WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart, nor any vegans who may not have fully understood the title of my blog page and it’s full implications. Good Ramen is serious porky business.
I start my blog with a confession. I have been a confirmed ramen addict for several decades now. The disease shows no signs of slowing even though, for the most part, I have stopped eating gluten and pork. The addiction began in earnest as a small child left to fend for himself and forage the near empty cupboards of 1970’s America. Instant ramen noodles seemed the perfect cost effective solution for parents of constantly hungry adolescents. Any child with half a brain could boil a cup of water, open the tin foil flavor packet, drop the waxed noodles in and eat. It progressed, or degressed depending on your point of view, to high school where I put the high in high school and had the munchies that needed constant tending. Ramen was the perfect solution.
I continued eating instant ramen even when I became Executive Chef of Louis Szathmary’s Bakery Restaurant at 21 and thought I knew everything. Louis told me over breakfast one day how he prepared his noodles for his Japanese wife Sada. I adopted his methodology and started adding “real” ingredients, like fresh scallions and leftover roast pork loin to the mix. The first real ramen upgrade came when I found the big fat packs of comparatively expensive ramen in the produce section. I thought I won the lottery. Instead of beef, shrimp, chicken and pork flavored powder there was small pouches of liquids and pre-cooked fat noodles. Obviously higher quality and therefore more authentic. These fat noodles begged to be eaten with real chopsticks.
aha moment, noun, Definition of AHA MOMENT: a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension
Like your first girl, there are some dining experiences that one simply never forgets. The very first time I ate at Momofuku in 2008 was an eye opening experience I remember as vividly today as when I first experienced it. The wood paneled walls were infused with the smells and tastes of culinary heaven. It was my birthday and we went as guests of the “Silver Shadow”, the legendary character in Anthony Bourdain’s epic tale of kitchen life entitled “Kitchen Confidential”. He was wooing Lisa and I to go work for him at Dayboat, his Canadian outpost on Prince Edward Island and was out to impress us. The Silver Shadow is a lovable New York shyster who lives life large. Man, I still love that dude even though he fucked me a few times, escalating to our first exodus from NYC aboard our hippie bus repeatedly blaring Orange Blossom Special over the Washington Bridge as we gave the Big Apple and the shyster the finger.
Momofuku was the place of legends. Whispered conversations in the dark recesses of my Connecticut kitchen spread the word about the magic David Chang was creating. The myths grew larger and larger about David and his magical restaurant. I had to go. I believed every fairy tale of porky excess that one of my prep cooks recounted in endless, mouth watering detail. Food porn: the stuff us dirt bags who plate food for a living jerk off to.
We arrived at Momofuku and proceeded to order the entire menu, some courses literally twice. The tattooed waitress just kept coming with pork in another carnation for us to savor. Massive quantities of alcohol freely mixed with the hoisin drenched pickles in the pork buns. I have eaten at several of his restaurants and am still haunted by the spectre of the first visit. At the time, his ramen was the best.
If Momofuku was the culinary equivalent of screwing your first girl then Tsujita was finally learning what making love to someone you truly loved is all about.
Chef Chang first brought me to Ramen orgasm. Then I discovered Tsujita LA and her erotic ways. Lisa and I were in Los Angeles binge eating as we were prone to do. We had dinner reservations at Chef Ori Menashe’s Bestia and wanted something light for lunch. Lisa found Tsujita LA googling so we went. If Momofuku was the culinary equivalent of screwing your first girl, then Tsujita LA was finally learning what making love to someone you deeply love is all about. “Some people might argue that there’s no difference – physically, they are the same. But emotionally, passionately, and mentally, the two deeds are very different.”
These noodles could quite possibly be the best noodles I have ever eaten in my life! Tsukemen style literally translates to “dipping noodle”. The noodles themselves are fabulous but what makes Tsujita’s noodles epic is the broth that is slowly simmered for 60 plus hours redolent with savory flavors of kurobuta pork, bonito and sardine.
Seductive hand rolled noodles dipped into a rich pool of umami packed broth finished with an explosion of creamy soft cooked yolk running down my sweaty throat.
Tsujita LA is a no frills noodle shop with a small menu and a wonderfully quirky staff. The first time we stepped in I thought we had been transported to Japan as the entire dining room was filled with Japanese voices. The moment struck me so much that I was reduced to pointing to things on the small menu and hoping the waitress would have sympathy and steer me in the right direction. I nervously looked around trying to figure out how the dining experience worked. It felt a bit like the first time us guys are faced with the daunting task of undoing a girls bra and trying hard not to look like it is the first time you’re undoing her bra. Thankfully the staff sensed my virgin status and provided an illustration to show me how to move. Cue up the Barry White, we are going to have a love moment. This was ramen at it’s sensuary best. Seductive hand rolled noodles dipped into a rich pool of umami packed broth finished with an explosion of creamy soft cooked yolk running down my sweaty throat. My nipples just got hard writing that line.
