RAMEN

Ramen is as customizable as it is addictive. In the Capital District, Tanpopo Ramen and Sake Café in Albany is starting to gather a circle of local adherents. Ramen is fun to eat out, but in many ways, it’s the perfect dish for the creative home cook. 
By / Photography By Brent Harrewyn | July 14, 2016

About this recipe

Instant noodles in Styrofoam cups with dubious seasoning packets (“Oriental flavor?”) are to classic ramen what hurriedly pan-fried Hamburger Helper is to freshly ground grass-fed chuck, sizzling to unctuous perfection on the grill. Real burgers have always had a place in the Capital District’s heart, and now, gourmet ramen is finally getting its due.
 
It started in New York City, where even five years ago, ramen was associated with dorm-style hot-pot cookery in many people’s minds. A cult of ramen cropped up and gathered steam, drawing fans from far reaches of the state to little shops across the Lower East Side. Now, followers from all over the country make solemn pilgrimages to wait in line at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar or Ivan Orkin’s Ramen Lab in New York City for Instagram-ready bowls of fortifying pork, chicken or miso stock brimming with toothsome noodles, slivers of various braised and roasted meats (or not), a perfectly cooked orb of egg with a liquid center, ribbons of soy sauce and sriracha, perhaps some nori or scallions, maybe some seasonal veggies. 
 
Ramen is as customizable as it is addictive.
 
In the Capital District, Tanpopo Ramen and Sake Café in Albany is starting to gather a circle of local adherents. Ramen is fun to eat out, but in many ways, it’s the perfect dish for the creative home cook. 
 
The basic recipe is as deeply satisfying as the more elevated versions, but for cooks with more time and veggies to spare, a simple dish can become a transcendent labor of love. Caroline Barrett, who teaches children and adults how to cook recipes from faraway places with local ingredients at Different Drummers Kitchen in Albany, shares ramen recipes that novice and experienced chefs will slurp up with equal delight. Some ingredients do call for a special trip to an Asian market, like kombu (an edible kelp), but the umami flavor it imparts is well worth the trip. 
 

One Hundred Years of Ramen

 
The origin of ramen is disputed: Some point to China, while others say Japan. Whatever the case may be, by 1900, restaurants in Japan serving food from Canton and Shanghai typically offered a dish of noodles with a few seasonal toppings and broth flavored with salt and pork bones. The first restaurant specializing in ramen is believed to have been opened in Yokohama, Japan, in 1910. 
 
In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, the chairman of Nissin Foods. Instant noodles have been named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in several polls, including a large one conducted by the Fuji Research Institute, outranking LED lighting, bullet trains and digital audio recordings. Instant noodles, of course, allowed anyone with access to boiling water to enjoy ramen. 
 
A wide variety of ramen exists in Japan, with regional and chef-specific preferences, but every dish shares two main ingredients: noodles and broth. The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, dedicated to a cultural and historical exploration of the dish, opened in Japan in 1994; it cost $38 million to build.

Instructions

FOR THE RAMEN NOVICE: SHOYU RAMEN WITH PORK BELLY, LOCAL GREENS AND EGG

Makes 5 generous servings (with leftovers)

  • 4 quarts chicken broth (organic)
  • 1 large piece peeled ginger, sliced into rounds (about ½ cup )
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 piece dried kombu (edible kelp found in the Japanese section of an Asian market; look for organic)
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (a Japanese cooking wine that is lower in alcohol and sweeter than typical cooking wines)
  • 2 pounds pork belly (2 pieces)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce stirred with 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 pound curly ramen noodles (available in most grocery stores)
  • 5 handfuls baby spinach or other greens (think spinach, pea shoots, baby kale from the farmers’ market)
  • 5 soft-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced in half (the fresher and more local, the better; free-range eggs have beautifully rich orange yolks )
  • Green onions, sliced thin
  • Nori sheets, sliced into thin strips (dried seaweed with a toasted, salty flavor, commonly used for sushi; available at Asian markets)

Combine the chicken broth with the ginger, garlic, onion, soy, kombu, mirin and pork belly.

Bring to a gentle simmer. Cook pork belly 30 minutes, then remove to a cutting board. Continue simmering the broth.

Cut pork into ¼-inch slices, place on a lined baking sheet and brush with the soy sauce and sugar mixture. Place under a low broiler and cook until crispy and dark brown. Remove and set aside.

Strain the broth and keep very hot.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and immediately divide among bowls. Place a handful of spinach, 4–5 slices of pork and 2 egg halves in each bowl. Ladle broth over top of each bowl and garnish with green onions and nori strips. with a toasted, salty flavor, commonly used for sushi; available at Asian markets)

 

FOR THE RAMEN VETERAN: SHOYU RAMEN WITH PORK BELLY, LOCAL GREENS AND MARINATED EGGS

Makes 5 generous servings (with leftovers)

  • 5 marinated and boiled eggs, sliced in half (recipe follows)

Follow the recipe for the Ramen Novice and replace the soft-boiled eggs with the marinated eggs.

For Marinated Eggs

  • 5 eggs  ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup mirin
  • ¼ cup sugar (preferably organic)
  • Cook eggs, cool and peel.

Place in a glass bowl with soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Be sure eggs are completely submerged.

Refrigerate for 6–12 hours. Slice and serve in hot soup.

 

FOR THE RAMEN EXPERT: SHOYU RAMEN WITH HOMEMADE BROTH, PORK BELLY, SEARED BROCCOLINI AND MARINATED EGGS

Make your own broth for this version. Follow the recipe for the Ramen Veteran with the marinated eggs. Add the seared broccolini and enjoy.

Makes 5 generous servings (with leftovers)

For Better Broth

  • 1 pound chicken wings (preferably organic)
  • ½ cup dried mushrooms
  • 1 quartered onion
  • 1-inch piece sliced ginger

Combine chicken wings, dried mushrooms, quartered onion and ginger in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 2½ hours, occasionally skimming any fat. Cool, strain and discard the solids, then refrigerate overnight. Skim off (most) of the fat before proceeding with the recipe.

For Seared Broccolini

  • ½ pound broccolini
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Slice each broccolini stem in half. Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil over a medium flame, then add broccolini. Cook until deeply browned on the bottom and bright green on top.

Seasonal Toppings Bar

Customizable toppings are part of the ramen experience and make it especially fun for family dinners and party. Seasonal toppings can be pre-chopped, put in finger bowls and set on the table with little spoons or tongs. Here are some seasonal spring toppings:

  • sliced radishes
  • sliced blanched asparagus
  • slivered fiddleheads
  • sliced garlic scapes, green garlic, ramps
  • slivered snow peas
  • roasted new potatoes
  • roasted and sliced parsnips
  • braised wild mushrooms
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • pickled ginger
  • sriracha sauce
  • bean sprouts
  • chopped herbs (cilantro, basil are favorites)
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