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Not-So-Instant Ramen

Making the best parts of restaurant ramen at home.

Not-So-Instant Ramen

New York changed my perception of what ramen could be.

I grew up eating super-spicy Korean varieties of instant ramen in styrofoam bowls (which I admittedly still love), adding a cracked egg to the bowl as I got older if I was feeling particularly hungry. It wasn’t until I visited New York that I gained an idea of the depth of flavor and nuance that a bowl of authentic Japanese ramen could have. For something that’s commonly relegated to dunking a fried brick of noodles in hot water and adding a dry seasoning package, a bowl of tonkotsu (pork) broth, real noodles and chashu pork was a revelation.

One of the biggest eating advantages of living in NYC is ample access to fantastic bowls of ramen. No longer are you limited to waiting for hours at Ippudo or Totto to get a solid meal, as it seems like there’s some sort of ramen shop at least once every 10-20 blocks throughout the city. Of course like anything else everyone has their own opinion of which restaurant is the “best” – I’m a fan of the Akamaru Modern from Ippudo, the Spicy Miso from Totto, and the Toki Classic at Toki Underground in DC – but I think it’s fair to say that it’s not hard to grab a good, satisfying bowl of ramen when you want one. Most bowls are solid because New Yorkers have become more discriminate in their eating of ramen, which is something of a microcosm of eating in NYC as a whole – restaurants with inferior products can’t survive on novelty alone because novelty doesn’t last. Someone’s copying your idea tomorrow so you better bring something legit to the table.

Truth be told I don’t seek out ramen like I used to. While slurping a bowl of noodles is still one of my favorite meals I prefer a bowl of Chinese hand-pulled noodles with dumplings. I find the inevitable post-tonkotsu ramen stupor/food coma no longer worth it, especially as I get older. What makes a tonkotsu broth delicious – the fat – is what makes ramen too rich to eat on a regular basis.

But I still get that craving. And man, when it’s cold out and the weather sucks and all you want is something warm and satisfying – nothing hits the spot better.

Making Ramen at Home

I’ve been wanting to make a good bowl of ramen at home for a while now. In an alternate universe (or at least in an alternate apartment) this post would be about making an entire bowl of ramen from scratch, including the broth and maybe the noodles. One day I’ll probably go there. Today is not that day.

As much as I’d like to boil beef and chicken bones for days, skimming the scum and seeing the flavors reduce into a super-rich and delicious broth the thought of subjecting our tiny apartment to the smells therein doesn’t appeal to either of us. But armed with a $5 Sun Ramen Noodle Pack from the Whole Foods on Bowery I’d optimize for what I was willing to tolerate given time and resource constraints.

My favorite parts about a bowl of real ramen are the toppings. I love a big slice of chashu pork belly, sliced thin, with a sweetness that serves as a perfect complement to a salty or rich broth. The perfect soft-boiled egg, its gelatinous and not-quite-set yolk infused with a sweet soy marinade. The nori (seaweed), the corn, the scallions, the mushrooms.

Ramen is like pizza. Incredible dough, sauce and cheese is all you need for the best pizza you’ve ever eaten. But assuming you don’t have access to those things, really great toppings can help make a less fantastic base much more satisfying.

The toppings I could do. The corn, nori, scallions and enoki mushrooms were self-evident.

The chashu pork belly and soft-boiled eggs (ajitsuke tamago), however, were courtesy of the instruction of Kenji at Serious Eats.

Chashu Pork Belly

Butcher’s twine is cool.

The liquid marinade: sugar, sake, mirin, and soy sauce.

Marinade flavorings: ginger, onion, garlic, scallions.

Rolling the pork belly with butcher’s twine.

Hour 0 of 3.5

Hour 1 of 3.5 (I flipped on the hour)

Hour 2 of 3.5

Hour 3.5 of 3.5

Broth strained and cooling with pork overnight.

The morning after. Notice the congealed fat.

Cooling facilitates cutting. These sliced beautifully. The marinade smelled so, so good.

Chashu ready to go. Heat in a pan with a little broth to serve.

The Eggs

The killer part about making the chashu and the eggs is that you can reuse the marinade from the chashu. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making the pork, it doesn’t make sense to not make the eggs.

I used a lot of eggs because I figured I’d screw some up.

I was right. 6-7min simmer post bringing the water to a boil.

There are no protips for peeling soft boiled eggs; only pain and suffering. E did these. I have hooves for hands.

I did the whole “shock them in cold water” thing too; it seems to be of marginal help. Aside from sous-vide, I’d say err on the side of a longer simmer time (7min) to make sure the white is set. When the white isn’t set peeling the eggs is frustratingly impossible.

Marinating in the same broth as the chashu, overnight.

This is supposed to help, per Kenji.

Ramen Assembly

Clockwise, top-left: enoki mushrooms, scallions, sweet corn, marinated eggs, ramen pack, nori, sliced chashu pork belly.

One noodle pack comes with two sizeable servings of noodles and broth.

Broth is an oil that you add hot water to. This was a shoyu (soy sauce) flavor.

Boil the noodles for 90s and add to the broth. The noodles are quality.

Add toppings with impunity. Take no prisoners.

Was it worth it? Thoughts?

  • This was the best not-in-a-restaurant bowl of ramen I’ve ever eaten.
  • The pork/eggs came out perfectly, and the advantage of doing this at home over ordering at a restaurant is you avoid the heinous marginal costs of each additional slice of pork/egg.
  • Peeling soft-boiled eggs is a pain in the ass. It’s literally only worth it when you want to marinate them. For a runny yolk it’s so much easier just to poach an egg.
  • The pork marinade is fantastic. You could marinate any meat in it to really great results.
  • These noodle packs are deceptively large servings and much higher quality than the fried instant noodle bricks. And at 90s cook times, effectively instant.
  • While I made the pork and eggs with the intention of adding it to ramen, eating either/both with a bowl of rice would be a delicious meal.
  • The chasu would be killer in the form of bao/pork buns. And you wouldn’t have to roll it.