Thursday, March 09, 2006

Yakisoba out of the bottle

Cooking yakisoba these days is about the quest for the perfect sauce. I've come up with some pretty good versions (just check the index for some past attempts) but none of them quite have that beefy, just a bit greasy goodness I remember from Dosanko.

Walking down the aisles of the Asian supermarket is perilous for a sauce lover. There are bottles and bottles of all kinds of sauces, all gleaming with a come-hither luster. All of them promise wonderful meals: savory meat and noodles, lightly stir-fried veggies gleaming with just the lightest veneer of sauce to add flavor to the dish without drowning it. Who knows which bottle holds the secret? They all whisper their promises, while the cold voice of the conscience admonishes that homemade sauces without preservatives are really the best. The temptations increase in the Japanese aisle, where the sauces are not only tempting in their own right, but often come in beautifully designed little vials that would not be out of place in a well-appointed wizard's cabinet of potions.

So I thought to myself, 'Why not try a bottled yakisoba sauce? Maybe it'll hold the perfect sauce secret.' I came home with a bottle of Otafuku Yakisoba Sauce, which also advertises itself as a suitable garnish for stir-fried veggies, hamburgers, noodles and fried rice. The lengthy ingredient list includes some potentially scary stuff (high fructose corn syrup, MSG), extracts from much of the animal kingdom (oysters, chickens, pigs, fish, scallops, shrimp and yeast into the bargain) and fruits and vegetables (everything from peach to garlic).

I followed the recipe on the bottle wrapper (yes, this is a bottle that comes in a plastic wrapper). Due to a glitch in preparation, I wound up with both chicken breast and shrimp ready to be cooked that night. Mixing meats like that is more of a southeast Asian thing, but I decided to go with it. Maybe it would lead to a yakisoba as big as the Ritz. I doubled my allotment of chukasoba noodles to make sure the proportions of meat to noodles were correct.

I stir-fried the shrimp, chicken and some sliced button mushrooms and onions in a bit of vegetable oil about five minutes, then added the cooked chukasoba and heated it through. Then I added a third of a cup of the yakisoba sauce and cooked everything for about three more minutes. I served it out onto plate and tucked in.

It wasn't bad, but it left me a little disappointed. I'm starting to think that one of the components of my perfect yakisoba sauce is beef juice, so the absence of beef from this yakisoba posed a problem. The bottled sauce itself had a sort of sweet-and-sour fruity note that can be found in things such as Chik-fil-A's polynesian sauce. So there I was, eating a home-cooked meal and thinking of fast food. Not the desired impression, to put it mildly. Then again, I probably eat more fast food than I should. It wasn't bad, it made great leftovers and a "brown-bag" lunch for a couple of days, but I think I prefer my fumbling homemade attempts at the perfect yakisoba sauce. Cook and learn.

Not that that means I'll ever be immune to the siren song of the sauce bottles at the Asian supermarket.


carlyn said...

...perhaps some thinly sliced cabbage stir fried with the onions and some aonori sprinkled on top would have added some flavor? Sounded good to me....I love yakisoba.. I just use ikari sauce and skip all the fancy yakisoba sauces....I guess my taste is not too educated.

Winslow said...

Hi carlyn,

Usually I slice up some napa cabbage for my yakisoba, but I didn't happen to have any the night I made this, so I did without. You're probably right about the aonori; I'll have to try that sometime. As for "educated taste," if ikari sauce works for you, go with it. The most important thing is for you to like your yakisoba. I think yakisoba is one of those things where everybody has their own favorite sauce, and they're probably all a little different from each other.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Well, what do you know? I just made a batch of yakisoba noodles with the Otafuku sauce just now. Let's say it was an edible first attempt.

Yes, it is scary what goes into that brown mush but MSG is definitely a no no for me and I have a dry mouth now. Have you checked out the excellent recipes at

Anonymous said...

I've often had delicious beef-less yakisoba, but I've never met a bottled or powdered yakisoba sauce that didn't need a ton of Worchestershire to make it just right. I recently moved to a rural area that has no asian markets, so I'm searching for a homemade sauce recipe. It'll be good to eat MSG-free anyway!