Warning: this dish is a whole day affair but if you try it, you’ll see it’s worth doing (even if only once a year)
I love ramen. I’m not talking about the instant, microwave on high for 4 minutes, variety (although, don’t get me wrong, I love that too). I’m talking about noodles in a flavourful broth, served with pork, a soft boiled egg and scallions (green onions; spring onions). I’m talking about a bowl of soup and noodles so flavourful, so heartwarming and so delicious that they bring a tear to your eye. I’m talking about the ultimate umami (that savoury taste that’s so damn delicious) inducing, hug that is real ramen.
True Japanese ramen was first created some 100 years ago and has been a popular dish in Japan ever since. They literally have a sort of ramen vending machine set up where you put money into a machine, choose the type of ramen you want, and a chef will cook it and bring it out to you (if I was a religious person, I’d definitely have this in my heaven).
Ramen is composed of a broth, usually made from pork or beef bones, noodles and various toppings. True ramen is an amalgamation of ingredients whose cooking times vary from hours to days and whose techniques take years to learn. Click here to learn more.
What I’m making is a delicious faux ramen.
I feel like I have to insert a caveat here, this dish is not for the faint-of-heart. There is lots of cooking involved. It is an all day affair. But it is worth it. I repeat… IT IS WORTH IT!
Okay, are you ready? Take a deep breath, and let’s begin.
This ramen is composed of 5 elements:
- The broth
- The pork
- The black garlic oil
- The soft boiled egg
- The rest of the toppings
- The noodles
My advice is to crack a beer and start with the broth. This is my version of a Japanese style, Tonkotsu broth. It is pale yellow and opaque and about as far away from French consommé as you can get. It takes about 4.5 hours to make start-to-finish (I did warn you…).
Now, the original version of this broth is made with pork trotters and pork bones, which unfortunately my local Co-Op does not readily stock. So my version is made with skin on, bone-in chicken thighs, some pork belly and a bit of salty ham.
Add the meats to a large stock pot and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the liquid and rinse the meat with cold water, taking care to get rid of all the scum.
Add the meat back to the stock pot with the aromatics and spices and cover with water. You want the water to be about 3 inches over the meat and veggies.
Now set a timer, cover the pot and simmer over a low heat for 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. When your timer goes off, use a potato masher and smoosh (that’s a culinary term) everything in the pot. Try to break up the chicken bones.
Turn the heat up and gently boil (not simmer – click here if you’re unsure of the difference) for another 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
You will need to periodically add cold water to the pot as it reduces. Your aim is to make sure there’s about 5 cups of broth in the end. Once the 2 hours are up, strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer and using the potato masher press out all the liquid from the veggies, bones and meat. You should end up with something that looks like the picture below.
Pork belly slices are seared and then braised in a flavourful liquid until melt-in-your mouth soft. I know – it’s (probably) on of the best things you’ll put in your mouth.
Preheat the oven to 330°F (≈165°C). Brown the pork belly slices in a hot pan. Combine the garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, mirin and rice wine vinegar with some water. Add the pork and braise in the oven for 2.5 hours until it falls apart. Remove the pork from the liquid, reserving it for later.
The Black Garlic Oil:
You’re just going to have to trust me on this one… This oil is made by literally burning garlic until black. Now, if you cook at all, you know that if you burn the garlic, your dish is useless. It turns bitter and acrid and just really unpleasant.
This oil is very much the same and if you don’t want to try it on it’s own, I won’t blame you. BUT, here’s the kicker when you add it to the salty broth, and combine it with the sweetness of the pork belly, something magical happens. It adds that umami flavour we talked about. So cook the garlic in sunflower oil over medium low heat until it is actually black, add the toasted sesame seed oil and allow to cool. Blend until it’s completely smooth.
Soft Cooked Egg:
A beautifully cooked, soft boiled egg is a must have for proper (or in our case faux) ramen. This one is extra special because once boiled, it’s marinated in soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. I know that everyone has their own way to boil eggs, but I throw mine in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as it’s come to a rolling boil, I cover the pot and remove from the heat. I let them sit 6 minutes for a soft yolk. Once the 6 minutes are up, run under cold water and gently peel. Submerge in the soy sauce and vinegar and put in the fridge until ready to assemble.
The Rest of the Toppings:
Phew, you’re almost there! Now for the toppings. Your imagination is the limit for this. Finely sliced green onions are a must but the rest is up to you. I keep it fairly simple with my toppings. Alongside the pork belly and soft boiled egg, I sautée some chestnut mushrooms in a little sesame oil and add a bit of sriracha because I like things spicy.
Please do not attempt to make your own.
If you know how to make your own then please come over and show me…right now in fact – I’ll make time.
In my opinion it’s one of those things that you should leave to professionals. Buy some dried ramen noodles (they can be found in nests) and cook them in boiling water until just done, they will continue to cook in the hot broth. Remember one thing DO NOT OVERCOOK!
Bowl of Ramen
You’re now ready to assemble. Grab the biggest bowl you’ve got, add a couple tablespoons of the braising liquid you cooked the pork belly slices in, then add the broth. Add the noodles and top with with pork belly, the mushrooms, scallions and the egg – sliced in half. Now add 1/2 teaspoon of black garlic oil, a squeeze of sriracha and grab your chopsticks.
Take a gulp of the steaming broth and slurp the noodles (it’s actually encouraged)
Enjoy the soul warming ramen that’s your labour of love!
Ramen: A Labour of Love
- 150 g pork belly, sliced
- 600 g bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
- 50 g ham
- 1 lg onion, halved
- 3 carrots, halved
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 cm piece of ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 12-15 peppercorns
Add all of the meat to a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes and then strain the water. Rinse the meat under cold, running water until clean. Cover with 3 inches cold water and cook over medium-low heat for 2.5 hours.
After 2.5 hours, use a potato masher to smoosh everything down, trying to crack the chicken bones. Gently boil the broth for another 2 hours, adding cold water as needed (you want 5 cups of liquid in your finished product)
- 500 g pork belly slices
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
- ½ cup boiling water
- ½ cup mirin
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- ½ Tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 330°F (≈165°C)
Brown pork belly slices in a hot pan on all sides.
Combine all ingredients above, except for the pork, into an oven proof dish and stir. Submerge the pork slices in the liquid and braise until tender, about 2.5 hours.
Remove from braising liquid (save it) and cover in plastic wrap and put it fridge until ready to assemble the ramen.
Black Garlic Oil
- ¼ cup sunflower oil
- 7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
Heat garlic and oil in a small pot over medium heat until garlic turns black (warning: your entire house will smell of garlic, so open some windows while you do this), should take about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, add the sesame oil and allow to cool completely.
Blend until smooth.
Soft Boiled Egg
- 4 eggs
- 4 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup of water
Add eggs to a pot of cold water, heat until just boiling. Cover and remove from heat, let sit for 6 minutes.
In the meantime, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and water
Once eggs are ready, run under cold water and gently peel, submerge in the soy sauce mixture and leave to marinade until you’re ready to assemble the ramen.
Noodles and Toppings
- 200 g chestnut mushrooms sliced
- 6 green onions, finely sliced
- 4 servings of ramen noodles
Sautée the chestnut mushrooms in a bit of sesame oil until golden in colour. Set aside.
Finely slice the green onion. Set aside.
Cook noodles in a large pot of unsalted water, according to package directions.
To each bowl add ¼ cup of braising liquid that the pork belly cooked in. Add a couple ladles of broth, and one serving of noodles. Top with some of the pork belly slices, the green onion and mushrooms. Cut egg in half and add it to the steaming bowl of soup. Add ½ tsp of the black garlic oil.