Ramen is one of the newest and hottest trends in the food business. A few years ago, people associated ramen with the salty, dehydrated noodles found in every convenience store. Some people still associate ramen with college fare. I recently asked my friend Nathan to join me in grabbing ramen for lunch. He immediately shot me a judgmental, condescending look and responded, “Hell no! I had enough of that shit in college.”
It took some effort to convince him that this newfangled ramen was indeed worth it, but eventually Nathan decided to trust me. Soon after we got to the shop he realized that true ramen isn’t really instant. On the contrary, it’s time consuming and rather tedious to prepare properly. Making ramen requires a lot of patience, but the end result is so rewarding and delicious that’s worth all the effort. Even Nathan – a hard core Texan - left the ramen shop looking as satisfied as if he had eaten two pounds of brisket.
When I was in Tokyo last June, I made it a mission to eat as much ramen as I possibly could. I also came up with a self-imposed rule not to go to the same ramen shop twice, no matter how good the ramen was. I thought this would be difficult, but it was actually rather easy. Even though I ate ramen twice a day, the sheer number of ramen styles made it easy to want to explore more. I couldn’t get enough of it. Fortunately, ramen shops were on almost every corner of the city. I remember eating at one that had a strict “no talking, no cell phone, no smoking” rule—all you could hear were people slurping hot, delicious ramen. It was amazing!
Ramen made its appearance in Japanese cuisine in the early 1900s, which is very recent compared to its ancient noodle relatives, soba and udon. Ramen was called shina soba, which means “Chinese soup,” until the mid-1900s. Eventually shina soba evolved into ramen.
A bowl of ramen, as we know it nowadays, consists of four basic elements: the broth, the tare, the noodles, and the toppings. The broth is generally made out of pork, chicken, or a combination of two. In some recipes (including mine) seafood like bonito and niboshi may be added to provide extra umami flavor to the broth. The tare is the seasoning—an umami-packed flavor essence—that generally determines the ramen type. The noodles play an important role in ramen as well. You’ll find thinner, curly noodles in clear broth ramen and thicker noodles in denser ramen like the tsukemen ramen. As far as toppings are concerned, it’s a matter of preference. Whenever I prepare ramen for friends, set up a station where everyone can build their own ramen. It usually contains meat or seafood (chashu pork, minced pork or shrimp), tamago (ramen egg), kamaboko (white and red fish cakes), fresh chopped vegetables (cabbage, bok choy, corn, spinach, etc), menma (fermented bamboo shots), wood-ear mushrooms, nori (seaweed), etc.
There are four basic types of ramen: shio (salt), miso (fermented soy beans), shoyu (soy sauce), and tonkotsu (pork bones). Each style is specific to different regions of Japan. If Tokyo has the best shoyu, Hakodate has the clear shio, Saporro has the cloudy miso, and Hakata has the intense tonkotsu. Out of all four styles, I personally prefer the miso and tonkotsu. I like intense flavors, and these two styles definitely have that. Miso is a bit saltier, whereas the tonkotsu has that intense pork flavor to it. Both of them are delicious, and I highly recommend that you try making them at home. The experience will be unforgettable. Here is your chance to try the miso ramen. Happy slurping!
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 14 hours
Inactive time: 12 hours
A word of warning/encouragement
Ramen is a complex dish that requires a lot of time and patience, so I recommend that you make it a fun weekend activity. It requires commitment, but the pay-off that accompanies making homemade ramen is on par with the effort. The sheer volume of instructions and components may be off-putting for some of you. I tried to keep the recipe as short and concise as possible, but unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about that; it’s the nature of ramen. Don’t let the time commitment scare you! There are also a lot of specialized ingredients in this recipe. Most Asian stores carry these ingredients, but some can even be purchased online.
