So the weather here in Canada is starting to get colder (funny how that always seems to happen at the same time every year), and naturally, my convoluted little mind starts to turn to dishes that tend to have a warming effect, as do most of my countrymen’s (and countrywomen’s) less convoluted minds.
Occupying a spot fairly high on that list is ramen. Ramen is Japanese comfort food at its best, essentially the equivalent of fried chicken, cheeseburgers, and pizza all rolled into one.
Except, y’know…without the disgusting mess you would get by trying to mash all three of those together.
When most folks in North America think of ramen, what comes to mind are those blocks of dried noodles – add hot water, wait a couple of minutes, then snarf ‘em down. Well folks, Sumo is here to tell you that those dehydrated abominations have about as much in common with authentic ramen as a Big Mac does with filet mignon.
The word ramen describes both the noodles used in the dish and the dish itself. You can usually find dried or frozen ramen noodles in Asian grocery stores; either version is fine. You could also look for fresh chow mein noodles in the Asian groceries, which are – surprise surprise – ramen noodles. Like many facets of Japanese culture, ramen was adapted from Chinese origins.
There are a plethora of different versions of ramen all throughout Japan, but one of my favorites comes from Hokkaido, the northernmost island. Hokkaido has a climate similar to that of most of Canada, which means that they’re familiar with the cold, just like we are.
Which brings us back to where we started – food that warms you up. I found the inspiration for this one in a book by Chef Takashi Yagihashi. If you’re a fan of Top Chef, you might have seen him on Season 4. From what I know of him, Yagihashi itamae is just brilliant in the kitchen, but he has a tendency to be a bit “chef-y”, as my friend and mentor Kathryn would say. I simplified it a bit, mainly since I’m kind of lazy.
Yagihashi itamae provides a recipe for ramen chicken stock, which is great if you have the time and inclination to make chicken stock from scratch. Unfortunately, most days I have neither. So, I improvise. I adapt. I think up creative ways to approach the conundrum.
In other words, I cheat. Instant chicken broth, baby! Add a couple of teaspoons to boiling water and you’re set. To make it into an approximation of Yagihashi itamae’s ramen chicken stock, throw in a couple of smashed garlic cloves, some ginger, a bit of sake, some konbu and let it steep for a while.
Yes, yes – I’ll provide more precise measurements in a minute.
Even with the cheating, this is a fairly involved process. If you want to get an idea of how much work is involved (without making it yourself!), check out the film “The Ramen Girl” starring the late Brittney Murphy. It’s a horrible movie, but it does provide a fairly accurate portrayal of how seriously authentic ramen is treated in Japan.
Since I can’t think of any more bad jokes, let’s get started, shall we?
Ramen chicken stock (Sumo’s cheat version)
9 cups chicken stock
5 cloves of garlic, chopped in half
1 one inch chunk of ginger, smashed
1 piece of konbu, rinsed under cold water
1/4 cup sake
Add all ingredients to the chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 cup shiro miso
1/4 cup aka miso
1/4 cup ground sesame seeds
5 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp tobanjan
3 tbsp shoyu or tamari
Combine the sesame oil, onion, ginger, and garlic in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook for 6 minutes or until everything is soft and fragrant, about 5 or 6 minutes. Mix in the ground pork and increase the heat to medium. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through.
Stir in both miso varieties, the sesame seeds, hoisin sauce, tobanjan, and shoyu and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and set aside. Leftover miso base will keep in the fridge for 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.
8 cups ramen chicken stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 cups bean sprouts
2/3 cup garlic chives, cut into 1 inch lengths
4 (7 ounce) pieces frozen ramen noodles, or equivalent fresh or dried ramen noodles
1/2 cup (drained) canned sweet corn
4 tsp ground sesame seeds
Pinch of sansho
2 green onions, thinly sliced on an angle
Combine the ramen chicken stock and 1 cup of the miso base in a pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover to keep warm.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, wide bottomed pot over high heat. Add the bean sprouts and garlic chives and cook for about 1 minute, stirring often. Add the miso broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, then turn off the heat.
Cook the ramen noodles according to package directions. Drain well and divide equally among 4 large bowls. Top each with one quarter of the broth and vegetables. Garnish each bowl with 2 tbsp of the corn kernels,, 1 tsp of the sesame seeds, the sansho, and one quarter of the green onions.
When I made it, I had some Chinese style barbecue pork in the fridge, so I threw a few slices on top, just because. Also, to my great embarassment, I forgot to procure the canned corn. And bean sprouts. So I threw some shiitake in instead. YMMV.