Musings on the zen of ramen-making

ramenbowl
A tasty bowl of ramen

It took me some planning to set project ramen into play. For my sanity, I figured I needed at least 3 days to make this happen. I’m not talking about the instant noodle variety here. If you “google” how to make ramen, you will sadly get some hits on Youtube of how to make ramen in a microwave oven.

Nope, we’re past college days here, folks. We’re talking about the revered art of ramen-making where the broth is a significant if not the ultimate component. It is the broth that animates your noodles and everything else you put into your bowl.

I was serious in my quest for the perfect ramen. I even watched “Tampopo” in preparation and the movie reiterated how the Japanese culture takes this noodle soup seriously. I was immediately taken with how a ramen grand master guides his apprentice on how to appreciate a humble bowl of ramen before tucking into it. For hard-core ramen makers, the position of your toppings also matter, but there is very little else written about that.

Hubby reminded me to be careful about what I was feeling when I made the broth. From another movie, “Ramen Girl”, one should pour your emotions into its creation, it doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad, otherwise your broth, despite following careful instructions to simmer 6-7 hours, is going to end up bland and lacking the nuance of spirit.

I remember a giant cauldron of stock beside the main cooking stations in our restaurant. Whole chickens and pork bones would go into the pot in the morning and simmer for an entire day and dishes from stir fries and soups would draw their liquid from it. There are times when the noodle soup (chicken mami) would taste fantastic and there are times when the soup would taste anemic like dish water (not that I know what dish water tastes like). I think it depends how inspired the cook was that day, huh?

That is why I broke up my ramen-making schedule into 3 days because I didn’t want to feel rushed, impatient or annoyed at my broth. So I don’t want to feel rushed, impatient or annoyed after eating my ramen.
 

ramensked
Three days to ramen

Because the recipe is almost 4 pages long, I’ll preface the recipe with my cooking notes. Most of the recipes I used, except the noodles ,are from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. I experimented with ramen noodles earlier this year and the recipe could be found here.

I’m also sold on Benton bacon, the smokiness it imparts to the broth is unparalleled. I think Alan Benton’s bacon is in high demand right now because his website states a waiting period of 4 weeks so if you are planning to use his product, you better take note of its availability. I ordered mine in January and had to wait 3 weeks before it arrived.

momofukubroth
Components of the broth

Other sources for Richmond folks:

Neck Bones – can be obtained from Whole Foods, they arrive every Tuesday.
Chicken Backs – also at Whole foods, I believe they’re frequently available.
Pork Belly – I like to get mine from Tan-A or Far East Grocery located on Horsepen and Broad. I find that Asian pork belly are meatier and more suitable for Asian cooking. Don’t forget to have them take the skin off.
* You can skip the pork belly and use Char Siu also known as Chinese roast pork. Full Kee sells this on the weekend and they make them well.
Usukuchi, Sake and Mirin – are available at most Asian markets. But I buy most of my Japanese ingredients from Tokyo Market in Carytown.

I don’t think I’m going to poach my eggs this way again, too much work for home cooking. But if you want to, the more water in the pot, the easier it is to keep a steady temperature.

poacheggs
Poaching eggs in 140F temperature

However, it was amazing to see a seemingly uncooked egg fall out of its shell – quivering whites and an intact yolk.

poachegg
poached egg

The process of preparing a ramen bowl isn’t complicated as it’s a list of easy tasks, some as simple as simmering ingredients together. However, it can be confusing. So after trying to arrange the steps chronologically in my head, I finally put things on a little worksheet so I don’t forget anything.

The most time-consuming part of course is the broth. I cooked mine for six hours. In case you are wondering why you can’t just throw everything in the pot together and simmer, some ingredients like the konbu has a temperature where it releases maximum flavor and any extended steeping might introduce a bitter taste. The bacon, for example, is taken out after 45 minutes, maybe so it doesn’t become the dominant flavor or aroma. Spent shiitake mushrooms can be pickled afterwards.

I decided to give my chicken a salt rub so there will be less scum in the broth.

roastedneckbones
roasted neck bones

The pork neckbones spent the longest time in the broth. I always thought 6 hours was excessive, but I could tell subtle differences in the depth of flavor as it cooked longer and it was not from concentrating the liquid either because I was constantly replenishing with water. Like any stock, do not allow the liquid to boil and be diligent in removing impurities.

So, was making my own broth worth it? Definitely. I even dare say that mine tasted better than what I’ve had a Momofuku’s. There was so much joy and satisfaction getting in that first bite and slurping in that last drop from a noodle bowl made carefully from one’s own hand . I think I did pour the right emotion and spirit into the making of my ramen. 🙂

related posts:

Ramen noodle recipe

Pork Belly Buns

ramentoppings
Toppings: enoki mushrooms (which I skipped), chopped scallions, pickled shiitake, egg, naruto (steamed fish) and braised bamboo shoots
ramenbowl02
 

Ramen Broth

Two 3-by-6 inches Konbu
6 quarts water
2 cups dried shiitakes, rinsed
4 pounds chicken, either whole bird or legs
5 pounds meaty pork meaty bones
1 pound smoky bacon, preferably Benton’s
1 bunch scallions
1 medium onion, cut in half
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
Tare, preferably or kosher salt, soy sauce, mirin

Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in an 8-quart stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.
Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and rehydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer, with bubbles lazily and occasionally breaking the surface. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth while the chicken is simmering, and replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until that’s the case and then remove the chicken from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon.
While the chicken is simmering, put the pork bones on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven to brown for an hour; turn them over after about 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
Remove the chicken from the pot and add the roasted bones to the broth, along with the bacon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, fish out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours – as much time as your schedule allows. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.
Add the scallions, onion, and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.
Remove and discard the spent bones and vegetables. Pass the broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. You can use the broth at this point, or if you are making it in advance and want to save on storage over high heat, then portion out the concentrated broth into containers. It keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator and up to a few months in the freezer. When you want to use it, dilute with an equal measure of water and reheat it on the stove.
In either case, finish the broth by seasoning it to taste with the tare. Some days the salt of the bacon, or the seaweed, or whatever comes out more than others. Only your taste buds can guide you as to the right amount of seasoning; start with 2 or 3 tablespoons per quart. Taste it and get it right. I like it so it’s not quite too salty but almost. Very seasoned. Underseasoned broth is a crime

Tare

This is the main seasoning – the primary salt component for ramen shops in Tokyo. This is one of the mysterious recipes because each shop has their own concoction and it is made far from other prying eyes.

2 to 3 chicken backs, or bones and their immediate attendant flesh and skin, reserved from butchering 1 chicken.
1 cup sake
1 cup mirin
2 cups usukuchi (light soy sauce)
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 450F
Cut chicken back into 3 pieces, split rib cages in half, and separate thigh from leg bones. (More surface area = browning area = deeper better flavor, as long as you don’t burn the bones.)
Spread the bones out in a wide (12- to 14-inch) ovenproof saute pan or skillet and put it in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour: check on the bones after 40 minutes to make sure they’re just browning, not burning. You want deeply browned bones, and you want the fond- the fatty liquid caramelizing on the bottom of the pan- to be very dark but not blackened. (A fleck of black here and there, or at the edges of the pool, is fine, but charred fond is useless; it will only add bitterness and should be discarded.) Watch the bones color, and pull them out when they’re perfectly browned.
When the bones are browned, remove the pan from the oven and put it on a stovetop. Pour a splash of the sake onto the pan and put the pan over a burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the sake starts to bubble, scrape the fond up off the bottom of the pan.
Once the fond is free from the bottom of the pan, add the remaining sake, mirin, and soy to the pan and turn the heat under it to high. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat so that it barely simmers. Cook for 1 hour. It will reduce somewhat, the flavors will meld, and the tare will thicken ever so slightly.
Strain the bones out of the tare and season the liquid with 5 or 6 turns of black pepper. The tare can be used right away or cooled and then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.

Toppings:

Pork Belly recipe here.

Slow-poached eggs
Bring a huge pot of cold water to 140F – 145F, add your eggs – (it’s best if they do not touch the bottom of the pan where it is hottest). Let them bathe for 40 to 45 minutes, checking the temperature regularly with the thermometer or by sticking your finger in the water (it should be the temperature of a very hot bath) and moderate it as needed.
You can use the eggs immediate or store them in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. (If you are planning on storing them, chill them until cold in a n ice-water bath.) If you refrigerate the eggs, warm them under piping-hot tap water for 1 minute before using.
To serve the eggs, crack them one at a time into a small saucer. The thin white will not and should not be firm or solid; tip the dish to pour off and discard the looses part of the white, then slide the egg onto the dish it’s destined for.

Fish cakes (naruto)

Bamboo shoots (aka menma)

12 ounce can sliced bamboo shoots
splashes of grapeseed and Asian sesame oils
splash of usukuchi
Salt, possibly

Drain the bamboo shoots in a colabder and rinse them well under running water. Put them in a small saucepan with the oils, soy, and chile, if you have it, and stew them over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Taste them, and season with salt if needed. Set aside until ready to use, or refrigerate for 3 or 4 days; reheat them before adding to soup.

Nori
stick a sheet in the bowl, halfway submerged and pinned between the noodles and the bowl, and you’re done.

Pickled Shiitake
4 loosely packed cups (about 1/3 ounce) dried shiitake mushrooms (or use spent shiitake caps from the Ramen Broth)
1 cup sugar
1 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)
1 cup sherry vinegar
Two 3-inch knobs of fresh ginger, peeled
Steep the shiitakes in boiling water (or really hot tap water) in a medium mixing bowl until softened, about 15 minutes.
Lift the shiitakes from the steeping water, trim off and discard their stems, and cut the caps into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Reserve 2 cups of the steeping liquid, and pass it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any sand or debris.
Combine the reserved steeping liquid, the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and sliced shiitakes in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently (bubbles should lazily rise up to the surface), stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Let cool.
Discard the ginger, and pack the shiitakes (and as much of the liquid as necessary to cover them) into a quart container. These pickles are ready to eat immediately and will keep, refrigerated, for at least 1 month.
 

9 thoughts on “Musings on the zen of ramen-making

  1. I so want to eat that bowl of ramen that you posted up right now!
    here in Brunei and Malaysia, their version of noodle soup is called soto; my mom does a fantastic version with beef bones but there are shops here that use instant seasoning and that is just a travesty.

  2. Hi Veronica!! You always come up with great ideas. Your presentation looks very interesting and never fails to fascinate me. I look forward to your next project : )

  3. Holy smokes … that looks fabulous.
    I love the three day prep design! I tried some hot and sour soup the other day but (knowing their not at all the same) this has got to be my next project.

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