Remember those university days when we literally lived on packets of instant ramen noodles after long hours in the library or in lectures or … at parties? The energy level at an all time low, often I had just enough to tear open a packet, drop the contents into a bowl and pour hot bubbling water from a kettle. As it steeped, I would snooze, head on the table!
If I had a tad bit more energy I would make the effort of finding some fresh vegetable in the fridge, which would have been a miracle in its own right, and chopping it up for the soup. There was something instantly satisfying about the packet ramen noodles. No work and instant flavor, albeit a rather strong and salty flavor but my sodium-starved body often craved it after the long hours spent in class (or at a party!).
Thanks to the ingenious Momofuku Ando, who invented the instant noodle gratification in 1958, I was introduced to the world of ramen and at about 60 cent a packet (back then when…) it was a cheap way to feed ourselves. But it was thanks to the instant ramen noodles that I actually began to experiment with cooking on my own, away from the kitchens of the hotels I was training in. I played around with different ingredients and flavors pairings. I know – as a hoteliers daughter I chose a questionable subject for my cooking trials.
While the concept of ramen originated in China, soupy broth over alkaline noodles have been a part of Japanese culture for over a century. Today the instant ramen noodle is one of Japans greatest export of the 21st century and each region boasts of their special flavors and style, all varying according to local tastes, ingredients and cultures.
When I left university and arrived in Germany, it was very hard to find those packets of instant ramen and if there wasn’t an Asian shop nearby I was forced to use other means. I read more about making an authentic ramen, making my own broths and tried my hand at making the noodles. I was not always very successful with the noodle making part, which led me to use all kinds of store-bought noodles, yes even dried linguine! As more Asian products began appearing in supermarkets here in Germany I was ecstatic at finding dried ramen noodles and sometimes even the fresh variety. I left the packets of instant ramen behind and new exciting doors of fresh ramen making opened for me.
The only down part of this new revelation was the time intensive preparation of the authentic ramen. Is it even possible to make an authentic ramen outside of Japan? My love for ramen was major but I often missed the days of ripping open a packet and having a steaming bowl in seconds. Broth making took a good few hours and preparing the toppings was also time intensive. I would make large batches of broth and freeze, which was great but there were many days when I came home from work and just wanted a quick fix – even the defrosting process sometimes took time. Over the years I have found my balance with ramen. When at home authenticity is not always my top priority, which means I do not have to sacrifice a whole day making some of the items. Instead, I allow my creative juices to flow and let the ingredients in my fridge guide me.
What I do always have in my pantry and fridge are the basics needed to make a good replication of a fancy ramen.
- A packet of good dried ramen noodles - udon, soba or those yellow curly noodles are best for ramen. However, if I plan ahead I make sure to buy fresh ones. Often however my ramen cravings hit at odd hours! The days of trying to make my own are gone and forgotten.
- Miso paste to season the broth. I like white miso, also known as shiro miso, it has a milder delicate flavor and has less salt than the other varieties. I love using it to glaze fish and chicken and use it in soups to give it more umami! If you prefer a bolder taste you might want to try red miso or Aka miso. It has a more pungent flavor so use sparingly as it can over-power milder ingredients in the ramen.
- Broth: I always have a large jar of good store-bought broth in the fridge. I pay attention that it is low-sodium and stock up with chicken, beef and vegetable broth. However, when I can make time for it and plan ahead I prefer to make large batches of homemade broth. The broth base can range from all kinds of ingredients starting with animal bones—pork, chicken, beef, and fresh fish. To this I will add lots of vegetables like parsnip, carrots, leeks etc. and then incorporate a variety of aromatics, such as charred onions, garlic, ginger.
- Eggs … and ramen are a pair made for each other forever. Be it poached, fried of soft-boiled a ramen without eggs is just like currywurst without the curry sauce!
If you have these basics you are ready to get your miso ramen rocking.
Shimeji Brown Beech / Buna and White Beech / Bunapi
After shitake and enoki, shimeji mushrooms are the third most popular mushroom variety used in Japan. They are also called “beech mushrooms” or “buna mushrooms” as they often grow on fallen beech trees. There are two kinds of shimeji mushroom the brown beech, which have white/brown speckled caps. The white beech or “bunapi” (pictured above) is bred from the brown variety for its beautiful smooth ivory color. Taste wise they both are gorgeously nutty and buttery. These mushrooms must always be cooked and cannot be eaten raw as they are bitter and cannot be easily digested when raw. Being very delicate they do not need long to cook and they have a crunchy texture. They are great in stir-fries, in scrambled eggs or in ramen!
The main thing to keep in mind when making ramen is that a few of the items need to be cooked separately and combined at the very last minute. The noodles need to be boiled by themselves in salted water and then drained. The vegetables and meat need to be thoroughly cooked on their own. The broth needs to be heated in its own pot immediately before serving. If you are using eggs on your ramen, they will have to be prepared in their own saucepan or skillet. Depending on what ingredients you are using and how long each take to cook and prepare you should start with the one that needs the longest time first. In the end you will be rewarded with the most satisfying meal that will and make you feel it was worth it.
Important is that the broth needs to be hot when it is ladled and brought to the table. While you have some leeway on the temperature of your vegetables and meat by the time you put everything together, the broth has to be piping and steaming. The noodles can be slightly undercooked as they will soften further while they are sitting in the hot broth – al dente is better than à point in this case.
