Most of us have experienced the comforting Asian flavors of ramen noodles, thanks to those incredibly cheap little crinkly pouches available in every supermarket. The kind that come with a little silver foil envelope of powdered seasoning, which (no matter what flavor the pouch says) is mostly salt. They are hot, they are filling, and for many of us they got us through those penny-pinching days of being a college student.
But real ramen is a Japanese dish (though possibly originally Chinese), with wheat noodles in a seasoned broth, usually made with meat, occasionally fish or vegetables, and various meats and other toppings worked in. It’s made in infinite variations, always homey, but often with great attention to the various components.
Now the wave of ramen recipe fever has gripped the whole country, and if you live in a city, or a place with trendy eating spots, there are restaurants devoted to ramen. In New York City, where I live, there are dozens of ramen restaurants, and the lines to the most popular ones can be very long.
And the ramen you’ll get at these places is a far cry from those 3-for-a-dollar packages. Soft boiled eggs, different Asian greens, hot sauces and oils, unctuous roasted meats, fish cakes, bean sprouts, seaweed, and more fill the bowls, along with the noodles. A more interesting and satisfying bowl of soup is hard to imagine. And the broths can be bone broths, made from beef or pork or both, deeply flavored liquids, rich and often dark, with layers of savory-ness. Sometimes the stocks used in these bowls are days in the making.
But perhaps there is a happy medium for those of us who want to make ramen at home, but move away from those supermarket seasoning packets. A way to create that rich, nurturing feel of a bowl of well-made ramen, without having to become actual ramen recipe masters ourselves.
Asian Soul Food: Ramen Recipe
Start with the broth (the first building block of any great bowl of ramen). You can get a great tasting and beautifully colored broth by placing the bones and skin of a store-bought roast chicken (use the chicken meat either for this soup, or for another recipe) in 10 cups of store-bought broth for 30 minutes, then strain and discard the skin and bones.
Or, for a another type of fuller flavored stock, though not as deeply brown, you could place two to four large boneless skinless chicken breasts in the broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and use the broth in this ramen recipe (the chicken will poached, and great shredded or cubed in other recipes, such as enchiladas).
You can use either roast chicken, or some sort of roasted or braised pork, as the meat in this ramen recipe. Just make sure that whatever you choose hasn’t been seasoned with ingredients that wouldn’t be complimentary with the Asian seasonings in this soup.
As for the noodles, you can use any wheat based noodle, or even a noodle that includes eggs, which are used in some types of ramen. You can choose either fresh or dried, just make sure you pay attention to the cooking time on the package – dried usually take longer than fresh, however some dried noodles meant for ramen cook very quickly.
On a related note – those packages of cheap ramen noodles? They are perfect for this homemade ramen soup recipes, and cook up in 3 minutes – just take that little silver seasoning packet and toss it in the garbage. You’ll be seasoning your broth with mirin (rice wine), spicy sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, scallions, and sautéed shiitake mushrooms. Plus offering nori, shichimi togarashi, and hot sauce to finish off the bowls.
And then get prepared to hear some loud slurping noises. It’s kind of inevitable as everyone tries to navigate the noodles and broth into their mouths with a one-two combo of chopsticks and a spoon. Just think of it as the sound of happiness.
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Makes 4 bowls
Photos by: Carrie Crow