Last year, in my quest to get to know chef David Chang better, I bought his book, Momofuku. Very entertaining for the stories he tells about his childhood and past experiences, it’s also a suprisingly approachable cookbook with down-to-earth recipes carefully explained. Chang’s casual tone (transcripted by writer Peter Meehan) guides you through each step as if he were in the kitchen with you. The book features recipes from each of Chang’s restaurants, except Mà Pêche, which was opened after the book was published. Since I didn’t get to go to Momofuku in New York, I decided to try and make its ramen at home, following the lengthy instructions to make the perfect broth and toppings.
I’m giving you the shortened version to get to a Momofuku ramen, but if you want to cook like David Chang and get to know the guy better, buy the book, it’s worth it. It gives you insight into his uniquely creative mind and the additional information he provides on each ingredient and recipe is both entertaining and enlightening.
“Ramen = broth + noodles + meat + toppings and garnishes. It’s that simple and that complex, because variations are endless.” – David Chang
It’s easy and quick to make hearty Asian soups at home. I very often make them when we feel for a quick and comforting dinner. Here’s my basic formula:
- Start with a broth of your choice (usually chicken, preferably homemade, 2 cups per serving)
- Enrich the flavor of your broth with your choice of soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, lemongrass and hot chili sauce (like sambal oelek)
- Add dried or fresh egg noodles
- Incorporate a variety of vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, mushrooms, etc.)
- Top with a protein (cooked chicken, shrimp, fish, poached egg)
- Finish with sliced green onions, a few dashes of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sesame seeds
And there you have a very delightful meal in a bowl. I’m so used to making these soups that I can churn them out, no matter what’s in the fridge.
Because I don’t usually follow a traditional (or very authentic) recipe when I make my soups, I decided for once to do it the Momofuku Way: traditional Japanesestyle. Japanese ramen recipes vary, but the broth is usually made of pork bones and seaweed, the meat is usually pork and toppings usually include nori, bamboo shoots, eggs and green onions. The result of Chang’s recipe is a bold and deep-tasting soup, even masculine in its over-the-top meaty way (who would think of adding bacon to broth, except a guy like Chang?) The soup definitely tasted like those I had in Japanese ramen shops.
The crucial step to make ramen soups is prep work; when your broth, your meat and all the garnishes are ready, then it’s just an assembly line. It doesn’t have to be complicated, use what you have and make the recipe your own. The best advice I take from the Momofuku ramen process is how to make my own ramen broth: I love the deep and rich taste rendered by the pork, shiitakes, kombu – and bacon, of course. I’ll definitely do it again and freeze it in portions for future use.
How to Make Ramen Broth
Adapted from David Chang’s Momofuku
The original recipe started with 6 quarts of water, but I halved it to fit the largest pot I have at home. Since this is a fairly time-consuming project, if you have a bigger pot, I suggest you double the recipe. The resulting broth will freeze well for months.
Makes between 8 to 10 cups of broth, enough for 4 to 5 portions.
1 3-by-6-inch piece kombu
3 quarts water
1 cup dried shiitakes, rinsed
2lb chicken legs
1 pork leg (about 2lb)
250 g smoky bacon
4 green onions, cut in 2-inch logs
1 small onion, cut in half
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
Rinse the kombu under running water, then combine it with the water in a big stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.
Remove the kombu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and rehydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Remove the mushrooms from the pot with a slotted spoon (keep the mushrooms – they make delicious pickled shiitakes, see recipe below). Add the chicken to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer, with bubble lazily and occasionally breaking the surface. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth while the chicken is simmering, and replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until it’s the case and then remove the chicken from the pot with a slotted spoon. Let the chicken legs cool and then pull all the meat off. This will be a great topping for many ramen soups to come.
While the chicken is simmering, cut meat and skin off the pork legs (it’s ok if some meat remain) and reserve, you’ll add it to the broth later. Put the pork bones on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven for an hour; turn them over after about 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
Roasted pork leg bones:
Remove the chicken from the pot and add the pork meat, the roasted bones and the bacon to the broth. Adjest the heat as necessary to keep the broth to a steady simmer; skim the foam and fat and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, fish out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork meat and bones for one more hour. Fish out the pork meat and simmer the broth (with the bones still in) for 3 more hours, or as long as your schedule allows. Stop adding water to replenish the pot 1 hour before the end of your cooking time.
Add the scallions, onion and carrots to the pot to simmer for the final 45 minutes.
Remove and discard spent bones and vegetables. Pass the broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Pour the broth back in the pot and season it: Chang uses “Taré”, a Japanese sauce made out of chicken, sake, mirin and soy sauce. As a substitution, I used kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin. Use your tastebuds to guide you through the seasoning process: Chang says he “likes it so it’s not quite too salty but almost” adding that “underseasoned broth is a crime”. I fully agree so I added 3 teaspoons of kosher salt, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 3 tablespoons mirin. Since your broth will be different depending on the kind of pork bones you used and the saltiness of the bacon, taste yours and get it right.
How to Assemble Ramen Like Momofuku Does
What you need, per serving:
2 cups ramen broth
Taré (if you have some) or kosher salt, soy sauce and mirin
5 to 6 ounces fresh ramen noodles or 2 to 3 ounces dried egg noodles
About ½ cup meat (Momofuku uses pork belly; I used chicken and pork from my broth)
Two 3-by-3-inch sheets nori (cut from larger sheets)
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions (green and white parts)
Seasoned bamboo shoots (slowly simmered for 15 minutes with a splash of both, soy sauce, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, finely sliced fresh chile or sambal oelek and salt)
¼ cup seasonal vegetables (or whatever’s in your fridge; blanch before adding to the soup)
1 poached egg
Thin slices of Japanese fish cake (optional)
Have everything ready. Heat up your broth, adjust its seasoning if necessary. Cook and drain the noodles. Meat, bamboo shoots and vegetables should be hot. Eggs should be poached. Take out big bowls, chopsticks and spoons.
Portion the noodles in the bowls. Top with hot broth. Dress the soup: arrange meat and other garnishes (scallions, bamboo shoots, vegetables and fish cake, if using) around the edges of each bowl. Spoon the poached eggs in the middle of each bowl. Finish by tucking a couple pieces of nori about one-third of the way into one side of the soup, so they lean against the side of the bowl and stand up above the rim. Serve very hot.
Adapted from David Chang’s Momofuku
What you need:
1 ½ to 2 cups rehydrated shiitakes from the ramen broth (or 3 cups dried shiitakes, steeped for 15 minutes in boiling water, then drained)
1 cup ramen or chicken broth
½ cup sugar
½ cup Japanese soy sauce
½ cup sherry vinegar
1 3-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
Slice the shiitake caps into 1/8-inch-thick slices (discard the stems).
Combine broth, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and shiitake slices in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium, being to a simmer and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Let cool.
Discard the ginger and pack the shiitakes (and as much of the liquid as necessary to cover them) into a container. These pickled shiitakes are ready to eat immediately and will keep, refrigerated, for at least 1 month. Serve with ramen or as a snack whenever you feel like it – I find them totally addictive!
Dried Shiitake: Before/After Soaking