I have a major love affair with Japanese food. Since first venturing outside my comfort zone of NYC sushi restaurants, twenty years ago, I have discovered, izakaya pubs, ramen counters, shochu bars, yakitori grill joints, robatayaki restaurants, incredible tofu restaurants, takoyaki stalls, a three Michelin star tempura restaurant in Tokyo... and many other incredible places. This Japanese food series will highlight some of my favorite dishes that I first had in restaurants and now make at home.
The first dish that I will share with you is ramen. Homemade ramen is a deeply satisfying dish. There are three basic ramen flavors: salt, soy sauce or miso. I will show you one of my favorite bowls of ramen that I make. The broth is made from whole chicken and is flavored with salt, aromatics, kombu and bonito. The items that are served with the soup and noodles are really just whatever I have around.
Broth Ingredient List
- Two (four inch square pieces of kombu
- One whole chicken and four chicken feet
- One bunch of scallions
- Two (1/2 inch slices of ginger)
- Four cloves of garlic
- One half ounce or one cup of bonito flakes
- Salt to taste
- Three to four quarts of water (enough to just cover the chicken)
I start the broth by putting 2 cleaned, four inch square pieces of Kombu into three quarts of cold water. I heat this water and right before it boils I pull out the kombu. Next I add a whole chicken and four chicken feet to the kombu stock. You can add up to one extra quart of water to just cover the chicken. I let this simmer for 3 hours. At the three-hour mark, I add a bunch of scallions, two slices of ginger that are 1/2 inch thick and four cloves of garlic. I let the broth cook for another hour. As the water level lowers, add back fresh water to keep it at the same level. At four hours I turn off the broth and I add 1/2 ounce or about 1 cup of shaved bonito flakes. Steep the bonito flakes for around five minutes and then strain the broth. At this point I season the broth with salt.
The broth will have a layer of fat on top. You can remove this fat but save it on the side. We will use it to finish the dish. Usually fat is removed from soup broth, but ramen is always served with a layer of fat over the broth. Having fat in a bowl of ramen is very important for the whole experience. And I have always experienced the fat in a ramen as a slick of chicken or pork fat floating on top of the soup. But, this has always been my least favorite part of the whole ramen experience. So, what I do is I emulsify the fat into the broth. When I am ready to serve the ramen I heat up the number of portions that I will serve. For every portion I add a spoonful of the fat. I then emulsify the fat into the broth with a blender or immersion blender. You will notice in my photo that the soup that is flowing from the teapot into the bowl is cloudy. That is why. It has been emulsified with the fat. For my taste, this works best. It is like eating a properly made beurre blanc (white wine butter sauce) creamy, rich and satisfying, rather than a beurre blanc that has separated into a greasy mess on the plate.
For soup garnishes I use what I have around. But, I do really like to add slow roasted pork belly to my soup. I like the rich and tender meat paired with the lighter chicken broth. Traditionally, the pork belly would be served with the pork broth (Tonkotsu ramen). But, I find that broth to be a bit too rich! It is your soup and you can have it any way that you like. I also like to add a lot of vegetables to the soup.
Garnish Ingredient List
- Slow-cooked pork belly
- Wood ear mushrooms
- Bean sprouts
- Soft-cooked egg
- Shiso leaf
I always buy the noodles for my ramen. There is a Japanese market near where I live called Mitsuwa. They sell fresh and dried ramen noodles. These are not the "instant" noodles that you lived on in college. These are really high quality noodles with great taste and texture. One day I will make a batch of homemade ramen noodles. When that day comes I will definitely make the rye ramen noodles from Ivan Orkin's incredible book Ivan Ramen. So, whether you make your own noodles or pick up a high quality one, there is one golden rule to remember for the noodles. Ramen noodles will not wait for anyone. You must have all your ingredients and your guests ready before you start cooking the noodles. Many people believe that if the noodles sit too long in the broth they will become mushy. This is why, in Japan, you will encounter people quickly and loudly slurping up the noodles as fast as possible.
I hope you have enjoyed this first post in the Japanese food series and that you were able to learn something new or get a good idea for your next dinner party. Next up in the series will be a post about Gyoza. A couple of questions for you before I say goodbye today
- What is your favorite kind of ramen?
- What is your favorite Japanese food?
Thank you for stopping by today. Please ask me any questions about this post below in the comments section.