Few meals can match the allure of a rich, hot bowl of porky ramen. Soothing, deeply flavoured broth, a tangled mass of slightly chewy noodles, slowly braised meat and a creamy boiled egg. This now staple dish is only a relatively recent addition to the patchwork cuisine of Japan- the first ramen restaurant opened in Yokohama in 1910 and sold a simpler version of the dish called shina soba, or Chinese noodles. Countless variations on the theme of broth, noodles and toppings have sprung up since then, many of them being extremely regional specialities that you’d have problems finding outside of a particular town. Our favourite combination of ramen flavours is one that we’ve eaten many times in Tokyo; a soy flavoured pork broth, straight noodles, a pile of shredded spring onions, a few slices of fishcake, a boiled egg, stewed bamboo shoots and most importantly, fatty, yielding, slow cooked pork belly. We’ve borrowed an idea from David Chang’s recipe for ramen by adding some bacon to the broth for an irresistible smoky note and to boost the pork flavour.
Making ramen at home isn’t a particularly difficult affair, but it does take a long time. Cooking the broth and the pork are the most time consuming parts, and they’re also the components that you’ll most likely want to get just right- the broth is really the star of the show and worth every minute you can put into it, no amount of flashy toppings can make up for a bowl of ramen with under-flavoured soup. Both the pork and broth can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for three to five days for convenience, once you have those ready you can put together all manner of ramen dishes in very little time.
Pork broth ingredients.
- 4L water (or even better, the cooking liquid from the first stage of making buta no kakuni)
- 2.5-3kg pork bones. The bones you use will have a huge influence on the quality of your stock- leg, shoulder and neck bones are by far the best, rib bones and chop bones should only be used to slightly bulk out the good ones. Some scraps of meat and skin will help make the broth extra tasty.
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 4 spring onions
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
- a 6″ by 3″ piece of dried kombu
- 4 rashers of smoked bacon
- 40-70ml soy sauce
- Preheat your oven to 220ºC, place your pork bones on two roasting trays and cook them for 30 – 40 minutes, until they are nicely browned all over. Don’t take them too dark or you’ll end up with a bitter stock.
- Add the water (or cooking liquid, or combination of the two) to a large saucepan, then carefully add the pork bones and any drippings and fat from the roasting trays. Then slowly bring the pan of water to a boil.
- Wash the kombu under running water and add to the pan, do the same with the shiitakes, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least five or six hours. Remove the kombu after the first hour and be sure to skim and discard any brown/grey froth that rises to the surface.
- After the stock has cooked for six hours, add the bacon, onion, carrot and spring onions and simmer for a further hour.
- When the vegetables have had their time, strain the broth carefully through a muslin lined sieve or colander, return the liquid to the heat and boil until it has reduced in volume to 3L. By this point you should have a deep, complex broth with a touch of sweetness but it’ll be lacking any real seasoning. The measurements for the soy sauce are quite vague because the seasoning of the stock is a very personal thing; we like to use about 50ml of soy in ours so the broth is almost too salty (but not quite) but other factors such as the saltiness of the bacon can influence the finished seasoning, so add a little at a time and taste often. You may want to adjust the seasoning in other ways, a little mirin, a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of black pepper or sansho.
After you have seasoned your broth you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to five days, or portion it into sealable bags and freeze it for a month. 300-400ml is about right for an average sized serving of ramen.
Bamboo shoots ingredients.
- 225g tin sliced bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- pinch of salt
- Put the bamboo shoots, soy sauce and oils in a small pan and place over a medium heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed except for a glossy coating of oil and the bamboo shoots are tender. Season with a little salt and set to one side. This recipe makes enough for 6-8 servings, and can be stored in the fridge for up to five days.
Shoyu Ramen ingredients (per portion).
- 350ml pork broth
- 90g dried wheat noodles, egg noodles or alkaline noodles
- 3 pieces of buta no kakuni
- 1 boiled egg (or use a shoyu tamago)
- 1/2 a spring onion, shredded
- 3 slices of narutomaki or kamaboko fishcake
- a small handful of bamboo shoots from the above recipe
- 1 heaped teaspoon pickled ginger, finely shredded
- 1/4 sheet of nori, cut into two or three pieces
- Being well prepared is key to making a good bowl of ramen and getting it to the table while everything is still hot, so get all of your saucepans and utensils ready: have a large pan of water boiling ready for the noodles, a pan of your stock warming up, a small saucepan or frying pan for the buta no kakuni, a small pan for the bamboo, and fill your noodle bowls with boiling water to pre-warm them.
- Turn on the hob underneath the pan with the pork in and let it slowly warm up, basting with the liquid as you go. Put your noodles into the boiling water and cook as per the instructions on the packet. Finally, turn on your bamboo to reheat over a low heat, and drop the fishcakes into the broth to warm through.
- Everything should be hot by the time the noodles are cooked. Pour away the hot water from the noodle bowls, drain the noodles and immediately divide them between the bowls. Top each bowl with the pork, spring onions, egg, bamboo shoots and fishcakes, before pouring over the steaming hot broth. Add the pickled ginger in a little pile on top and tuck the nori sheets neatly down the side of the bowl, allowing them to peek out above the rim slightly.
If you are wanting to recreate the full ramen-ya experience, serve this with a side order of pork and prawn gyoza- the go-to accompaniment in most restaurants.