Japanese Ramen

Or…at least my take on it. You see, when we were in NYC this past Christmas break, we ate. And ate. And ate. From Doughnut Plant to Rice to Riches to Chinatown Dim Sum, we ate our butts off. But the most memorable was Ippudo, a Japanese ramen restaurant right outside St. Mark’s street, known for its tonkotsu ramen that has a creamy, rich broth.

I won’t lie. I didn’t think much of it when my brother said we were going to get this for dinner. I know I claim myself to be a foodie, but I had never been to a ramen restaurant before. All I thought of ramen when I heard the word was a 25 cent packet that every college student ate at some point. That is probably the most ignorant thing I have written on this blog so far. Ok, well let me be clear. I KNEW there were these ramen restaurants in existence and obviously, they didn’t serve noodles that were flavored with a little silver packet with choices of shrimp, chicken, or beef. But what I didn’t know was the amazing ingredients in a nice bowl of ramen. To be fair, most places I’ve lived didn’t have many Japanese restaurants, let alone a ramen restaurant.

The ramen we got at Ippudo was mindblowing. It was the strangest but most addicting broth I had ever consumed. It was a milky looking broth complemented with pieces of braised pork, soft boiled egg, scallions, and most importantly, a dark, mysterious oil.

At first, I couldn’t tell why this dark oil made my bowl of ramen taste so much better than my dad’s, which was sans the dark oil. But, over time as I stuffed my already full face/stomach, I figured it out: burnt garlic. Apparently it’s called “mayu” and it is essential to this dish. The burnt (literally) garlic has a strange, slightly bitter, flavor that works great with the mild broth.

In addition to the mayu, this recipe is topped off with crushed browned garlic. If I could, I would just eat this by the bowl.

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As I researched for a ramen recipe to adapt from, I struggled a bit. Most of the pictures showed a clear chicken or pork broth. Not what I was looking for. I needed that milky, brownish looking broth.

Through some more research, I found that the milky-ness of the broth is achieved through a lot of work. Which makes sense, since those rich, flavorful broths aren’t created within minutes. Bones, collagen, hours of boiling, charred onions…so on and so forth. Just too much work for my Sunday. So through even more Google-izing, I discovered the use of soy milk in broths. It makes sense. It’s somewhat creamy and doesn’t have a flavor that overpowers everything else. I took some tips from recipes and added my own changes (as usual) and created something incredibly similar to what I had in NYC. But PLEASE make sure you purchase unsweetened, unflavored soy milk. Even the packages marked “Plain” contain sugar. So unless you want a sweet broth…read carefully.

Oh, need I say a reminder for the pork belly portion of this recipe? It’s delicious. It’s like pork candy. This cut is, unfortunately, not too common in American supermarkets. Your best bet is a Korean market. Look for a nice white fat layering. No yellow. EVER. And make sure there is a good alternating pattern of fat and flesh. You don’t want a huge, thick layer of fat and a minutia of flesh. Think of a good cut of bacon.

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So, is this a difficult recipe? No…at least not for a semi-experienced cook. It does require a bit of time though and a decent attention span. More so for the braising of the pork belly because that takes at least 2 hours and can burn easily. Add other ingredients to your liking, such as sprouts and onions. I added a LOT of scallions and while they tasted great, I’m sure the aftermath of scallion-breath wasn’t pleasing to those around me.

FYI make sure to soft boil the egg. I clearly completely forgot to take my eggs off the stove in time…but a full proof way to get soft boiled eggs is to simply place your eggs in a pot of water, set it on max. high and let it come to a boil for 10.5 minutes. Done.

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If you’ve got the time, take on this culinary challenge and have yourself a nice bowl of ramen.

Time: 3.5 hours
Serves about 3 people
Ingredients:

Toasted Garlic Powder

1 bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and diced
1/2 cup canola oil

Burnt Garlic Oil

1 tablespoon of the toasted garlic (from above), crushed into a fine powder
oil leftover from toasting the garlic
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Braised Pork Belly
1 pound pork belly, cleaned
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
8 large cloves of garlic
1.5-2 cups water

Broth
Reserved liquid from braising pork belly
1/2 onion, charred
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups soy milk (unsweetened, unflavored)
1 teaspoon bonito dashi
salt
Ramen noodles

PORK BELLY

1. In a pot that is just big enough to fit your pork, heat up the pot at medium high heat.
2. Sear your pork belly on all sides.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
4. Allow this to boil for at least 2 hours over low heat. Make sure to keep an eye on it and flip around the pork belly as it simmers. (I had to add a bit of water near the end when a lot of the water had evaporated)
5. Remove from the pot and allow to cool. Refrigerate once cooled.

GARLIC OIL AND SUCH

1. In a small pot, add your canola oil and diced garlic and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. DO NOT walk away at any point. Garlic can burn very quickly. Allow your garlic (while stirring occasionally) to simmer (while occasionally stirring) until it becomes a nice golden brown. It’ll get sticky but just be patient.
3. Strain the oil from the garlic and set your golden garlic onto a paper towel to cool off and drain. Return the oil to the pot.
4. Once your golden garlic has cooled, crush into a crumble using a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, I would use a ziploc bag and rolling pin.
5. Take about 1 tablespoon of the crushed garlic and make into an even finer powder. Return this to the oil and bring to a boil over medium heat.
6. Carefully watch your oil until the garlic turns BLACK. Seriously. The oil will become brown as well. Set aside.

BROTH
1. Take your reserved liquids from braising the pork belly and place in a blender with a cup of chicken broth and the onion. Blend until smooth. If needed, add some of the chicken broth to help liquefy it. Strain this liquid to catch any chunks.
2. In a large pot, combine the strained reserved liquids and onion mixture, soy milk, chicken stock, and bonito dashi. Bring to a boil. Add salt to your liking.
3. Assemble your bowl of ramen. Place your cooked noodles first, then add the burnt garlic oil, soft boiled egg, scallions, and then sliced pork belly.
4. Carefully ladle the broth over the bowl contents.
5. Top off with the crushed garlic and enjoy!

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