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Ramen Renaissance

Just add hot water? Not anymore!

For most of us here in the US, we know Ramen by the compact package that sells for less than a dollar of hard noodles with a seasoning pack. They arrived in the US when they were exported by Nissin Foods back in 1971, the first called Oodle of Noodles and later changed to Cup of Noodles.[1]

Because of the incredible melting pot that we have in the US, it is no wonder that we can find amazing ramen shops in just about every big city. You can even find great ramen in the most unexpected places.

photo by Alison Marras

"Ramen is a Japanese dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fishbased broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (chāshū), dried seaweed (nori), menma, and green onions (negi). Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu to the miso ramen of Hokkaido"[1].

You can find more than thirty regional ramens in Japan, which is no wonder why you will find so many variations in ramen in the United States. Not surprising there are over 20,000 ramen restaurants in the greater Tokyo area. [2]

Start with Soup and Noodles The soup stock: here there are really no rules, but there are four basic ramen styles.

Shoyu: (soy) ramen has a base of soy product, which in Japan there are many varieties with broader flavors than what we are accustomed to

Shio: (salt) is a lighter version of Shoyu, but the base is made by boiling salty products like dried seafood, or seaweed to a thick reduction used to season the broth

Miso: ramen is made by reducing fermented bean paste, or miso, into a rich liquid, and using that sauce or 'tare' to flavor the broth

Tonkostsu: is made by slow cooking pork bones overnight or multi nights to get a rich creamy-white broth which results in a rich fatty taste of the bones The bottom line is this is where the unami* must come through. Whether the broth is made with chicken, pork or seafood or a combination of all, it comes down to the style of flavor wanted for the type of ramen you are preparing. Tare: Translates as sauce.

Salt, and soy sauce start as the base and other ingredients are added like mirin, dashi, vinegar, sake, spices, garlic, ginger and oils. Typically tare is combined with the broth in a ratio of 1 to 10. The delicate balance of the quantity of tare in a bowl of ramen is essential to creating the perfect ramen. Too little, and the soup will seem weak and flavorless - Too much and the flavor will be overwhelming.

Dashi: "broth made from a variety of umami-heavy ingredients from the ocean. Most commonly these are kombu (a kind of kelp), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), or little dried fish like niboshi (a type of immature sardine). Dashi can also be made with mushrooms, with shiitake being among the most common." [3]

Noodles: there are several different varieties of noodles that can be served as Ramen. They are primarity made from wheat, brine, alkaline mineral water, salt and eggs. You can also have noodles made of rice flour that are gluten free. The real difference in preference is the size and shape and this is categorized by these different elements; the thickness, the percentage of water, the degree of the wave or shape and the color. The noodles will definitely make a difference in the flavor of the soup, and using the right noodle with the rest of the components is critical.

"Those who take their ramen seriously stress the importance of diner speed. Noodles, even high-alkaline ones, are at proper consistency only five minutes after being served. As a result, rapid-fire slurping is both acceptable and encouraged." [4]

Oils: flavored fats that float on the soup surface. Toppings: Toppings run the gamut - nothing is off limit now. You will find basic, traditional ingredients like; bamboo shoots, green onion, soft cooked eggs, toasted nori, enoki mushrooms, baby corn, bok choy and greens.

Toppings you must try: Chashu: tender, seasoned pork belly marinated in mirin and soy sauce. Bonito: flakes of dried tuna Wakame: slightly sweet version of nori Menma: seasoned and fermented bamboo shoots Takana: pickled mustard greens Togarashi: One of our seasonings for our Ramen table that consists of varying amounts of Sichuan pepper, dried citrus peel, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ginger, garlic, shiso, and nori.

Ramen really should be eaten when it's at its freshest, at its hottest. The longer it sits, it starts to suck up the soup into the noodles because, obviously, the noodles are made of flour. They're a sponge and they're just going to change what it is I originally made for you. Ivan Orkin (owner of Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop [5]



[2]Serious Eats www.seriouseats.com

[3]Ramen Chemistry - www.ramenchemistry.com

[4] Emily Saladino for Zagat

[5]Ivan Ramen . www.ivanramen.com

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