Four recipes down, three to go, resulting in ramen for dinner. It was time to make the second crucial component.
Recipe 5: Alkaline (Ramen) Noodles
There are masters who walk among us, possessing the amazing ability to make noodles by hand. Here’s an example of the miraculous transmutation of flour, water, and salt into ramen, which I saw on He Who Will Not Be Ignored’s Kung Fu Panda DVD:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEq5sDFzBuc
I am not a noodle master, nor will I ever be. I’m just a guy who wanted to try his hand at making ramen from scratch. I’ve made pasta, how different could ramen be? In Momofuku, David Chang explains the main difficulty:
Ramen noodles are traditionally fresh flour-and-water noodles made with alkaline salts (sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate, mixed and sold as “kansui” in some Asian supermarkets). They are firm and chewy and, because of the way the salts and flour interact, an oxidized yellowish color that makes them look as if they’re made with eggs, though they aren’t and shouldn’t be.
… But, and this is a big but, I really don’t think you need to track down alkaline salts or kansui and make these noodles. Finding the ingredients is a pain in the ass. Of course, if you want to do it, kudos to you.
I read Chang’s qualifier literally, that the hardest part of making ramen is tracking down the alkaline salts. I have a secret weapon, I thought, She Who Must Be Obeyed has access to chemicals at her company’s lab. And indeed, one phone call resulted in my being presented with this:
That’s enough to make 70 batches of noodles; I only needed one. I assembled my ingredients: 800 grams of 00 pasta flour, 300 grams of water, 7.2 grams (two teaspoons) of sodium carbonate, and 0.8 grams (almost a quarter teaspoon) of potassium carbonate.
I mixed everything together in a stand mixer with a dough hook, adding additional water a tablespoon at a time until it came together in a ball. I kneaded for a total for ten minutes at medium-low speed.
I wrapped the dough in plastic and let it rest in the fridge while I contemplated how to cut it into noodles. Chang suggests running the dough through a pasta roller to get thin flat sheets, which should be cut on a narrow pasta cutter. I have a pasta roller attachment, but not a pasta cutter, however, I do have a pasta machine capable of making angel hair pasta. I fed the dough into the machine and waited for strands to extrude.
The dough is very elastic compared to egg-based pasta, so it took quite a bit of coaxing to get it down into the feed screw. I let the noodles extend to about sixteen inches before cutting them and giving them a heavy dusting of flour.
I pulled the larger bundles apart into smaller bunches and floured them again.
An hour later I had six six-ounce servings, three of which I put in the fridge, and three of which I froze.
Recipe 6: Slow-Poached Eggs
I’ve made slow-poached eggs before in an improvised “ghetto sous-vide” rig, this time I used something new:
Is that a new SousVide Supreme? Yes, yes it is, and it will figure prominently in future posts.
Recipe 7: Bamboo Shoots (Menma)
This is the last of the garnishes I had to prepare. I drained a twelve-ounce can of sliced bamboo shoots, drained them, then rinsed them under running water. I added them to a saucepan with a splash each of canola and sesame oil, added a splash of light soy sauce and a pinch of salt, and set the pan over low heat for about half an hour, until the shoots were tender.
I set a large pot of salted water to boil, and heated up the ramen broth that had been in the fridge. It came out of the container as a solid block of gelatin, a testament to the power of all of the collagen that had been rendered out of the pork and chicken bones.
While the broth heated, I sliced three half-inch thick slabs of roasted pork belly, cut then in half, and warmed them until they were soft.
I assembled all of the components: squares of toasted nori, pulled pork shoulder, menma, sliced scallions, blanched sliced snow peas, pork belly, and kamaboko (fish cake, the white slices with the pink outline). It was time to boil the noodles.
And it was here, dear readers, at the very end of the journey, that everything quickly went to hell. I assumed that the heavily-floured noodles from the fridge would separate into individual strands while they boiled. They did not. In fact, they quickly fused into chunks of inedible glop.
Fortunately, I had a backup plan. I wasn’t certain that I would obtain the alkaline salts in time to finish the recipe, so I purchased pre-made noodles during my ingredient shopping run.
Much to my surprise, fresh genuine alkaline noodles are difficult to find. These were Vietnamese, and made with egg yolks, but they’d have to do. I started another pot of water and boiled my noodle stand-ins.
I drained and rinsed the noodles, portioned them into bowls,and added the garnishes.
Lastly, I ladled hot broth over everything and topped each bowl with a slow-poached egg.
Much to my relief, this was a tasty bowl of noodles that I’d put it up against any of the local ramenyas. Soft and chewy pork, crunch from the peas and bamboo shoots, sweetness from the fish cake, the sharp bite of the scallions, and the ocean flavor of the nori all came together in a perfect balance of flavor and texture. I’ll grudgingly admit that the noodles were cooked correctly and had the proper chewiness. But the star of the dish is the broth: it was simultaneously light, meaty, smoky, and salty. We all slurped up every last bit of it, tilting the bowls so as not to miss a drop.
I realized that the traditional ramen bowls, which are much deeper than what I had at home, are essential to the recipe. Chang’s quantities are intended to provide a large serving; I had to leave out about a cup of broth in each bowl because it wouldn’t fit.
As for the noodle failure, I attribute to to two factors: 1) A sheet-style pasta cutter would have allowed me to handle all of the noodles as individual strands, which would have remained separate after dusting with flour. 2) Because my noodle bundles weren’t adequately floured, they released moisture during their rest in the fridge, which bound them together.
I may try to make the next batch with the noodles I froze, but I’ll be sure to have a backup. In the future I think I’ll devote my energy to locating authentic pre-made fresh noodles instead of improving my homemade noodle technique. Seeing the strainer full of failed glop, He Who Will Not Be Ignored asked “Why didn’t you make them like the Kung Fu Panda noodle chef? That would have worked.”
Maybe it would have. After all, it looks easy.
Bamboo shoots, scallions, snow peas, kamaboko, nori, noodles: H Mart
Sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate: Fisher Scientific
Pasta flour: Capone Foods