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Experiments in Noodle Preparation

19 February 201609:32AMrecipe

About 6 months ago, I made it my mission to figure out how to make ramen at home. Because I'd been eating a lot of that stuff in Japan, and dang, it just tastes really really good.

Not, like, ramen from a packet. Real ramen. Well, more real. Real-ish.

This is how I did it.

  1. Research.

    I spent a good couple of hours scouring the internet for ramen recipes. A lot of them were pretty in-depth, going as far as making your own noodles and reducing your own broth. While that would be cool, it's not what I'm looking for. I'm happy to use off-the-shelf noodles, and I don't particularly want to buy a whole bunch of bits of pig to reduce over the course of many hours every time I want a noodle fix. So really, we're not looking for authentic ramen. We're just looking for something that approximates it.

    For reference, here are some of the recipes I poked through:

  2. Synthesis.

    So from this research there are a couple of components which really stand out as essential to the broth.

    First, it has to be meaty. I hadn't put my finger on this before, but yes - ramen broth is meaty. It's not actually a light soup - it has loads of protein and fat sort of suspended in it. Without actually reducing a bunch of animal parts this is going to be tricky to replicate, but I have a plan: bacon. Streaky, streaky bacon. Hopefully greasy enough to give the broth a bit of that meatiness.

    Second, it has to get the ingredients right. We're going to go with miso as the other component for the soup, but past that I don't know. It'll need something to sort of be the base, and something to sort of take the edge off all that salt. I ended up deciding on Vegeta veggie stock, mirin seasoning, and a little bit of sesame oil.

    Third, it's got to have the right bits in it. Ramen is nothing without its bits. Again, as a bit of a synthesis of all the ramens I've ever tasted and all the research I've done, I settled on noodles, a soft-boiled egg, spring onion, mushrooms (enoki, if you can get them), bean sprouts, tofu, and if and only if you're feeling fancy, nori.

    Finally - it has to get all of this in the right proportions. This calls for some serious, but not entirely unenjoyable, testing.

  3. Experimentation.

    I ran through probably six or seven iterations on this method before getting it right. I'm not going to bore you by transcribing every report - yes, I made a report each time - but there were a couple of things I learned.

    First, and most important, was getting the balance of stock and miso right. Too much stock and it was too salty, not enough and you couldn't really taste it.

    Second was the importance of something that wasn't stock and miso. I started off using a little bit of honey and ginger, and a little bit of soy sauce, which worked... okay. As a bit of a joke one time, I chucked some cider I was drinking while cooking in, and that improved things a whole lot - and then Grace pointed out the existence of mirin, which pretty much hits that flavour I was looking for on the head.

    Third was mise en place, as the folks on MasterChef call it. This whole thing has to come together really quickly, especially once you start working with egg and noodle, which you don't want to over or undercook. Having everything already prepped before you start cooking is really essential.

    And also, I learned that ramen is hard. Really hard. After this much experimentation, I still only have something that approximates real ramen. It's fine to eat for yourself, and if you serve it to other people they're (in my experience) pretty impressed, but don't be fooled. This is a shadow of the real thing, probably bordering on an actual travesty, and will only delay your thirst for the real thing, not slake it. If you want real ramen, go to somewhere that boils animal parts down to their component protiens and make their own noodles from scratch. If you want real ramen, go to Japan.

experiment 1 experiment 2 experiment 3 experiment 4 experiment 5

You will need:

For your kitchen:

For your broth:

For your bits:

Let's do it:

  1. Put the bacon in the saucepan. Let it sizzle for a bit, until the pan is looking nice and greasy, but not so long that the bacon is crispy in any way.
  2. Add, as simultaneously as you can, your stock, miso, and water. Stir until the miso has stopped being a lump.
  3. Add mirin to taste. In my experience about a teaspoon or so does it. You want to take the edge off the salty stock and make it taste a bit more complex.
  4. The broth can safely cook for as long as needed, so - without letting it boil over or reduce to nothing, you can just leave it while you prep the rest of the stuff. Chop your onions, nori, tofu, etc now, and anything else that doesn't need cooking, and put them in the bottom of your serving bowls.
  5. The Egg. This is where the second saucepan comes in handy, though if you're feeling brave you could cook the egg in your broth, I guess. The egg needs about 7-8 minutes to be cooked, but still sort of soft in the middle. Once done, peel, chop in half, and add to a bowl.
  6. The Noodles. Again, using a second saucepan if you can - though I actually do cook mine in the broth and it works fine. Just be aware that if you do, it can result in mushy noodles if you're not watching how long they're in there for - remember they'll continue to cook once in the broth! Cook as instructed on the packet, and add to the bowls.
  7. Okay, back to the broth. If you're using regular mushrooms rather than enoki, they can benefit from a little time in the broth, so chop them and chuck them in now. Kill the heat, and add a couple (seriously, two tops) of drops of sesame oil. This stuff is strong, you don't want it to cook all through your broth, just to sit on top as a delicious greasy film.
  8. Serve by ladling the soup on top of the contents of your serving bowls. Eat immediately, and with chopsticks - you have perfectly cooked noodles, you don't want them getting soggy! For the same reason, if you're going to keep leftovers or whatever, store the noodles separately (or better, cook them fresh and just save the broth).

This serves between one and three people, depending on how much you put in a bowl. If you are cooking for two or more, remember to do more eggs! The rest is pretty fudge-able, but you really do want an egg each.

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