Japanese culture is responsible for many great gifts in food culture, not the least of which is ramen. Most Americans, especially those who lived in a college dormitory, grew up with instant ramen as a staple food. In recent years, there has been a Ramen Awakening in western culture as traditional ramen ways were propograted amongst foodies and hipsters. Ramen is Japanese equivalent of mac-and-cheese, and like that popular western dish it proves itself to be adaptable and made luxurious with fresh ingredients and creativity.
I love good ramen and here in the Bay Area we are blessed with some outstanding ramen outlets, my favorite being Santa Ramen in San Mateo.
At its core, ramen is a broth combined with noodles, protein, vegetables, and some seasonings. It may sound easy but the art is in the combinations and proportions, too much of one ingredient will irrevocably alter the balance and leave you disappointed. Having said that, it’s not a difficult dish to prepare assuming you respect the balance of flavors.
1 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs soy
2 tbs mirin
4 cups chicken broth
1 tbs fresh ginger
1 tsp finely diced garlic
1 carrot, halved and sliced on a bias
1/4 cup dried shitake mushrooms or substitute 1/2 cup fresh
pork tenderloin, sliced thin
hard boiled egg
Heat a saucepan with the sesame oil, add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the ginger, keep on heat for another 2 minutes. Add the soy and mirin, the latter is a sweet rice wine vinegar, bring to a boil. Add the broth and bring to a boil. At this point you have the base for the ramen and everything you add will build on the flavors you have established.
The chicken stock I used for the ramen is darker and richer, benefiting from roasting the chicken bones before adding them to the water. This combined with the soy sauce will create a rich brown broth for the ramen. However, because the stock is intense on its own you may find that the soy creates an overpowered broth. Add soy sparingly and adjust to taste.
I grew some really nice nantes carrots this year and enjoy the sweet flavors they bring to many dishes. I have never been a carrot fan, I’ll eat them but I don’t crave them and in some respects I break my own rules by devoting garden space to this crop, but good is good and garden grown carrots deliver a sweetness that even the best farmers market carrots cannot achieve. The mushrooms are a must for ramen and dried mushrooms are a good choice, however fresh are, with few exceptions, always better. I had some shitake mushrooms and a few leftover chanterelle mushrooms from making mushroom ragout last week, so I used both.
The ramen noodles are the other bookend to the broth and without them a ramen would not be a ramen. Sobe noodles are a thick fresh noodle that is always a good option, but I strive for gluten free and the Lotus brand of gluten free ramen noodles is a good choice. They are rice and millet but won’t disintegrate at the point that they are fully cooked, however I will caution that this is not the case the longer they sit in the broth so enjoy this fresh and skip the leftovers. Whatever noodles you choose, follow the instructions and you will be ready to serve.
I’ve made ramen with pork belly, chicken, tofu, beef, and pretty much any protein will work. Today I chose a pork tenderloin that I had prepared in my sous vide a few days ago. I topped with a hard boiled egg and served. As it turns out, I was fresh out of green onions so I skipped that final component, proving that ramen is adaptable.