Sumptuous, unctuous and oozing with flavor, a good bowl of Ramen is the ultimate in comfort food. Put away old ideas of packaged 29 cent ramen you used to eat in the dorm. This ramen is from a completely different world. In Japan, ramen is taken very seriously. There are thousands and thousands of ramen shops, with styles varying from region to region, each taking on the character of the people and ingredients around it.
David Chang, of Momofuku, an award winning group of restaurants in NY, put ramen in the spotlight several years ago, elevating it into one of the fastest growing food trends in America. His cookbook, Momofuku, now a few years old, is both the story and recipes behind his rise to superstardom. It is an hilarious account of his trials and tribulations which make for a very entertaining read. He writes with such candor, you can’t help but love the guy. And after reading the book, you can’t help but love ramen.
David Chang’s detailed, step by step, recipe (in his Momofuku Cookbook) for making ramen, in the end is nothing short of brilliance. It involves roasting pork bones for several hours and making a rich broth, adding bacon and chicken, and reducing it for hours and hours, making pulled pork out of pork shoulder and making the tare. The tare is said to be the “soul” of a bowl of ramen. Tare is used to season the broth and is usually soy-sauce based, with cooking juices from pork and chicken, cooked down with sake, sugar, mirin and dashi, ginger, garlic, and onion. He also instructs on how to make homemade noodles from scratch. If you are up for it, I highly recommend it. It’s not difficult, but is a whole day affair, most likely two, and requires a lot of ingredients. That said, it is completely worth it, because it truly is one of the most comforting flavorful bowls of food ever. Here and here are a couple step by step guides.
Or try this vegan version which is simpler and less time consuming. It is made with a Shiitake Mushroom broth. Truthfully, it doesn’t compare with pork bones, chicken and bacon, as far as richness and depth. But it is healthier, and after my Thanksgiving gorge, on top of which there were a few too many Cheetos consumed, this is a welcome reprieve. The stove top smoked shiitakes add dimension and depth to the ramen and are surprisingly easy and fun to make. Stove top smoking is also a good technique to learn in general, and you don’t need any special equipment. Depending on your taste, you can customize your ramen it with different toppings to create your own version. This vegan version has roasted butternut, baby chard, a soft boiled egg and smoked shiitakes.
There are three basic components to ramen. The broth, the noodles and the toppings. The most important component, of any ramen, though, is the broth, because this is where the flavor is.
The most popular styles of ramen, to name a few are, Shio ramen with its clear, light-bodied salty chicken broth, Shoyu Ramen, a soy sauce flavored chicken broth, Tonkotsu ramen, a rich pork based broth, which is fatty and milky white in color, and lastly Miso ramen, which is miso based.
Use dried ground shiitakes in the broth. Start with about 3 cups dried ( 3 oz) , and grind into a fine powder, using a food processor or coffee grinder. This should make about 1 C of shiitake powder. You could also use other dried mushrooms instead. Place the powder in 12 Cups of water in a large stock pot along with one sheet of Kombu, a dried seaweed found in Asian markets.
Once the broth is going, work on your toppings. For one of the toppings, I made smoked shiitake mushrooms. This is surprisingly easy and fun to do at home and this technique can be used to smoke other ingredients as well.
Line a medium sized pot with foil. Place 2 T finely shredded DRY wood chips in a pile in the middle. I used apple wood. Place a strainer basket over top.
Another topping I chose was left over butternut squash. Dice it into small 1/2 in cubes, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven until tender, about 20 minutes.
Toppings are fully customizable. Typical toppings include pork, beef, seafood, tofu, bamboo shoots, a soft-boiled egg, seaweed (nori), fish cakes, corn, cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, spinach, scallions, pickled vegetables, or anything else that appeals to you.
A while ago, to celebrate a friends birthday, we had a ramen party. The hostess asked us all to bring a topping. She undertook the laborious task of the Momofuku broth, the meat and the noodles and we each brought various toppings. We each made our own bowl of ramen, customizing it to our own tastes. It was a blast.
Enoki mushrooms (also referred to as the velvet shank) are the delicate and tasteful mushrooms that grow on tree trunks, roots and branches mostly found in Japan. They grow in a cluster and have stems that are up to 4 inches tall. Their aroma is slightly fruity and they are mild in flavor. Generally I use them raw as a garnish.
There are two main types of noodles used for ramen, yellow egg noodles, and white flour noodles. In the past, yellow egg noodles were the most common – these are the type found in most dried ramen packages. Recently, the flour noodles have been gaining in popularity. The two types differ in size and texture. Egg noodles are fairly thin, firm to the palate, and slightly curly. Flour noodles are soft and wide.
Many Japanese express that the ramen noodles found in the United States lack depth of flavor because the absence of kansui, a highly alkaline mineral water found in Asia. Some chefs use baking soda in their noodles to approximate the flavor.
These are a freshly made, vegan, all flour noodles, available in the refrigerated section at the Asian market. To cook, follow the directions on the package. You could also use gluten free rice noodles.
Begin filling your bowls with noodles and toppings.
When ready, ladle hot broth over top. Traditionally, ramen is served with chopsticks and Chinese style porcelain spoons.
Bring the following to a boil in a large pot.
Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered on med heat, and remove Kombu.
Simmer another 30 minutes. Strain. Keep warm.
3 Quarts water ( 12 Cups)
3 cups ( 3 oz.) dried Shiitake Mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms), ground in a food processor or coffee grinder into a fine powder. Should have about 1 C finely ground mushrooms.
1 sheet Kombu seaweed (available at Asian markets)
5 crushed cloves garlic
1 whole bunch green onions, rough chopped
3 whole cloves or a pinch of ground cloves
8 peppercorns or ground pepper
1/4 c mirin
1/3 c soy sauce
This will reduce and you will end up with 6-8 cups. Taste for salt. If this reduces by more than half, it may become too salty…. so add a little water to taste.
FAST AND EASY CHICKEN RAMEN BROTH
4 cups rich chicken stock
2 tablespoons shiro miso (white miso)
1 cup scallions
Bring to a simmer, check for salt, adding if necessary.
SMOKED SHIITAKES- ON YOUR STOVE
4 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced.
Place in a small bowl and toss with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Line the bottom or a med size pot with foil.
Place 2 T finely shredded smoking wood, DRY, not wet, ( I use apple wood, but you could use hickory, cedar, alder or even tea leaves) in a pile in the middle.
Place a strainer basket over and cover with mushrooms. Place the pot on a burner, on high heat, uncovered, until you begin to see smoke ( on my gas burner this usually takes about 4 minutes.) One you see a good amount of smoke, cover with foil and a lid, turn heat down to medium low, and smoke for 10-15 minutes. Obviously the longer, the smokier. Turn off heat and leave covered until ready to use, this way mushrooms will continue to cook.
Steamed bok choy, baby chard, or kale
Hard or Soft boiled egg
Roasted butternut, roasted cauliflower,
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield:6