This dish is based on the classic Korean noodle soup kal gooksu (or "knife noodles," so named because the handmade dough is cut with a knife). In the traditional version, any spicy seasoning would be served on the side, but Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee opts to mix hers right into the bracing soup, adding spinach for extra flavor.
Inspired by a snack served at Japanese restaurants, Marcia Kiesel boils udon noodles until they are just al dente, then ties them into small bundles and quickly fries them in a shallow layer of vegetable oil. They are addictively crunchy.
Chewy udon noodles have a mild flavor that's wonderful with the delicate spices in this rich beef broth from chef Nobuo Fukuda of Sea Saw in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was an F&W Best New Chef in 2003. Udon is available at Asian markets and some supermarkets, but if you can't find them, Italian egg noodles are the best alternative.
Instead of spending time shredding cabbage and carrots, Grace Parisi uses prepackaged coleslaw mix. She tosses it with noodles and shrimp, then adds a spicy, gingery dressing prepared with other easy-to-find supermarket ingredients, like bottled teriyaki sauce and chile-garlic sauce.
Ludovic Lefebvre, chef at Los Angeles's Bastide, adores the Raynaud Cristobal porcelain plates sold at Le Sanctuaire. Their lobster-pink pattern inspired him to create a sake-spiked lobster dish with chewy udon noodles, tender bok choy and sweet citrus wedges.