The Road to Ramen, Part I

I first encountered ramen noodles in college, when I was the gaijin in a suite full of Japanese students, but it wasn’t until 1985 that I learned about the real thing. My introduction to the cult of ramen was Tampopo, Juzo Itami’s “Japanese noodle western.” If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember this scene:

I didn’t develop a ramen obsession to the same level as truck drivers Goro and Gun, but I did start seeking out the real thing, Today I can walk to the Porter Exchange and eat at three different ramenyas, but twenty-five years ago the real item was in short supply. My interest in ramen was eventually eclipsed by my growing fascination with Vietnamese phở. Then I heard about David Chang and his restaurant, Momofuku.

Chang’s Momofuku cookbook begins with the declaration “Koreans are notorious noodle eaters. I am no exception.” He then goes on to document his own ramen obsession, which grew into a desire to open a noodle shop in New York. (The restaurant is named after Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen.) Since I had already cooked other recipes from the book, I thought it was time to attempt the Noodle Bar signature dish, Momofuku Ramen.

The master recipe is nothing more than the assembly instructions for a single serving of ramen, which has eight separate sub-component recipes. That’s a lot of cooking, even though it’s not particularly difficult. On day one I completed one recipe and started two more.

Recipe 1: Taré

Taré is Japanese barbecue sauce, the stuff that’s brushed on skewers of grilled meat at yakitori restaurants. It’s also used as a seasoning to provide the salt component in ramen broth.

I began with two pounds of chicken thighs that I hacked in two with a cleaver. I placed them in a large skillet which went into a 450 °F oven for an hour, until they were browned.

I removed the pan to the stove, added a cup of sake, and deglazed the pan over medium-high heat. I then added a cup of mirin and two cups of light soy sauce (usukuchi), brought the liquid to a boil, and let everything simmer for an hour.

I strained out the chicken and added a few grinds of black pepper to the sauce. I wound up with about a pint, which I stored in the fridge.

I sampled sme of the remaining chicken, which was a bit salty but still quite tasty, so I removed the meat from the bones and saved it for future use. (That turned out to be tonight’s dinner, a quick yakisoba with the chicken, taré, and ginger-scallion sauce.)

Recipe 2: Pork Shoulder

While the taré simmered, I prepared a pork shoulder for roasting. I began with seven pounds of bone-in Boston butt, and a half cup each of kosher salt and sugar.

I mixed the salt and sugar together, then spread the mixture all over the outside of the shoulder.

I  placed the shoulder in a glass dish and covered it with plastic wrap. After an overnight rest in the fridge, I drained off the excess liquid and roasted the shoulder in a 250 °F oven for six hours, basting with the rendered fat and pan juices every hour. When it was done, I let it rest for thirty minutes.

Using two large forks, I pulled the pork apart into strands. I removed any obvious globs of fat and reserved the bone for making the ramen broth.

I placed the pork in a container, adding some of the fat from the pan, and stored it in the fridge.

Recipe 3: Pork Belly

I was working synchronously, so as soon as the pork shoulder got its rub and hit the fridge, I used the same treatment on a three-pound slab of pork belly.

This is the same pork preparation as that used for the Momofuku Pork Buns, so you can look up the specifics there. The only difference is that I used a whole slab of belly instead of strips. (I advise you to use a pan that you can scrub with steel wool, because the sugar in the cure melts and then fuses to the bottom of the roasting pan.)

I wrapped the finished belly in plastic and found some space for it in the increasingly crowded fridge.

To recap: On day one I made the taré and cured the pork shoulder and pork belly. On day two I roasted the shoulder and belly while I made ramen broth, the topic of the next post.


Pork shoulder, pork belly, chicken thighs, sake, usukuchi, mirin: H Mart

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1 Response to The Road to Ramen, Part I

  1. She Who Must Be Obeyed says:

    David and I enjoyed the Tampopo scene and have replayed it many times over the years. The size of the Momofuku Ramen portion was intimating, but filled a place in my heart that I didn’t know was empty. MORE!

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