Cooking with Beer: Cold Soba with Soba Ale Tsuyu

In last week's Brew Blog, I mentioned that Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale would make a nice sauce for some actual soba. So I set about verifying that hunch over dinner a few nights ago.

I love Soba. I eat it in all of sorts of non-traditional ways. This time, though, I decided to go very, very traditional. Traditionally, a lot of soba is served cold, so as to preserve the texture of the noodles. It also makes for a light and refreshing meal, especially when served alongside a bit of tsuyu, a traditional dipping sauce for cold soba. The soba is cooked, rinsed and chilled, then served on a woven bamboo tray, with the tsuyu on the side. You pick up a bundle of noodles with your chopsticks, dredge them through the sauce, and slurp them up noisily.

I began my preparations the day before, making a cold-infused shiitake dashi to be the foundation of my sauce. I placed approximately 10g each of kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms into a zip-top bag, followed by one liter of cold water. I squeezed out as much of the air as I could and sealed the bag.

I'd meant to leave it for about five hours, intending to finish it up with a more traditional approach of hot-steeping in water just below the boil. I got busy, though, and forgot all about it while running various errands around town. By the time I got back to it the next day, my dashi had been cold infusing for about 15 hours.

It was the best dashi I've ever made, and required almost literally no effort. Both the briny, oceanic taste of the kombu and the meaty, dusky taste of the shiitake were deep and clear, but supremely balanced against each other and rounded out with intense savoriness and subtle sweetness. It was sensational.

From there, I took about a cup of Morimoto Soba Ale and reduced it in a saucepan by two thirds. This would be my stand-in for the mirin traditionally used in tsuyu. I reduced it both to concentrate the flavor and to cook off some of the alcohol, as I would be feeding this to my kids; my wife has some crazy problem with me boozing them up. The reduced ale cooled to room temperature, then was combined with the Dashi (about three cups) and a third cup of good quality soy sauce.

That's really all there is to tsuyu. You can flavor it from there as you like (I added sliced scallion and toasted sesame), or enjoy it as is. It's sweet, salty, meaty, rich, and delicious, while still managing to be light. This batch boasted the nuttiness and buttery richness of the ale, in addition to the usual sweet, salty, savory taste.

To complete the meal, I cooked, drained, rinsed and chilled some soba, tossing it with a bit of toasted sesame oil to prevent sticking. I also shredded some carrot and daikon, and cooked a bunch of sliced cremini mushrooms from Revival Market, getting them nicely browned and slightly crispy. Just to round things out, I also picked up a few pieces of grilled salmon from the store to go alongside. Everyone agreed it was delicious. It was equally tasty the next day at work, with everything dumped into a bowl and eaten as a cold soup.

People cook with wine all the time, and beer gets overlooked. It's a shame, because beer can add incredible flavor to foods. To me, the extremely wide range of flavors in beer itself means a much wider range of possibilities in the kitchen. Next time you crack one open, take a second to think how you might employ that beer in a dish. You might be surprised at what you come up with.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall