Regular readers will have seen my post about Instant Ramen, which is a great guilty pleasure of mine. This recipe is less quick, as it involves you making your own stock, but the rewards for your time are self evident: an infinitely deeper flavour, a total lack of commercial additives and the warm glow of pride and satisfaction that can only come from stock-making.
In my admittedly not extraordinarily broad experience (I’ve never been to Japan, and I long to very much), a huge part of the object of a good bowl of ramen is the balance of several elements: salt, fat, sour and sweet. If you nail these, you’re likely to get an interesting bowl of soup that is hugely comforting, especially somehow in these autumn months. Luckily, all the necessary elements are present and correct (salty soy sauce, fatty stock, slightly sour alkaline noodles and sugary sweetness mixed in the the base of the soup, know as a tare) in this recipe, which aims to be as self-contained and faff-free as possible.
Inevitably though, there is some faff; Ramen is about building flavours through the combination of different elements (Stock, Tare, Noodles and Toppings), but fortunately most things are preparable in advance, and an be whipped out of the fridge at the last moment, ready for assembly. Also, regarding the pork element, I see no problem at all with using leftover roast pork, as I did this time, or indeed any other leftover meat. Ramen is a great vessel for using up whatever’s in the fridge and, is by its very nature a modern, flexible, relatively untraditional medium that can well withstand the odd personal twist, provided those four flavours above are catered to somehow (as an aside, the all-important fat element is the main reason why it’s quite difficult to make a truly vegetarian Ramen. For my money, the best bet for vegetarians is to look at making a Sapporo Style Ramen, with a mushroom or vegetable stock, miso tare, and butter as the designated fat.)
Whilst the entire cooking time (just over five hours) seems long, the actual time spent in the kitchen is extremely minimal so, provided you aren’t a million miles away from the stove, it’s very possible (and indeed necessary) to go off and do something else, checking only every now and again that you haven’t burned the house down (something which, I’ll concede, is a rare advantage in having an electrical hob as we do.)
Unlike many ‘proper’ Ramen recipes, this is designed so you can comfortably make it within the space of a day, with minimal time in the kitchen. That probably means slaying the odd sacred cow, but what you’ll end up with is a lovely, interesting bowl of soup nonetheless. Alternatively, make the stock in advance, and keep it in the fridge for a few days or freeze it.
This recipe is enough for four bowls of ramen, or three if you’re very hungry.
You will need:
For the stock –
- A chicken carcass, complete with skin, and any wing-tips, knuckles or offcuts you can muster
- The trimmings, roots and tops, of a few spring onions
- A thumb of ginger, unpeeled
- A dried shiitake mushroom
For the tare –
- 100ml soy sauce, preferably Japanese (I use the standard Kikkoman sauce)
- 1tbsp mirin
- 1tsp sugar
For the rest –
- A portion of fresh alkaline or dried ramen noodles per person
- A semi-hard-boiled egg per person (I do 7 minutes’ boiling then straight into iced water for a large egg), peeled and halved
- A spring onion per person, finely chopped (by all means, use what’s left from the trimmed onions you used in the stock)
- The mushroom from the stock, sliced
- A couple of squares of Nori seaweed paper per person
- Some roast pork, leftover or, even better, made to THIS extremely simple recipe at least a day in advance
Put your stock ingredients in a medium pan, cover with cold water, and bring to a hard boil. Keep boiling for five minutes or so, skimming and discarding any discoloured foamy matter or cooked blood (gross, I know, but it’s what it is) that floats to the surface. Once any foam that starts forming looks a fairly pure white (you don’t want to over-skim this stock as, unlike in a traditional european stock, you’re after a large amount of fat), stop skimming, turn the heat right down, clap on a lid, and let it simmer for five hours, giving it the odd stir.
Put the tare ingredients in a bowl, whisk until the sugar dissolves, then set aside.
When your stock is finished, drain it and fish out the mushroom. If you’ve used a regular roaster chicken carcass, there won’t be a great deal of matter left by now, which is what you want. Almost all the skin will have dissolved, as will the cartilaginous parts of the bone. All this goes towards a richer, fattier, more interesting stock. You should have about 1500ml, but if there’s less, top it up with water. Set aside, or refrigerate/freeze til you need it.
Take all your toppings and put them in little bowls, as if you were on a TV cooking programme. You’ll be putting all this together quickly, moments before serving, so you don’t want to be scraping things off chopping boards or getting them out of the fridge or anything.
Cut your pork (or whatever meat you’re using) into slices and fry in a little oil to heat through, before removing to a warm plate and placing with your other toppings.
Bring your stock to a low simmer and, in a separate pan of water, boil your noodles for the specified amount of time (probably 1-2 minutes if they’re fresh) before draining well.
Now, you’re ready to assemble:
- Put 2tbsp of tare in each soup bowl
- Ladle 300ml of stock into each, and quickly whisk to mix
- Add a handful of noodles, a portion’s worth, to each bowl
- Place a pile of spring onions in the centre of each bowl, then arrange all the other toppings around it, finishing by tucking some pork and nori down the side of the bowl.
Eat straight away, while everything’s hot. Hold a soup spoon in your left hand, and a pair of chopsticks in your right. Get your face nice and close to the bowl, lift out some noodles with the chopsticks, and slurp them up, loudly, taking in any soup they lift out with them. Take spoonfuls of the soup mixed with the garnishes at regular intervals. If you’re like me, you’ll actually work up a bit of a sweat as you eat. It’s entirely satisfying.
I’ve seen many true connoisseurs (generally lone Japanese businessmen) in ramen bars raise their hand and order a second portion of noodles, do be dumped into their remaining soup when they finish the first, but I am very happy to finish what soup I have left with a spoon or, if not too many people are looking, by drinking it straight from the bowl. Do as you wish.
I really recommend having a very cold, asian lager at hand too, such as Sapporo, Asahi or Singha. Hoppy IPAs are all very well, but nothing cuts through all that steam and fat like a very icy, fizzy beer.
If you’re feeling dedicated –
- Boil your eggs the day before, and marinate them. It’s well worth it.
- Put your chopped spring onions in iced water for half an hour before assembly. It’ll take the hotness out of their flavour, accentuate their sweetness, and add extra crunch.
- Warm your bowls before assembly.
Other great things to top your ramen with are:
- Any chilli sauce or powder. Sriracha, Gochujang, Togarashi. Whatever you enjoy.
- Black Garlic Oil, or Mayu, which breaks every rule of cooking, but is a gorgeous foil for the fattiness of the stock.
- Bamboo Shoots.
- Blanched Beansprouts.
- Finely shredded pickled ginger, like the kind you find alongside sushi.
- Just anything else you fancy. You really can’t go wrong.