Union Joints Executive Chef Aaron Cozadd says his earthy, rich, savory Udon Noodle Bowl is actually easy, though it looks complicated. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
As the executive chef of the Union Joints restaurants (the Vinsetta Garage in Berkley, the Clarkston Union and the Union Woodshop in Clarkston and the Fenton Fire Hall in Fenton), Aaron Cozadd spends a lot of hours on the road, as well as in the restaurants’ kitchens.
But he still manages to cook at home four or five days a week.
“I make big batches that I can re-heat,” he says. “And I also like to experiment in my newly renovated kitchen that includes an extra wide and extra deep stainless steel sink that can hold any size pot.
“It’s the little functional things that make a kitchen awesome,” he says.
Udon Noodle Bowl With Ribeye and Pickled Mushrooms is a dish Cozadd particularly enjoys making with his wife Shannon “if we’re both home for the day … especially in the winter months,” he says. “It’s a relaxing cooking process that you do slowly, lovingly and with care.”
Honored to get CIA training
Cozadd says he has been interested in cooking since he was very young.
“When I was little, in between ‘Sesame Street’ shows, my dad would put on a show called ‘Great Chefs of the World.’ I watched it every day, and it definitely got ingrained in me. And both my parents cooked. I would always help out in the kitchen and decided early on I wanted to do something creative.
“But rather than be a creative musician, I figured out if you’re a chef, you’re never starving,” he says.
Cozadd’s first “real cooking job” was as a line cook at the Clarkston Union. Then it was off to study at the renowned Culinary Institute of America. Located in an old Jesuit monastery in New York’s Hudson Valley, “it was like going to Hogwarts for chefs where people were practicing culinary arts instead of magic,” he says. “When I got my knife bag, it was like receiving a set of secret tools.”
Soon after graduating from the CIA in 2004, Cozadd returned home to work at the Clarkston Union, then became executive chef of the Union Woodshop when it opened in 2009 and was appointed executive chef of all the Union Joints restaurants in 2013.
Recipe isn't too complicated
The Detroit native says his Udon Noodle Bowl recipe is based on one by James Beard award-winning chef Takashi Yagihashi, once the executive chef at Tribute restaurant, now closed, in Farmington Hills.
“I have been following his career since I first ate at Tribute in 1998, when I was still considering attending culinary school,” Cozadd says. “And it was after having a Udon Noodle Bowl at Takashi’s Slurping Turtle restaurant in Chicago in 2012 that I was inspired to try my hand with this earthy, rich, savory, hearty dish.
“It’s actually a really easy recipe, even though it looks complicated,” Cozadd says.
Cozadd suggests serving it with boiled edamame in the shell that have been seasoned with garlic, smoked paprika and soy sauce and a high-quality, cold, unfiltered sake.
“The sake’s floral notes will expand the earthy flavors of the dish,” he says. And for dessert, he suggests either red bean or green tea mochi ice cream from an Asian market. “It’s very different and very delicious,” he says.
About this feature
In our ongoing feature “At Home with Chef ...” we ask local chefs about what they like to cook when they’re off duty and at home on the range — in their own kitchen.
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Udon Noodle Bowl With Ribeye and Pickled Mushrooms
Adapted from Takashi Yagihashi’s cookbook “Takashi’s Noodles”
For the dashi (Japanese stock; makes 2 quarts):
2 large pieces kombu (a thick dried seaweed), wiped with a damp paper towel
2 quarts plus 1 cup water
3 cups packed bonito flakes (tuna that has been dried, fermented and smoked, then shaved incredibly thin)
For the udon broth:
6 cups dashi (above)
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
1 cup mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine made from rice)
For the final dish:
5 cups udon broth (above)
1 pound raw ribeye (or any lean cut of beef), sliced thin
2 cups baby kale
2 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias
4 packages of single serving frozen udon noodles
1 bunch of watercress
1 cup cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 cup sherry vinegar
˝ cup sugar
2 sprigs of thyme
1 garlic clove smashed
Note: You can pick up the kombu, bonito flakes, mirin and noodles at Whole Foods Market or at any Asian market in the Detroit-metro area.
To make the dashi: Place the kombu and water in a stock pot and let it soak at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the kombu and decrease the heat so that the liquid is simmering. Add the bonito flakes and gently mix them into the liquid; don’t stir vigorously. Simmer for 10 more minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve.
To make the udon broth: Simply combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Then keep hot until ready to serve.
For the dish: Pickle the mushrooms by blanching them in lightly salted boiling water until tender. Drain, then pour a hot mixture of the sherry vinegar, sugar, thyme and a smashed garlic clove over the top. Cool in the liquid until ready to serve. (This can be done ahead of time.)
Bring the udon broth to a simmer in a large sauce pan and dip the beef slices in the simmering broth one at a time, holding them there for only about 10 seconds each. Set them aside in a covered dish.
Add the scallions and baby kale to the broth and simmer for 1 minute then reduce the heat and keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles per the instructions on the package. (When the noodles are ready, they will be plump and have a nice elastic snap to them.)
Drain the noodles and divide among four bowls. Pour the hot broth over the top and garnish with the ribeye, pickled mushrooms and watercress.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 845 calories; 25 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 27 percent calories from fat); 117 g carbohydrates; 74 mg cholesterol; 3220 mg sodium; 35 g protein; 2 g fiber.
Judith Harris Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org.