As many of you are no doubt aware Laura and I visited Japan last year for vacation and ate approximately a mile’s worth of noodles in various forms, not the least of which being ramen. About a year ago I braved the lines at Momofuku to sample their ramen (twice in one weekend) which is great. Little did I know a magical little Taiwanese ramen place called Toki Underground opened on H Street in northeast DC. I have been to both locations several times and consider myself a ramen junkie as well as a ramen expert.
Ramen is an incredible dish. Most people probably think about styrofoam cups and microwavable garbage. Side note: there is actually a lot of work that went into the production of instant ramen and all of Asia is wild for it. While we were in Yokohama we went to the Cup Noodles Museum, which was incredible. I highly recommend you go if you ever find yourself in Japan, definitely worth the trip. Anyway, ramen packs immense flavor into its broth, called a dashi, from any number of sources. For my first attempt at ramen at home I thought I’d give the kombu dashi (kelp) a try.
Get your list prepared and venture to the Asian market. These ingredients are not going to be found at any American grocery store. If anyone who knows me wants to try to make this, I have plenty of ingredients left over. I will tell you right now, this dish is not at all difficult to make. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of ingredients.
TWO DAYS BEFORE YOU WANT TO EAT THIS (!!!) soak four sheets of kombu in 8 quarts of water for 12 hours then discard the seaweed. You’ll be left with a slimy water. It’s best to just do this at like 8PM and then wake up and get going with the next part of the recipe.
Prepare a tare (not zeroing a scale) by combining 1/2 cup of low sodium soy sauce, 4 tablespoons of dry sake, and 4 tablespoons of mirin. Not much to see here.
The next day season a boneless pork shoulder with salt and pepper then roll it up and tie it off with butchers twine.
Sear the outside of the pork in some canola oil in a heavy bottomed pot then remove the pork for now. Add about 2 pounds of chicken bones. I decided to just buy a whole roasting chicken and debone it, then make something else with the meat.
Anyway, add in your chicken carcass and 2 pounds of bone in country style spare ribs. Brown the bones then remove to the bowl with the pork. Add a bunch of scallions, 3 chopped carrots, a 2” piece of peeled ginger, and 2 heads of garlic cut through the equator. Caramelize all the carrots then add a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of bonito flakes depending on how fishy you want this to taste. I think I used a half and it was just to my liking. Then return all of the meat to the pot and fill the pot with as much kombu dashi (seaweed water) as you can fit so that it won’t boil over as its simmering for hours. Not to worry, you can keep adding that reserved dashi until it’s all in there. You are just concentrating the flavors.
This is what it will look like before the bonito flakes have completely dissolved. Not great.
And after they have dissolved. Better but still not great. Turn the heat to fairly low and simmer this for about 5 hours, adding the rest of your dashi as you can. No real need to skim at this point. After you have reduced from 8 quarts down to about 5 you are done. Remove the tied pork shoulder and wrap tightly in saran wrap then allow to cool and refrigerate it. Remove all the bones, lose meat, and any vegetables and discard. I actually tasted the pork ribs here - HORRIBLE. All the flavor had been lent to the broth. The broth at this point should be rich and delicious but completely lacking salt. It should also be a deep golden color. Again, I didn’t skim this once until this point. Now you want to skim the grease off the top as best as you can.
I added the tare at this point, but you can keep it separate if you want. Be very careful with this, it is incredibly salty from all that soy sauce. You will most likely not need all the tare. If you go overboard with the tare you will have just wasted a day of your life and about 20 bucks.
Transfer to a big tupperware and refrigerate until tomorrow’s dinner.
Basically all thats left is reheating and constructing your dish. Reheat the kombu dashi broth and add your tare at this point if you havent. Cook some ramen noodles per the instructions on the pack and set aside. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and gently add in a few eggs. Boil gently for 6 or 7 minutes then remove and shock in a bowl of ice water. Peel the eggs and cut in half. Remove the twine from the pork shoulder and slice.
Preferably in deep bowls add some cooked noodles, a slice or two of pork off to one side, half of the egg, some fermented bamboo shoots, and some thinly sliced scallions to the top. Gently ladle your heated broth over the pork, into the bowl while avoiding the egg. Garnish with some chili oil and some shichimi togarashi (a spicy chili powder) and serve immediately.
I served this with a really nice sake that we brought back from Japan and a very simple cabbage salad that was served frequently in restaurants before any dish was delivered to the table. I’m not going to blog that cabbage salad recipe but this is pretty close.
I know, it’s a lot of time and effort for a bowl of soup - especially considering a bowl of ramen at Toki Underground is like 11 dollars. This did make roughly a gallon of broth though, so price wise it’s a bargain. Of course there are easier ways to do this - they sell dashi starters in Asian stores, like a bouiIlon cube, but as you probably realize - that’s not my style. I really enjoyed the entire process though, and it tasted delicious. If you have the time and desire to make a traditional Japanese soup, I think you should give it a whirl.