Ramen 101: Use Your Noodle

 

January 5, 2016

HomesteadIssue 16: January/February 2016

We all know about salt-soaked packages of dried ramen, and now even more of us have tried bowls of luscious ramen in Japanese restaurants. But if you’ve got a bit of imagination plus time, ramen is a dish best made from scratch. According to George Solt, a history professor at New York University, ramen originated in China before it traveled into Japan in the 1800s, where it became known as Japan’s national dish. Ramen exploded in popularity in the 1970s with the Japanese invention of instant ramen. The cheap stuff spawned an industry and frenzy through the ’80s and ’90s that created ramen videos, celebrities, and museums, until America’s eventual embrace of all things ramen.

Achieving the right texture of ramen noodles is crucial, as it allows the noodles to get well coated in the broth and stand up to the hot liquid without falling apart.

Achieving the right texture of ramen noodles is crucial, as it allows the noodles to get well coated in the broth and stand up to the hot liquid without falling apart.

The easiest homemade ramen noodle recipe is available on the website for Lucky Peach, edited by David Chang, the chef famous for his Momofuku noodles. Most of the ramen recipes online are dedicated to making the broth, but not to making a fresh noodle, which I think defeats the purpose. You be the judge.

If you become a bit obsessed about ramen, there’s no shortage of information online. Check out “The Mind of a Chef” on pbs.org. In the first episode, titled “Noodle,” David Chang takes you on a hilarious ramen adventure through Japan. And if you want a movie for your noodling, check out “Tampopo,” a meditation on human nature and the hunt for the perfect noodle restaurant, or “The Ramen Girl,” about a girl who trains to be a ramen chef under a tyrannical Japanese master.

But for us newbies, I’m keeping the recipe simple. Don’t forget, the most authentic way to eat ramen is to slurp the noodles.

Homemade Ramen

I went to Lee Lee International Supermarket for a bottle of lansui (potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate), called for in this recipe to make the noodles alkaline. But then I just “baked” the baking soda and it was so simple, I used that instead. The process turns the dough a yellow color and is crucial to giving ramen its texture, so the noodles get well coated in the broth and can stand up to the hot liquid without falling apart.

This dough looks a bit like it has holes in it. I’ve been making pastas for years but I had to wrestle this through burning muscle fatigue to put it in its place. The best way to work it is to keep laminating the dough by folding it and then running the dough through the widest setting on the pasta machine five to six times. That’s what it took to tame and smooth out the dough so I could move it through successive thinner settings on the machine. Then I slipped on the small spaghetti attachment and it went through beautifully. I put the noodles on a large cookie sheet covered in parchment to dry. From start to finish, it took me about two hours for the noodles. The next time I make it, I’ll double the amount so I can have some left over. Makes 6 portions.

Pasta

Ramen Noodles
Print Recipe
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach.
Servings
Varies
Servings
Varies
Ramen Noodles
Print Recipe
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach.
Servings
Varies
Servings
Varies
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Spread a half-cup of baking soda on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour.
  2. Put the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of the “baked soda” then add the cold water. Add flour, stirring and mixing to form crumbly, pebbly dough—this is not friendly dough.
  3. Turn crumbly dough onto a work surface. Knead together, working the dough for 5 full minutes—and don’t skimp on the time. (This hurts, worse than a dozen onions in a windowless room. It will be a tougher sparring partner than any flour dough you’ve ever tried before.) Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, then knead for another 5 minutes. (You will curse and sweat and curse more.) Rewrap the dough and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. Divide the dough into five or six portions. Roll each portion out using a pasta machine. Progress through the various thickness settings one by one. The final thickness of the noodles is up to you, as is the width and shape into which you cut them. Keep the noodles well floured to prevent them from sticking.
  5. Cook the noodles in a big pot with plenty of water. Noodles cut on the thinnest setting will only need two and a half or three minutes to cook. Check the noodles regularly while they’re cooking; if they stick together, rinse them under cold water immediately after straining them from the pot to stop the cooking and rinse off any excess starch.
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Broth

Ramen Broth
Print Recipe
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach.
Servings
Varies
Servings
Varies
Ramen Broth
Print Recipe
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach.
Servings
Varies
Servings
Varies
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
Broth
  1. Combine in a very large stockpot and cover with water, leaving about a foot of space at the top.
  2. Cook on a low simmer for 5 hours, until you have a flavorful stock. Once it’s strong enough, then you transform it from a standard soup broth into one with an Asian twist. I put mine in the fridge so I could get it cool enough to easily get the fat off and strain it through a tight mesh or cheesecloth. (That’s a personal taste thing.)
  3. Add the following slowly, so you can decide the taste level you’d like: Start with 3 tablespoons of sesame oil Add ½ cup of soy sauce 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger ½ cup of mirin ½ cup rice vinegar
  4. I put in a tablespoon of Vegeta, (vegetable powder, no MSG) that I bought at Caravan foods at Glenn and Country Club. If you want some kick, hit it with a little bit of chile oil, but start with a teaspoon.
Toppings
  1. All toppings are optional—use all or none.
  2. Wash 3 pounds of natural pork shoulder and put in a slow cooker or in the oven at 325 in a roasting pan with 3 onions, a bit of salt, and about 3 inches of water. It usually takes about 3 hours until it’s soft. I check it with a fork and knife and once it starts shredding, pull it from the oven. After it cools, cut out the fat and shred it.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Put the shredded pieces on top and cook on a low broil, on the bottom 1/3 of the oven. Broil until it gets slightly crispy.
  4. Boil a few eggs until hard-boiled or make a poached egg and serve hot after your bowl is all prepared.
  5. Chop one head of bok choy into fairly small pieces and sweat it in a pan with olive oil and a touch of butter with some black pepper.
  6. De-stem a bunch (or more) of spinach, then sauté with garlic in a pan with olive oil.
  7. Chop up 2 stems of leeks and sauté.
  8. Chop up some green scallions or chives.
Recipe Notes

The reason the measurements aren’t set in stone is because everyone likes their soup flavored differently. Remember, you can always add more.

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Arranging Your Bowl

Ramen is the ultimate have-it-your-way dish. You pick the toppings, the seasonings, and everything in between.

Ramen is the ultimate have-it-your-way dish. You pick the toppings, the seasonings, and everything in between.

I think half the fun of making this soup is putting it together. It reminded me of arranging flowers. Edible ones. Put the broth in a bowl then put a big batch of fresh cooked noodles in the middle and round out the circle with your toppings, finishing with the scallions. ✜

Laura Greenberg is a Tucson-based writer.







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