TIMING: A good 3 hours, or a little more if you haven’t made your eggs ahead of time
DIFFICULTY: Just like the last recipe, this is slow-moving but fairly easy once you find all your ingredients
TOOLS: A fine sieve (or cheese cloth), a straight-pin, chopsticks, stock pot, and other basic things
COOK TYPE: Stove-top. Simmering and boiling.
EXPERIENCE: I bought a cookbook for my birthday, choosing an economical selection from my very picky wish list. Then I spent a week poring over it. This is a good one. Then I chose a half-dozen recipes, took a trip to the Asian grocery store, and dug in with a recipe for udon, followed by the ramen.
Let me be up-front here. I came across this cookbook because I was looking for a ramen cookbook. I love ramen, but I can’t eat the packaged kind from the store. Besides making me feel (bodily) awful up front, it often results in a migraine. And yes, I have a quick, homemade version of dry ramen that I use in a pinch, but I was wanting something more authentic, something more umami.
Here is your basic bowl of ramen, very similar to the one I get at our local conveyor-belt sushi place. While disappointing because it in no way (appearance or taste) resembles the 15-cent, crappy, package ramen, it is authentic, rounded, and better in almost every way. I am not reconciled to it, yet, but I may well pull out this recipe again, as long as I’m not on a week-long stretch of soy-sauce-heavy Japanese food. (Erg. Migraines.)
As noted above, it takes quite a bit of time since there are various components to make to assemble at the table. However, 2 of the hours are spent simmering the broth and doing little else. I tried to simplify the many steps.
NOTES: You definitely need some special ingredients, which if you can’t find at your local Asian grocer (or even your regular grocer), you’re going to need to buy online. Here is what you are looking for:
- Mirin is a very light, cooking liquor, so it may be with the alcohol or may be with the bottled condiments (like soy sauce) in the Japanese section. It is very pale yellow in color and it will be in clear glass and plastic bottles.
- Sake is the famous Japanese liquor. It will be found in the alcohol section, and is clear as water. Good luck choosing a brand.
- Ramen Noodles, sure, you know them. But at Asian grocers, you can buy them plain, without the flavor packets, in larger quantities. I look for brands with fewer, more straight-forward ingredients.
- Star Anise. See photo. You will find this in the spice section. It smells like anise with cinnamon and nutmeg, and is shaped like a star or a flower.
- Nori is a seaweed; the most recognized seaweed (as food) in America. See photo. It is very dark green, thin (almost to the point of translucent), and will be found in the seaweed section in sizable sheets. For this purpose, do not buy nori snacks, which are oiled and salted.
- I found it difficult to find Pickled Bamboo, also called “menma,” but it just might have been my particular grocer. It’s probably going to come in a jar, maybe a can, but don’t buy the stuff packaged in chili oil: you’d be better off with plain bamboo or nothing.
You can also make this with chicken instead of pork. Just substitute 1 lb boneless chicken for the pork shoulder. As for the pork shoulder, it was super fatty for our taste. Next time I might go with a leaner cut.
You can do steps 1-4 the day ahead. Your eggs will be tastier. Likewise, you can do steps 5-6 the day ahead and refrigerate, but this provides no taste difference, just a convenience for you if your schedule works that way.
- In a small sauce pan, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sake, 1/8 cup mirin, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 coarse-chopped scallion, 1/2 inch crushed ginger, and 1 star anise. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool.
- Meanwhile, fill a medium sauce pan 1/2 with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat.
- Use a straight pin to poke a hole in the end of each of 4 eggs. Gently place the eggs in the water and cook for 6 minutes, swirling in individual circles gently for the first 2 minutes.
- Drain the eggs and peel them under cold water. Place in the marinade from step 1, cover, and refrigerate.
- Put 3 quarts water, 2 pounds chicken bones (with meat debris), 1 inch crushed ginger, 2 cloves crushed garlic, and 1 lb pork shoulder in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, remove scum with a spoon, and simmer for about 2 hours, until reduces to 2 quarts.
- Remove pork shoulder and set aside. Strain broth through a fine sieve (or with cheesecloth). Rinse your stock pot and return the broth to it, covering and keeping warm.
- Remove the eggs from the marinade and set the eggs aside, reserving the marinade. Place the pork shoulder in the marinade. Set aside.
- In your rinsed sauce pan, combine 1 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1/2 inch crushed ginger, 1 coarse-chopped scallion, and 1 clove crushed garlic. Bring to a boil and set aside in a small serving bowl or pitcher. This is called “tare.”
- Rinse that pan again and fill 1/2-way with water. Bring to a boil and add 1 pound cleaned spinach for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled.
- Squeeze out every bit of water you can from the spinach. Form into a log, which you can do “their” way by lining up all the spinach leaves and rolling neatly, or my way by forming it like playdough. Cut into four pieces.
- Cook 4 blocks ramen noodles according to package directions.
- Remove the pork from the marinade and slice thin, on the bias.
- Set your table with the noodles, the broth, tare, spinach, eggs, and pork, as well as thin-sliced scallion, 8 small sheets of nori (which you can cut with kitchen scissors), and some pickled bamboo.
Serve by placing noodles in each bowl then covering with broth and a few tablespoons tare. Gently arrange a little of everything else on top, cutting the egg in half. Enjoy a complete meal in a bowl.
*Recipe changed from the original.