Making Soba at Home
I thought learning how to make soba at Cooking Sun would be fun but impractical skill. How would I find proper buckwheat flour and soba making tools in the U.S.? Little I knew! This summer, soba became my favorite meal.
The first source for the flour I found was Arson Mills RUSTIC AROMATIC BUCKWHEAT FLOUR. They also have ni-hachi sobakoh which is supposed to be a mix of 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flours, but the soba recipe by Arson Mills for their ni-hachi confused me. I decided it will be easier to get buckwheat flour and mix it with 20% of King Arthur bread flour myself. It worked.
A month later, I attended Barton Springs Mill “Heritage Grains + Sourdough Breads Workshop” and discovered they have MANCAN BUCKWHEAT FLOUR.
“Mancan is a newer cultivar developed by Agriculture Canada and has become a prominent choice for buckwheat growers in the southeastern states of our country. Mancan is more vigorous than older buckwheat cultivars, such as Tempest and Tokyo. And this newer mid-season buckwheat potentially yields larger leaves, stems, and seeds.” — source
When I expressed my interest, the owner of Barton Springs Mill James A. Brown kindly milled 5 pounds of Mancan buckwheat for me to experiment with soba. This flour worked even better — finely milled and highly flavorful with 85% of the crushed hull material and without any gritty texture. And it was available right here, in Texas!
Soba Making Tools
The easiest way is to get a complete set of all special soba making tools. It is relatively expensive and includes a large cutting board.
I was not sure I need all the tools to be authentic. My 12″ D Cambro salad bowl was good for making the dough for 4 portions of soba. I had a large enough cutting board to fit 4 times folded dough. I wanted to try using my Chinese clever instead of soba kiri knife. Wooden komaita, a cutting guide, was the only tool I thought was necessary. After making soba a couple of times and deciding I really like it, I replaced clever with a proper soba kiri.
Soba Making Steps
Someday I probably will learn how to make 100% buckwheat soba, but for now, I mix 75% buckwheat and 25% bread flour. I believe the best-tasting soba is fresh. To slowly make 4 portions takes about 10-15 minutes. To cook and serve it is another 5 minutes if you have other elements of your soba dish ready. The video below shows a step-by-step process of making 4 portions of soba at home.
IN THE BOWL
1. Mizumawashi — Pouring. The key is to add water in small amounts and evenly distribute it in a flour mix. Since we work with only 4 portions of soba at home, it is even more important. That’s why we drizzle water, make crumbs, and use a bit less water than the final dough needs.
2. Neri — Kneading. The key is to let the dough crumbs to come together without adding more water. Shape the dough into a ball and squeeze to see how it cracks.
3. Kukuri — Making the Dough Smooth. The key is to add tiny amounts of water and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and doesn’t crack.
ON THE BOARD
Buckwheat doesn’t have gluten, so the dough is pliable, but not elastic. We are not stretching it. We are shaping it. The dough should be moist enough to keep together during the shaping. Dusting is also essential for the next steps. It allows the dough to slide between the rolling pin and the working surface while we make it thinner and thinner. You can use buckwheat, potato, or rice.
4. Marudashi — Shaping a Disk. Shape the dough into a disk with your hands and make sure it doesn’t crack on edges. The key is to roll out the dough gently, without applying any force.
5. Yotsudashi — Shaping a Square. During this step, we reshape the disk of dough into a square by rolling out future diagonals. Again, the key is being gentle with the dough. Roll, turn 90 degrees, roll, turn 90 degrees, again, and again, as many times as needed to make a square.
6. Honnoshi — Shaping a Rectangular. Continue rolling the dough making a thin and even rectangular. The key is dusting and gently rolling. The thinner the dough, the more velvety our fingers should be.
7. Tatamu — Fold. The key is to dust with flour generously to prevent layers of the dough from sticking to each other during the cutting. When folding, use your rolling pin to move the edge of the dough, not your fingers.
8. Kiru — Cut. Avoid pressing too much on the wooden guide. Set a pace and a rhythm — make a cut, tilt your knife a little to slightly move the guide to the next position and expose the next noodle to cut, make a cut, tilt the knife again, and so on.
9. Yuderu — Boil. In a large pot, bring water to boiling. There is no need for salt in the water. Put noodles gently into the boiling water and use chopsticks to stir gently until the water is back to boiling. Cook for 45 sec to 1 minute depending on how thin your noodles are. During the cooking, buckwheat starches gelatinize but they are not stable while hot, not like wheat noodles. To drain soba gently, place a strainer in the boiling water and use chopsticks to fill it with cooked noodles. Then transfer them to the cold water bath to set and rinse thoroughly.
10. Moru — Arrange. Traditionally, zaru soba is served room temperature over the bamboo mat with a dollop of wasabi, sliced scallions, and dipping sauce. At the end of the meal, a cup of cooking liquid — soba-yu — is mixed with some dipping sauce to enjoy as a soup. If buckwheat flour is used for dusting, soba-yu is exceptionally delicious and flavorful. There are many dishes to feature soba — regional and traditional, creative and eclectic, soups and salads, appetizers and meals. I hope to inspire you to discover and enjoy many of them!