When it comes to birthday and Christmas gifts, Mark and I both like to get each other vouchers for experiences rather than “stuff” as a general preference. Sometimes they are real vouchers, and sometimes they are handwritten “IOUs” depending on the situation. Cooking classes are perfect gifts because we both love to cook, and there is no end of options for new things to learn when it comes to food. Mark gave me an IOU for a Japanese cooking class of my choice with Yuki’s Kitchen in Crystal Palace. There’s a range of classes available to choose from on the website including sushi, ramen, gyoza, and seasonal home cooking options that look really interesting. I chose the udon and tempura class and we went along last weekend.
We decided to drive there given that it was just an easy hop across south London, or so we thought. The traffic was terrible, particularly around one small junction in Streatham. Despite leaving plenty of time to get there, we were going to be late and I was getting so worried that we’d miss something crucial in the class, or that Yuki would be unhappy that we were late. I needn’t have worried – Yuki was so friendly when we arrived and we settled right in to the class without missing too much. I was so relieved!
In front of us at our bench there was a bowl of pre-weighed flour and next to it was a bowl of water seasoned with a little salt and a little booklet of recipes. We added the water to the flour and started bringing the udon dough together with our fingers, but not worrying about kneading it too much – that was coming next. We used the traditional Japanese method of kneading the dough, which is tougher and more difficult to work with than bread dough . We put the ball of dough into a plastic bag, tied the top, placed that bag into another bag and used our feet to knead it. It didn’t need any stamping or aggressive force, just the weight of your body and smooth kneading motions with your feet. It was quite therapeutic actually! We kneaded for a few minutes before taking the lightly flattened dough out and folding it back into a ball before repeating the whole process again a couple more times. Then the dough was ready to rest. These were then ours to take home as we later used some dough that Yuki had prepared in advance for the class.
Next it was time to have a go at making tempura, in particular kakiage to be served with our udon soup. Kakiage are the nests of thinly sliced vegetables cooked in tempura batter. Firstly we sliced some red onion, pepper, carrot, and celery that would form our kakiage. You can pretty much use any crunchy or root vegetable for this – Yuki suggested even using parsnips which I will certainly be trying at some point! Yuki then taught us how to make good tempura batter and some of the tips and tricks to get a really light crispy batter. She also talked through the differences between using store-bought tempura flour and using plain flour as well as some pros and cons of each. We then took it in turns to fry our kakiage by lowering them into the oil on a piece of cooking paper and watching for them to be ready to flip. Once they were cooked we set them aside to cool a little on a rack – they were so colourful!
We didn’t just stop at kakiage though. We also made tempura with shrimp, cod cheek, oyster mushrooms, kabocha pumpkin, asparagus, and broccoli, and ate them with a delicious tempura dipping sauce with fresh daikon. It was difficult to choose a favourite, but I really enjoyed the oyster mushrooms, broccoli and cod cheek.
Because of the time needed to prepare a good dashi (Japanese stock) and the logistics of us each trying to make our own in the class, Yuki gave us a demonstration, but it was still really informative. We learned about soaking kombu (kelp) to make the base kombu dashi which is then infused with bonito flakes for a deep umami flavour. To make the soup for the udon, soy sauce and mirin are added, tasting throughout to perfect the flavour.
To make the noodles, we rolled out the dough until it was just a few millimetres thick and then rolled it up before slicing into strips. It was difficult to slice them thinly without them ending up weirdly shaped, and overall I think the class made quite thick noodles! I think it’s something that just comes with practice which I’m more than happy to do! Once the noodles were cut, they went into a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, occasionally adding some cold water to shock the noodles to help develop their flavour and texture, but also to stop the pot boiling over!
The noodles were finished and it was time to eat. Yuki served us all some udon with some of the delicious soup, a piece of kakiage and a sprinkling of fresh spring onion. It was so colourful! I love udon and I was in my element eating the final results of the class. The noodles were quite thick, but still delicious, and the soup was out of this world. Such clear soup with delicate flavour, made with just a handful of ingredients, but packed full of umami! The crunch and richness of the kakiage rounded the dish off beautifully.
I absolutely 100% recommend this class to anyone looking for something fun to do even if you’re not all that into Japanese food (yet). Yuki herself is incredibly knowledgeable about Japanese food and gladly answered all of our many questions. She also had loads of recommendations for where to get ingredients in London. I will definitely be doing more classes with Yuki’s Kitchen – it’s a great way to learn new skills and Yuki is such great fun that you are almost guaranteed to have a fantastic time!
Check out Yuki’s website here: http://www.yukiskitchen.com/