Right up front, I don’t know hardly anything about noodle bowls, but come to find out this one is pretty slammin’! During the course of making this, I also found out that there’s ’nuff David Chang haters, but also more than enough folks on the other side of the fence in the clash. I’m not into the war, but I am into sick cookbooks. I’d been toying with the idea of picking up Momofuku for a bit now, but cookbooks cost some serious coin. I’d flipped through it a couple of times, but this last time I flipped to the page with shrimp and grits on it and couldn’t resist. Matter fact, I went out and bought a bag of grits too! But I digress, this post is about the Ramen bowl, which basically consist of the first 7 or so recipes in the book that are all dag easy, excepting that the broth took forever.
I’m about following recipes they way they’re written the first time I do them, so I followed this bugged out criteria that called to bring two sheets of Konbu (dried seaweed paper) to a boil then to let it steep for 10 minutes, before I took those out, and put in two cups of dried shiitake’s, brought it back up to a boil, and let it simmer for somethink like 30 minutes, before I removed those and put a whole chicken in the pot and let it poach for an hour. If someone knows and can explain the logic of doing all this in stages and would like to share their knowledge, I would be pleased to receive it! In the future, I’ma just put all that shit in the pot at the same time and save myself an hour of pot-watching.
During the hour that the bird’s poaching, you’re meant to roast 5 lbs of meaty, meaty pork bones in a hot hot oven. I came so close to buying some fancy pork bones, at my fancy butcher, but luckily they were out. I went back to the asian market where I should have bought them in the first place, and when I rolled up on the meat case they had a massive, just massive pile of neck bones piled up in the first sub-segment of the case. They looked straight brutal when they were whole. The kind lady saved me a good deal of chopping by insisting that she cut them down for me. The above bag/spread was originally 3 huge neck slab pieces that didn’t even remotely resemble necks. Later when I got home I come to find out the book calls for neck bones as the best possible meaty bones to use, so I was feeling pretty chuffed about that–all the more so as I slid the baking sheet into the oven and the house was quickly over-taken by the aroma of fatty caramelized meat-nugget goodness.
But as shamefully satisfying as that was, the recipe for this broth calls for an equally shameful foil. Yo, they want you to put 1lb of smoked bacon up in this broth for 45 minutes, then toss that shit. For real. Of course, I didn’t throw it out. The bacon slab is just lamping up in my fridge right now. It’s just that I don’t understand so many things about this ramen broth, but I’m doing them anyway! I am blindly making this rich, luxurious broth, and, hypothetically, flippantly discarding huge chunks of perfectly good bacon meat. I feel like writing a letter demanding a rivision!
But that’s what you’re supposed to do—-once the chicken is poached, and the bones are browned, you pluck the chicken from the broth, and the bones take it’s place, along with the bacon. Pull the bacon after the 45 minutes, and set the bones to a gentle simmer for upwards of 7 hours, replenishing the water level from time to time. In the last 45 minutes throw in a halved onion a couple chopped carrots, and a bunch of scallions. Then strain it. That’s the Ramen Broth. The recipe is supposed to yield 5 quarts. Now, I know what your thinking: WTF a boiled chicken. Word, ya’ll. I had one of those on my hands.
As the bones and bacon began to simmer away, I got to work on pulling all the meat off of the chicken carcass, and somewhere along the way I thought: Why. . . Khao Man Gai! We have a fantastic food cart in Portland that’s called Nong’s Khao Man Gai that’s serves this as it’s only dish. Nong’s admittedly blows my attempt out of the water, but it still turned out really tasty as an on-the-fly dish. It goes like this: You poach a chicken, then you make some rice with the poaching liquid. In the meantime, mince up some ginger, garlic, a chili pepper, some vinegar, some sugar, and some miso paste. I did all that in my little mini-Cuisinart food processor. I made some rice with the ramen broth when it was finished and put it together with some chopped chicken, and the above garnish, and maybe an extra small ladle of broth to moisten it up a bit. So good and so simple!
