I wouldn't be telling you about David Chang's noodles if it wasn't for his show. "The Mind of a Chef" airs on PBS, with selected episodes available online. In each show, Chang focuses on an element of food and examines it from different angles. The premiere episode, Noodle, focused on Ramen, both the stuff we see in the grocery store for pennies and real-deal Japanese Ramen served in shops with lines down the street. Yes, lines down the street for bowls of Ramen. I've always liked the packaged noodles, but this was something I knew I had to try to make for myself. I already love Pho, the Vietnamese beef soup that I discovered while in Reno, and had been thinking of making my own ever since. But to give Ramen that same attention, slowly cooking broth all day, sounded amazing. I found a copy of Chang's recipe and set to work. Almost every change I made was due to ingredients I had on hand. If you make this and you enjoy it, credit must go to the Momofuku cookbook. If you don't, blame me for not living up to their standards.
WARNING: This stock takes five hours to make, and is fairly involved.
The first thing you'll want to do is rinse your kombu. This seaweed isn't very pleasant on its own, but it adds a good flavor to the base of your broth. Since I imagine your local grocery doesn't have kombu, you'll have to go to an ethnic market. Just get the small package--you'll use it all, and then you won't have to find something to do with it. Once it is thoroughly rinsed, place it into a pot with three quarts of water that has been brought to a simmer and kill the heat. Let the kombu steep in the hot water for ten minutes, and then remove. Return the water to a simmer and add three cups of dried shitake mushrooms. Cook them for an additional half an hour, then remove with a slotted spoon (they should be fully re-hydrated) and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Why set aside, you might ask? Because you can pickle them to go on top of your Ramen, and by "can," I mean should. These were seriously one of the most popular toppings at the table. All you need is to mix a cup of chicken broth with half a cup each of sugar, soy sauce, and sherry vinegar in a pan and add the rehydrated mushrooms, thinly sliced, in to simmer for an additional thirty minutes. You can pickle the shitakes with the broth you are making, of course, but I used regular chicken stock for two reasons; first of all, I timed everything so that I could serve dinner as soon as the broth was finished--I would hate to sit around and wait on the shitakes when it was time to eat. Secondly, I wouldn't want to spare a drop of broth for a side application, even one this tasty. If you premix all the other ingredients, you can easily cook the mushrooms on a separate burner during this next step.
|Why is it so shiny?|
After an hour, check to see if the chicken is falling off the bone. If not, wait it out. Once it is, remove it (you'll shred the meat for your soup once it becomes cool enough to handle) and add the pork to the pot, along with the bacon and all the fat that is on the pan. Be sure to get in there and scrape off the little stuck bits (fond) of charred pork. This is where you will begin to notice a transformation in the stock from being a pretty decent base for other flavors to something wonderful all on it's own. Be sure to put more water in to keep the meat covered, and cook for 45 minutes before removing the bacon pieces. (My dogs loved this part.)
Once the stock was in it's final phase, I began to prep the table for guests.
Nori, straw mushrooms, green onions, bamboo shoots simmered in sesame oil and sambal oeleck (not pictured) and the pickled shitakes are all part of Momofuku's standard topping choices, as are poached eggs which you can make to order right before serving. The peanuts, jalapenos, and limes were my own additions. The strange black liquid (which I just called the Super Salty Sauce) is an idea I got from Food Nouveau (who did their own walk-through of Chang's recipe.) Momofuku uses an Japanese condiment called tare', which contains chicken, sake, soy, and mirin. I was perfectly satisfied with Food Nouveau's replacement--equal parts salt, soy, and mirin--as a replacement. Just be sure to use sparingly.
When the broth is nearly finished, it is time to make the noodles. Sure, you could do this with regular packets of Top Ramen, but after cooking your broth for five hours, you'd be silly to. While some groceries might have refrigerated Ramen, you might as well pick it up at the local Oriental market where you went for seaweed. I don't know the name of the brand I purchased (pictured on left) but this stuff was perfect. Each package had enough noodles for three people (split into individual wrappers with "soy sauce flavor packet," so you can eat any leftover noodles in the style of college Ramen, if you prefer.)
Momofuku puts the noodles in the bottom of a bowl, then adds broth and condiments, but I was curious about something Chang had mentioned during his PBS program--Ramen shops in Japan have been experimenting with serving the noodles in bowls on the side and dipping it into the broth. It seemed the logical thing to do because none of the bowls I own are big enough on their own to do this soup justice. However, I made the mistake of chilling my noodles in the fridge while taking care of the last few bits of prep I had to do before the meal. If you decide to try your noodles on the side keep them at room temperature, or they will chill your soup every time you dip them.
Remove the pork from the broth and shred for serving. Strain the remaining broth through a cheesecloth and dispose of the vegetable and bone bits. Add three tablespoons of Super Salty Sauce or tare and fill each bowl with 1/4 cup chicken, 1/4 cup pork, and 2 cups broth. The guests can modify their bowl from there. I can't say how this soup would have turned out had I had the pork bones, but the end result of what I made was still sensational. Even knowing that this took five hours, and that--while some things like mirin I still have on hand to use next time--I spent over fifty dollars on ingredients, I would definitely make this again. Don't let the fact that it's half a Sunday's work discourage you from trying it yourself.