Mentsuyu: a multipurpose base

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If you’ve ever had Japanese tempura, udon noodle soup or zaru soba, you’ve had mentsuyu. It’s a multipurpose soup base that is used in two ways: either cool as a “dipping soup” (tsuketsuyu) for chilled noodles such as zaru soba, or warm as a soup base (kaketsuyu) for hot noodles like udon. If you are using mentsuyu as kaketsuyu, the hot form, you will need to dilute it even further than the cool tsuketsuyu type.

Mentsuyu is flavourful and can either be purchased ready made from your local Japanese grocery store, or can be easily homemade as well. It gets its flavour from bonito flakes, kelp, soy sauce, mirin, and sake, and as with any sauce or soup base, you can adjust the proportions of the ingredients to your liking, depending on what you’re making. You may want it a touch sweeter with a stronger sake flavour for your zaru soba, but saltier, with more emphasis on the kelp for your udon soup.

The recipe here is one I like as a base, and you can adjust from there.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of bonito flakes, packed
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of mirin
  • 1/3 cup of sake
  • kelp (a small cut piece, approximately 2 inches wide)

Preparation

1. Place your sake into a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a boil, let it reduce slightly and add your other ingredients. Give everything a quick stir.

2. Reduce the heat to a medium low heat and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes. Leave the cover off.

3. Remove your pot from the heat and let everything cool to room temperature.

4. Strain your mixture through a sieve. (You can keep your kelp and bonito flakes to use for onigiri or as a rice or noodle seasoning by dry roasting it in a pan with some sesame seeds. Yum!)

5. You can now use your mentsuyu right away or bottle it. It should last in the fridge for about a month.

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