Every once in a while I get the ambition to make a new food. It’s never from one of those “Tasty” Facebook videos. Something transformative. Something that I probably have no business trying to make.
The most recent was ramen (not the packaged kind).
Ramen is a bit of a rage. Apparently it’s a big deal in Japan.
I first heard about “real” ramen a couple of years ago while I was working in Salt Lake. A friend of mine suggested we get ramen for dinner. Part of me snickered. A bigger part of me was intrigued.
Before this, my ramen experience was typical, boiled noodles in packaged broth. Or, if we were feeling really crazy, dry noodles sprinkled with the dry broth.
In college I had a roommate who was a ramen wizard. He could turn instant ramen into something completely different than my read-the-direction experience. He used the noodles as a foundation to construct the meal instead of as an end. His ramen transformation revealed the potential that ramen possessed.
This restaurant, however, was very different. It was a little like pho (which is already on my list and completely intimidating). The noodles were chewy. The broth complex. In the end the food was okay, but it opened the ramen door a little further.
While traveling, again for work, I looked up ramen place in Las Vegas. Following the directions in Google Maps I ended up in a strip mall in Chinatown. The place was small and dingy. And the ramen? Amazing.
I caught a glimpse of what the fuss was about.
There are two major elements to ramen, the broth and the noodles. In the research I did about ramen most of the focus is on the broth. Most of the time the noodles are bought.
There’s still a part of me that rebels when someone tells me I can’t do something, or shouldn’t do something, or it’s not typical to do something. That and I owned a pasta maker. I’ve make noodles. Noodles can’t be that hard.
I picked a weekend to take on ramen and started prepping. Lots of research. Part of that research was Chef’s Table. A Netflix series that typically focuses on high end restaurants. The white coat, tweezer wielding kind of restaurants.
In season 3 episode 4 they cover Ivan Orkin, a Jewish New Yorker who made a name for himself in Japan with ramen. Apparently, extremely impressive.
Despite the intimidation of listening to an expert talk about the food they specialize in I went ahead with my plans to make ramen, noodles and all.
I used the recipe from Lucky Peach (I was planning on putting the link to the recipe here. Between then and now Lucky Peach has dissolved) which talks about making as alkaline noodle. To get that noodle I had to bake baking soda. The heat changes the chemical makeup of the baking soda and gives the noodles a different texture.
I just did what I was told and followed the recipe.
The dough is tougher than pasta dough and needs to be worked more so there is more gluten. The high gluten helps prevent mushy noodles when sitting in the broth.
I made the dough a day ahead and just wrapped it in cellophane and put in the fridge. I don’t think this was the best idea. There ended up being a lot of condensation on the dough and I needed to add a lot more flour to prevent them from sticking to each other.
Next time I will make them same day and either let them dry or make the soup right away. If anything can be made ahead of time it’s the broth.
As far as the broth goes I was planning on making a vegetarian broth. The original plan was make my own stock (also on my list). That proved to be a little too ambitious for one weekend.
I changed from vegetarian to chicken when I found chicken stock and chicken boobs on sale. I still used the vegetarian base (olive oil, onion, garlic and ginger) and added the chicken stalk with chicken in the soup.
The broth turned out good, not great. I underestimated what medium high was on my electric stove. The pot got way to hot way too quickly. When I was sautéing the onions, garlic and ginger in olive oil I burned a few and they didn’t cook down to what they should have.
Because of this experience I am convinced that 60% of cooking is understanding how the tools and methods work. After knowing that I can use the right one to get the results I want.
After the sautéd the vegetables I added the broth, some soy sauce and sesame oil, got it to a boil and the let it simmer. It smelled amazing. It simmered for about 3 hours. The longer it simmers the deeper the flavor.
Once the two main players are done it’s about the toppings. These can include vegetables, meat, and eggs. Medium boiled eggs are pretty traditional and my kids like eggs so I went with that along with some chicken.
The eggs ended up being the best part of the dish, and probably the easiest thing to make.
The chicken was done on the BBQ because I completely forgot about them. I cooked some chicken not too long ago and this is the best way I’ve found to do chicken on the BBQ.
Putting it all together.
The noodles are flash cooked for 60 seconds. From the pot of water and into the bowl. I strained the broth so that it removed the chunks of onions, garlic and ginger. I cut the chicken and halved the eggs and threw those in. My wife garnished it with cilantro which took it up a notch.
All in all a decent win. My kids loved the broth and the eggs. The noodles ended up too baking soda-y. After some more research I'll be ready to try round 2.