When one thinks of ramen, deep steaming bowls of unctuous porky broth often spring to mind, accompanied by slices of meltingly fatty meat, perhaps a haphazard pile of spicy spring onions and some savoury marinated menma. By no means is this the only way the Japanese crave their soup noodle fix though, with areas of the country creating their own specialities reflecting their own tastes and regional produce. One version of the dish we were recently introduced to and have reproduced here is the poetically named Kitano Megumi Ramen, or the Blessing of the North Ramen; a creamy, soothing concoction that rejoices in using everything good from the most northerly island- Hokkaido.
Thanks to its cooler climate and the massive expanses of pasture land that cover Hokkaido- the least developed of the main islands- it is able to support a thriving dairy industry. Smooth milk and rich, creamy butter from the island command a high price because of their superior quality- they proudly display their heritage and nearly always have the iconic outline of Hokkaido prominent on their packaging. Similarly, prime examples of sweetcorn grow in abundance on the rich, volcanic soil and the kernels are often found bobbing around playfully in the salty, miso based ramen broths favoured in Sapporo, surprising your palate with a pop of freshness. Particularly juicy cooked hams crafted from Sangen pigs complete this cornucopia of produce from the rugged north, creating a uniquely Hokkaidoan interpretation of the classic ramen.
To compliment the savoury, milky soup we’ve created a dashi flavoured compound butter to crown the ramen, but don’t feel limited to using it on just this dish- a pat or two of the smoky, seaweed infusion makes a fantastic oozy topping for a rib-eye steak or pork chop, and when tossed into steamed greens it lifts a relatively basic vegetable and turns it into something very special.
- 1L pork stock (we like to use homemade)
- 600ml whole milk
- 100g white miso
- 30ml mirin
- 30ml sake
- 30ml soy sauce
- 5 cloves garlic
- 600g fresh ramen noodles
- 80g canned or frozen sweetcorn kernels
- 75g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon aonori flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon katsuobushi powder (you can make your own by grinding katsuobushi flakes in a pestle and mortar)
- 4 soft boiled eggs (or you could use shoyu tamago from our recipe here)
- 50g crispy fried onions
- 8 thick slices of cooked ham
- 4 asparagus spears
- 2 sheets nori cut into strips
- Thoroughly mash the softened butter in a small bowl with a spoon then add the aonori flakes and katsuobushi powder, mix well to combine then taste a little to check your seasoning mix- it should taste reminiscent of a good dashi broth but with the added richness of the butter. Transfer the butter to a sheet of clingfilm, then shape it into an even, square log; put the seasoned butter into the fridge for several hours to firm up fully.
- Put the pork stock into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Measure out the sake, mirin and soy sauce, and mince one clove of the garlic then add all of these to the stock; continue to simmer the stock whilst you prepare your topping ingredients.
- After removing their tough woody bases, cut the asparagus spears into thin diagonal slices, and cook in a small pan of boiling water for one minute. Refresh the slices in cold water to halt the cooking and preserve the vibrant green colour, then set aside for later. Crush the remaining four cloves of garlic, then set these aside as well.
- Turn the heat down to low under the pork stock then add the miso paste and whisk gently to make sure it all dissolves properly, pour in the milk and continue to heat the broth without letting it reach a boil- this will cause the nutrients in the miso to be reduced and could make the milk curdle.
- Remove the dashi butter from the fridge and unwrap, then cut it into small pats to top the soup with. Slice the soft boiled eggs in half.
- Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the pack- this is normally just boiling them for three minutes- then drain and divide between four warmed serving bowls tucking the strips of nori neatly between the noodles and the bowls. Pour the hot broth over the tangle of noodles, then top each bowl with two slices of ham, the halved eggs, piles of sweetcorn, asparagus, crispy onions and crushed garlic. Finally, place a pat or two of the seasoned butter on each portion allowing it to soften slightly and melt into the broth before digging in.
Serves 4 people.