half and place the soba on a tray or large plate.

  5.  

    To cook the soba, gently lower the noodles into the boiling water, taking care not to break them. After about 10 seconds, gently stir with tongs. Cook about 20 seconds longer, and then drain in a colander. Flush with cool water by running the water over your outstretched hands held over the noodles to protect them. Drain well. Serve with Shoyu-Mirin Dipping Sauce and Garnishes.