Lately I am about all-things-Asian. I can’t help myself. David Chang has made me crazy. David Chang IS crazy—crazy about pretty much any food that’s GOOD, but definitely crazy about ramen – and he has poisoned me, fellow foodie, to my very core.
Like most kids growing up in Anytown, USA, I grew up eating and loving Top Ramen. Chock full of umami flavor (and loads of sodium!) it was the perfect after-school snack. Imagine my surprise when my Asian addiction led me to the realization that ramen is actually a complex dish that the Japanese take quite seriously.
It’s not complex in a pretentious way—it calls for quite humble ingredients. It’s just complex in that to make a really good ramen, you’ve got to start with a really good ramen broth … and that takes patience and a lot of pot-watching. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really that kind of cook. I SHOULD be that kind of cook, and I’m getting better at not messing around in the kitchen unless I’m serious about the outcome, but like most normal people, some days I just want to whip up something quick and easy.
Most of the time, the lazy me gets her way … but not today (er, last Sunday anyway).
This is where David Chang comes in. Close friends know I tend to obsess at times over people I’m really into. San Francisco Pitcher Brian Wilson comes to mind …
I received a recommended cookbook a couple years ago for Christmas, David Chang’s “Momofuku”, named after the first restaurant he opened in New York. It’s an excellent and entertaining read, but I realized right away these recipes were way out of my league. They’re not quick, they’re not easy, and pretty much every single one calls for ingredients I cannot source locally.
It’s taken about two years, but I finally bit the bullet and used a recent trip to Las Vegas’ little “Chinatown” to procure the necessary ingredients needed to make David’s Ramen Broth. I needed kombu (dried kelp). I needed five pounds of pork bones. I needed dried shiitake mushrooms (we don’t even have THOSE here :(). I needed pressed fish cake (who doesn’t?).
Honestly, I was lulled out of my “quick and easy” slumber by David’s newest endeavor, the “Mind of a Chef” food show currently airing on your local PBS station. It doesn’t hurt that it’s narrated by another guy I fantasize about, Anthony Bourdain. This show is nothing more than David Chang running around the world with various and sundry guest chefs eating, talking about and making really good food. The very fist episode, “Noodles”, reminded me I had yet to try a serious recipe from his Momofuku cookbook.
He really threw down the gauntlet and I couldn’t help but pick it up, stumble around a bit, and run with it.
He also made it look really easy.
You’ll recall, if you were kind enough to catch my last post, that I spent Christmas with family in Seattle. On my “bucket/food list” was a highly-acclaimed noodle joint, U:DON Fresh Japanese Noodle Station. This joint isn’t ramen, per se, but it’s like ramen in that it focuses on an extremely well-seasoned broth and fresh house-made noodles (in this case, udon noodles—lovely, thick, chewy and so satisfying).
I’m happy to report I can now cross this off my list of things to do – though I’ll definitely be back next time I’m in Seattle. Thanks to Dad for picking up the tab! Thanks to Jen for being willing to drive downtown during the holiday! Thanks to Greg for trying the super-spicy pork udon (a disclaimer next to the dish warned of it’s heat level and let us know up front there would be no refunds.)!
So when I landed in Vegas after Christmas, after being bombarded with “Mind of a Chef” reruns in my mind and the taste of excellent udon noodles still in my mouth, I headed directly for the Asian Grocer and asked the butcher for three pounds of pork belly and five pounds of pork neck bones. I was making ramen.
Below is David Chang’s recipe direct from the “Momofuku” cookbook. The recipe only includes how to make the ramen broth, but at the end I’ll list what I used to make up the ramen you see in my pictures. Coming soon will be David Chang’s recipe for pork belly. I need one more quality slab of meat to do the recipe justice …
Yes, it’s an all-day deal. You want to keep the broth from boiling too hard—it actually needs to be kept more at a gentle simmer, so adjusting the heat (especially if you’re using an electric stove like mine – bleh!) is necessary. If the broth boils too hard, you’ll end up with a cloudy broth. I’ll admit that this first time, I didn’t pay enough attention to that.
After posting some pics on Facebook I had a friend ask me if all this was really worth the trouble—wouldn’t a good quality canned or boxed broth do just as well? There are no right or wrong answers here, foodie friends. It just depends on whether you want to eat something good, or something so incredibly off the hook that your moans of delight make the dogs look away from you uncomfortably …
The broth is THAT good, and it was ten times as good the second night I ate it (last night).