*inspired by Kenji Lopez-Alt’s (Serious Eats) Chashu pork recipe
- 3 lbs. slab pork belly, skin-on (about an inch thick)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup mirin
- ½ cup sake
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 medium shallot, peeled and halved
- 1 bunch of scallions (about 4-6 scallions)
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2-inch knob ginger, crushed
- 1 lb. pork trotters
- 5 lbs. pork neck
- 1/2 lbs. pork trimmings (or fatback)
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch rounds
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
- 10-12 garlic cloves
- 3-inch knob ginger
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 Tbsp. whole peppercorns
- three 2-inch pieces kombu (dried kelp)
- ¼ cup niboshi (dried sardines)
- 1 cup white miso
- 1 cup red miso
- 2 Tbsp. tahini
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. mirin
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. chili oil, optional
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 1 medium shallot
- 2-inch knob ginger, peeled and crushed
- 1 tsp. shichimi togarachi (Japanese spice)
Ajitsuke tamago (soft-boiled ramen egg)
- 5 eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup soy sauce (or use chashu marinade)
- ½ cup mirin (or use chashu marinade)
Aromatic oil (optional)
- ½ cup lard
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 10-12 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 2-inch knob ginger, peeled, crushed and finely chopped
Toppings (to your liking)
- ramen noodles
- toasted sesame seeds
- sesame oil
- bok choy (or cabbage), chopped
- scallions, finely chopped
- wood-ear mushrooms, chopped
- corn kernels
- bamboo shots
- Pre-heat oven to 275F (130C) degrees.
- Lay pork belly on a cutting board, skin side facing down. Season with salt and pepper.
- Roll belly lengthwise and secure with butcher twine.
- In a medium saucepan, mix soy sauce, mirin, sake, water, sugar, scallion, shallots, garlic, ginger. Stir to combine. Place pork belly in the saucepan—it won’t be completely covered with marinade.
- Cover saucepan with a lid left slightly ajar and transfer to oven. Cook for 1.5 hours.
- Turn pork belly and cook for another 1.5 hours. Remove from oven and let it cool. When completely cool, place in the refrigerator to rest overnight.
- Drain chashu and save marinade for soft-boiled eggs. Keep chashu pork refrigerated.
- Before serving ramen, slice chashu into thin rounds. Using a propane blowtorch, char the pork belly. If you don’t have a blowtorch, simply reheat chashu in broth before serving.
- Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.
- Lay pork trotters and pork neck on parchment paper-lined baking pans. Place pans in the oven and brown pork for 30 minutes.
- Turn neck bones and trotters on the other side and brown for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer the pork bones to a large 16-quart stockpot.
- Add fatback, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise, peppercorns, kombu, and niboshi. Fill stockpot ¾ full with water.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. When water reaches a rolling boil, reduce heat to the tiniest simmer. Cover and let the broth cook for 10-12 hours. Do not stir as it will cloud it.
- When done, carefully strain and discard solids.
- Reheat broth right before serving.
- In a food processor, combine all ingredients under Tare. Pulse until it reaches the consistency of a paste.
- Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
Ajitsuke tamago (soft-boiled ramen egg)
- In a medium bowl, combine a quart of water with 2 cups of ice to make an ice bath.
- Fill a medium saucepan with 2-2 ½ inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Using a slotted spoon or wire mesh, carefully lower eggs into the boiling water.
- Cook for exactly 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Immediately remove eggs from the saucepan and place them in the ice-bath. This will stop the cooking process and allow the yolks of your eggs to stay silky and smooth. Let eggs rest for 2-3 minutes.
- Carefully peel eggs and place them in a mason jar.
- Pour mirin and soy sauce over them, or the leftover marinade from the chashu pork.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Right before serving remove eggs from the marinade and cut them in half lengthwise. Discard marinade afterwards.
Aromatic oil (optional)
- In a small saucepan, heat lard over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 minutes, or until they start browning. Stir occasionally and make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
- Strain and let the fat cool until it solidifies.
- In a stainless steel skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped bok choy, and cook for 3 minutes, tossing occasionally. Season with a half teaspoon of ground pepper and remove from the heat. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil and cook ramen noodles according to the instructions on the package. Don’t overcook them. Drain and set noodles aside.
- Prepare ramen by adding 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons tare, and 1 teaspoon of aromatic oil to the bottom of the bowl.
- Add a few ladles of hot broth until the bowl is ¾ full.
- Using a whisk, mix the broth with the tare. Add noodles and bok choy to your liking.
- Top with your favorite toppings: scallions, wood-ear mushrooms, corn kernels, bamboo shots, etc.
- Add chashu pork, soft-boiled ramen egg, and a piece of nori to the ramen. Slurp and enjoy!
- The unused broth can be stored in the freezer for months.
- The tare will stay good for several weeks refrigerated.
- Make sure the eggs used for the soft-boiled ramen eggs are at room temperature prior to boiling. Otherwise they will crack when submerged in boiling water.