Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles. Ramen was made for slurping. It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience. In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt! Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup. But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions. Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.
Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.
Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen. But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better. Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.
Unapologetically absolutely delicious!
However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance. If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!
If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking
BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.
There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.
Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines. So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.
Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock 1 carrot
4 spring onions Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms Bean sprouts
Pork belly Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs Nori
To make the tare:
2 cloves of garlic
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.
6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly. Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.
10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this. Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup. Spoon some of the tare over the noodles. Serve with a nori rectangle.
I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.