Yes, you can skip all the trouble and use an instant ramen broth, and that’s okay. Just don’t ever eat seriously good ramen and you’ll never know what you’re missing :).
Momofuku Ramen Broth
Recipe by David Chang – Momofuku Cookbook
Makes 5 quarts – this is enough for about 10 portions of ramen. Make the entire recipe. It freezes nicely and making less seems like a waste of time when you’ve got a pot on the stove all day. So make all of it. David recommends it!
Two 3X6 inch pieces of konbu (dried kelp, find this at Asian markets)
6 quarts of water (use at least an 8-quart stock pot)
2 cups dried shiitakes, rinsed well (clean them good, or you’ll end up with a scummy broth)
4 pounds free-range chicken, either a whole bird or legs
5 pounds pork neck bones
1 pound smoky bacon
1 bunch scallions
1 medium onion, cut in half
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
Taré (this is basically the main seasoning – the primary “salt” component – in ramen. This recipe takes another hour to make and I didn’t have enough pots or the time to make it this time around, but I will in the future) – or – equal parts kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin to taste (more about this in the directions below)
- Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in an 8-quart stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.
- Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and re-hydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer, with bubbles lazily and occasionally breaking the surface. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth while the chicken is simmering, and replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until that’s the case and then remove the chicken from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. (After I let the chicken cool off, I shredded all the meat to save for future use and tossed the bones in the freezer to make a future chicken stock)
- While the chicken is simmering, put the pork bones on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven to brown for an hour; turn them over after about 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and add the roasted bones to the broth, along with the bacon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, fish out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours—as much time as your schedule allows. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.
- Add the scallions, onion and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.
- Remove and discard the spent bones and vegetables. Pass the broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. You can use the broth at this point, or, if you’re making it in advance and want to save on storage space, you can do what Momofuku does: return it to the pot and reduce it by half over high heat, then portion out the concentrated broth into containers. It keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator and up to a few months in the freezer. When you want to use it, dilute it with an equal measure of water and reheat it on the stove.
- In either case, finish the broth by seasoning it to taste with taré – or – 2 or 3 tablespoons of combined kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin, per quart. Taste it and add more seasoning to get it right. It should be very seasoned, almost too salty. Under-seasoned broth is a crime. I made a seasoning mix of salt, soy sauce and mirin to season the entire 5 quarts I ended up with, but you may have to add additional seasoning after the broth “sits” overnight.
What I Put in my Ramen
There is no wrong thing to throw in ramen, but here I’ve included what I’ve currently got in the refrigerator and using for my ramen.
2 cups ramen broth
Taré or kosher salt, soy sauce, and/or mirin – if needed (taste the broth first after you reheat it)
5 to 6 ounces fresh or dried ramen noodles (or udon noodles – whatever you’ve got handy!)
2 to 3 slices of Pork Belly (recipe soon though there are lots of great ones floating around online too!)
1/2 cup shredded chicken (traditional ramen is served with shredded pork shoulder, but I had lots of freshly cooked chicken meat, soooooo)
Two 3-by-3-inch sheets nori (dried seaweed)
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites)
2 thin slices store-bought fish cake
4 or 5 pieces bamboo shoots
1/4 cup seasonal vegetables (I had Nappa cabbage in my fridge)
*1 slow-poached egg
Now, I love eggs. A lot. I eat at least one a day, usually two, and I absolutely love a soft-boiled egg in soups and on pastas. They lend an incredible richness and flavor that puts a dish over the top. Be sure you’re using the freshest eggs you can get (hook up with the crazy lady down the street who raises chickens!). You don’t have to include this, but I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to. Don’t hate on it until you try it. David’s ramen recipe calls for a slow-poached egg and that recipe is in his Momofuku cookbook. I used his much-quicker 5:10 minute egg instead. Here’s that recipe:
Heat a pot of water to boiling. Gently lower in a bunch of eggs (I do at least four at a time, but do however many your pot will allow and that you want). Boil for exactly 5 minutes and 10 seconds. Remove the eggs from the boiling water and into an ice bath. When eggs are cool enough, peel. Use immediately or store in a water bath in the fridge for future use. Reheat by simply running the eggs under warm water.
If you’re going to do all this, be committed to it. It will make all the difference. If you don’t feel up to it, stop on by, but give me a head’s up so I have time to defrost some broth :).