Long stemmed and thin with tiny white caps these wonderfully mild and slightly fruity mushrooms are often a highlight in many Japanese dishes. They are easy to cultivate and are packaged in clusters. Enoki have a very crisp texture and do not need long cooking procedures. In this ramen soaking them in the hot broth is more than enough. Keep them in a paper bag in the fridge and they should last about 4-6 days.
When it comes to the toppings you can be as creative as you like. Finding balance with my ramen meant allowing me to use several ideas brewing in my head and raid the fridge whenever the craving strikes. Toppings can be anything from simple vegetables and seasonings to more complex meats, and sauces that need to be prepared separately and in advance. Shredded pork, ground meat, duck breasts, bacon, seafood are the more richer topping ideas and vegetables like kale, cabbage, mushrooms, or stir-fried vegetables provide a simpler and vegetarian option to your ramen. Also kimchi, and sheets of nori or wakame are great additions too.
If I were to break ramen making down it would be 3 easy steps, each of which can be built-up on and developed as desired.
- The noodles: this can be as easy as actually using the noodles from the instant noodle packet – throwing away the small packets of flavorings, or taking it a level higher and using some good quality dried noodles or fresh noodles. You can also make the noodles at home.
If you want to have a go at making your own noodles Fine Cooking’s Homemade Ramen Noodles is a good guide.
- The broth: here too you can go for as basic as using a stock cube or powder, or buy good store-bought broth or use broth made from scratch at home. Season with your favorite miso paste, shoyu sauce or sea salt.
Tonkotsu ramen broth is right up there when it comes to ramen broth. Made with pork bones to give you an intensive, sticky intense broth. The Serious Eat lab experimented and made one mean Tonkotsu ramen broth from scratch.
The Kitchn provides an insight on various types of miso paste available.
- Customize your toppings: as I mentioned above as complex as you like and as time allows or keep it as simple as using what you have in the fridge or pantry.
My miso ramen uses some of my favorites. I particularly like chicken or duck breasts with my ramen and a variety of vegetables. In this miso ramen I have used chicken breasts that are glazed in miso to this I add sautéed spinach and use 2 shimeji mushroom varieties the white beech (Bunapi) and enoki – both add a beautiful nutty flavor to the dish. My tip if you are making this for a crowd - I only divide the noodles and broth into the bowls, the toppings are all put in serving bowls and laid out on the table to allow everyone to assemble their ramen toppings as desired. This also allows vegetarians amongst my friends to top with fresh vegetables and sprouts while the non-vegetarians can help themselves to pieces of poultry and eggs.
Recipe: Miso Ramen with Miso Glazed Chicken, Enoki and Shimeji MushroomsMeeta K. Wolff
- 2 liters chicken broth, homemade or store-bought
- 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
- 4 + 3 tablespoons fresh miso paste
- 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 300g dried Ramen
- 4 eggs
- 100g spinach (fresh or frozen - if using frozen defrost prior to prep)
- 150g corn kernels
- 200g shimeji mushrooms
- 150g Enoki mushrooms
- 4-5 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 100g fresh bean sprouts
- 2 tablespoons Shoyu, Japanese soy sauce
- Sriracha sauce
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil and sauté 1 garlic clove. In a bowl add 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 3 tablespoon miso paste. Add the chicken pieces and mix until coated then cook until lightly browned. Set aside. Make sure not to overcook the chicken pieces at this stage. As you serve with the hot broth they tend to cook further in the bowls. In the remaining oil quickly sauté the shimeji mushrooms until cooked through.
- Cook the eggs in plenty of boiling water and cook: 6 minutes for runny 8 for slightly runny and 10 for hard boiled. Peel then set aside to cool slightly.
- Sauté the remaining garlic with the rest of the peanut oil, then add the spinach. If using fresh cook until slightly wilted, if using frozen spinach cook until warmed through. Set aside.
- Bring the broth to a gentle simmer add the remaining miso paste and the last tablespoon of soy sauce and simmer for another few minutes. Keep hot. Cook the ramen noodles in water according to packet instructions - this should take about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain with cold water to stop the cooking.
- Divide the noodles in 4 bowls, add the chicken, eggs, spinach, the cooked shimeji mushrooms and the enoki mushrooms, spring onions, corn kernels and bean sprouts to each bowl. Then ladle the hot soup into each bowl and serve with a drizzle of sriracha sauce.
This is such a versatile dish that you can serve it topped with all kinds of ingredients.
Try Kimchi, shredded kale, pork strips, watercress, spiced group beef - let your fantasy play with as many ideas as it likes!
This for me is my epic satisfying dish. I love my dal and it is for me comfort food pure but a miso ramen just hits all those spots in me that needs that extra comfort. This is pure umami! This miso ramen has lovely fresh ingredients is easy to make and promises all the big flavor required to satisfy the ramen craving - instantly!
Don’t miss your chance to sign up for my upcoming workshops this Spring! We’ve almost filled up both workshops just a few slots left on each. Join me for an awesome, fun and hands-on food experience!
|Vienna, Austria |
17-18 April 2015
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|London, UK |
1 - 2 May 2015
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