Having cleared the bones of most of their meat, I set to using them to make Taré or Japanese Barbecue Sauce. I love preparations like this because they just look so fucking evil! It a dark, pungent cauldron of broken bones—so visceral! Taré is made by roasting some chicken bones in a hot oven for about an hour, then transferring it to the stovetop to deglaze the fond before, in the case of this recipe, combining and bringing 1 cup sake, 1 cup mirin, and 2 cups light soy sauce to a gentle simmer, allowing it to reduce to a slightly syrupy consistency. It’s finished with a few twists of fresh black pepper. Stated: this is the saltiest concoction of all-time! But that’s what it’s used for here—to season the ramen broth. It lends a rich, smokey quality that is definitely unique, but you have to go easy with it. The saltiness is no joke.
Meanwhile, I had a nice piece of wild boar belly that I’d thoroughly rubbed down with equal parts kosher salt, and sugar cold chillin’ in the fridge. I used boar belly because all my go-to places were actually out of pork belly, which is insane! Pork Belly has been getting soooo popular, but no doubt, ’cause it’s hard to fuck -up because of the high fat content, and is just so so tasty! Any way, my man Dave down at the Hawthorne Pastaworks hooked me up with a 3lb piece of boar belly. I cut off a portion of it to make some bacon, and roasted the rest. The instructions call to roast it at 450º for an hour, then to turn the heat down to 250º, and slow cook it for another hour and a half. I guess you could say it turned out a bit on the crisp side, but I kind of liked it that way. It wasn’t charcoal black or anything, and I thought that once it was in the ramen bowl, and mixed in with everything else, that it lent a nice flavour component. For a further technical discussion on this check here, as well as the rest of the blog. In any case, this stuff is good. A little denser than your typical pork belly, I think, but no less satisfying. On one level, I think it might even be better. It was fine substitute. In order to get precise slices of, it is recommended to put it in the fridge for a few hours after cooking so that it can solidify, then after slicing to fry it up in a pan. Try to save some for the Ramen!
By far the trickiest part of all this was the technique for poaching eggs in their shells, which works, and works well. I had to shoot a bunch of runny egg oysters before I got it right, though. The book says that they need to be in a water bath between 140 and 145º for about 40-45 minutes. As you can see, my thermometer is basically spot on 140, maybe 139º, and that’s where I held it for 45 minutes, but when I cracked my first egg to check it out, the damn thing was a runny mess. I ended up letting them bathe for almost an hour and a half, fidgeting with my (electric) stove’s nob until I hit on a number closer to 145. Eventually, I popped one open and it was perfect. I think those few degrees make a huge difference! So if you try this, err closer to 145º! But it works, it works! You can have perfectly poached eggs right from the shell!
This is the killer. I will probably always have this in the refrigerator now. This is beyond simple: Take a piece of pork shoulder as big as you like, and rub it down completely with an equal mixture of kosher salt, and sugar—and any other spice you think might be good, if you want to. Put it in a baking dish covered with plastic overnight in the fridge. In the morning, dump out any of the juice that way have accumulated, and and set the oven to 250º. Put it in the oven, and go to work or something. It’s got to be in there for about 6 hours. When you come back to it, just tear a piece off the salty-sweet crust and say it’s not killer!
That just about covers everything on the cooking side, except for a fresh veggie or two. I used some sugar snap peas because I had them. The other components used for garnishes are scallions, nori paper, sliced bamboo shoots, which the book calls to stew in a bit of sesame oil and light soy sauce with a chili (but I don’t think it’s worth the effort. They’re still bamboo shoots outta can. I’m not really feeling them, myself)—and that weird fishcake stuff, that I’m usually NOT down with because it often comes in these humongous slices, but I was OK with this time because I found a slim, little bar of it only about as wide as a nickel. It’s the thing with the pink swirl, which is also nice. Also, I didn’t make the noodles from scratch, and I bought a bag that may or may not have been authentic ramen noodles, but they looked the most ramenish of all the many noodles that were on display. As can be seen in the pic above, I’ve got everything ready to go, I just have to throw it in the bowl. Bow! Boil the noodles! Drain the noodles and put a huge portion in the bowl, and ladle 2 or more cups of broth into it, then add all the other components: 3-4 slices of pork belly, a good mound of pulled-pork, a helping of sliced scallions, and the bamboo shoots, your delicious seasonal vegetable of choice, a few rounds of the fish cake, a couple sheets of nori paper, and your perfectly poached egg. Also, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re hungry! As in straight-up starving, because this is so much food! Finally, I went for a run about 4 hours after I ate this, and that was a big mistake. Plan on being ridiculously full for the rest of the time that your awake if you ever make this—matter of fact, it will probably put you to bed!