I started my new job a few weeks ago working with a group of women as addicted to food as I was. In my awkward moment of trying to fit in, I blurted out that I loved ramen and I would make some for all of us to eat at lunch. How could any not love ramen? I always felt you cannot properly bond without breaking bread and drinking wine. The week was progressing fine as I was concentrating on my new role outside of a kitchen when one of the ladies reminded me of my offer.
The Quest for the Perfect 36 Hour Ramen. A title worthy of a short haiku or the very least, a drunken 2 am run to a still open dank noodle shop down some dark alley. I present to you my version, the lovechild of my two idols; with the ramblings of someone high on too much barleywine and probably way too little sleep.
The ramen began in earnest with a consultation of David Chang’s epic recipe from his first cookbook simply titled “Momofuku”. I bought about five pounds of pork bellies and one giant piece of pork shoulder to slow roast as garnishes to an indulgent soup. I channeled the spirit of David, and built upon his recipe. I seasoned the bellies with smoked Maldon salt flakes, organic sugar, Chinese Five Spice and some dried orange peels I had curing in my cupboard.
Back in my Chef days, the recipe would have read something like this, ‘take three pigs and butcher them.’ My sick, twisted and sleep deprived mind would have crossed the line from reasonable to questionable by perhaps phrasing it in a nursery rhyme about the the three little piggies.But let’s concentrate and stay focused at the task on hand. Ramen in the home, take two. I roasted all my meaty bones and pig feet till lightly browned.
Ramen Broth, hour 1.26 Kombu and shiitakes take their turn in the bath.
Hour 3.48: I removed the chicken legs and shiitakes and added the roasted pork bones. I crawled in bed and started our Friday ritual of eating popcorn watching a new Beau movie. In six hours I will make the next ramen additions or wake up to a house burning down from concentrated quantities of volatile pork fat imploding. It’s hard to sleep fully thinking about the fact that our stove was made by the company that won the contract because of the lowest bid. The Pink Floyd song ‘set the controls for the center of the sun’ came into mind as I began the long simmer.
Hour 12.03… After a very fitful night without much deep sleep and slightly parched from the ravages of barleywine I kept thinking of Star Trek… these are the voyages of the USS Ramen, To boldly go where no chopsticks have gone before.
Barleywine raising it’s ugly head yet again. I cracked open the growler and started back at it. Brain cells are dying off as the ramen continues it’s slow boil to perfection.
amen broth update: . Both my dog lucy and myself have been on an 18 hour saliva-thon. Furniture permeated with porkigoodness = edible furniture for a starved chef. YES PORKIGOODNESS is a word. WORD! broth is changing colors to a golden hued love stew. I am not sure it will make it till Tuesday. May have to buy several packets of dried ramen noodles and pretend. 6 for a dollar.
Stardate 23.08. The continuing tales of the Ramen Adventure. The barrel aged barleywine is half gone and my kitchen is smelling confused. Confused you ask? The house is permeated with the very Asian smells of roasting pork belly and ramen. I just barbequed the chicken legs smothered in Podnay’s BBQ sauce that were the remnants of the ramen adventure, stage one. The legs were poached for one hour with kombu to provide the initial foundation of the broth. I couldn’t let the legs go to waste so I made bbq and some more chicken crack. My humbled apologies to Paula Wolfert for slandering her good name with that title but the combination of lack of sleep plus too much good old Bigfoot barleywine has caused my head to stop thinking properly. Pure logic is out. I made one of her dishes last week called chicken k’dra, a Moroccan dish of chicken, baby turnip and chickpeas that is so incredibly delicious I have made it five times in less than ten days. You ever make a dish so many times you start thinking it’s yours? So combined with ramen and bbq is now some Moroccan scents. I also am prepping artichokes a la barigoule and a proper tapenado for tomorrow’s lunch with the family.
bleary eyed and battered, the pork belly has been pulled from the oven. It will be a miracle of god that it survives the night in it’s citrusy, sweet crackly crunch. Look at the translucentness of the fat… sexy, huh? Have pork bun, will travel.
Tonkotsu Ramen Broth… as the broth enters it’s second day of life the pork bones start breaking down into bits of calcium that will cloud the broth. I am going to serve it room temperature so the fat will remain emulsified in the golden hue. I am planning on garnishing it with slow cooked eggs, pork belly, shredded pork shoulder, green onions, toasted seaweed and some porcinis stolen from the loading docks.
Somewhere near the 36 hour point (of no return): The Breaking Point, Barely slept last as the broth simmered yet another night. I kept waking up every hour being haunted by mini pork infested nightmares. The paranoia continued and took on a deeper, more sinister mutation as I went from the almost playful dreams of never quite getting a Momofuku pork bun in my mouth the night before to being stalked by a homicidal pickle. It’s funny how a sleep deprived brain starts seeing and hearing things. At this rate by tomorrow I should be certifiable.
Goal Achieve: Ramen is Done! I can finally sleep and end my sleep deprived ramen-a-thon. I showed up to work yesterday with three bags of food for the six of us. For some reason that struck me as weird. I set the ramen garnishes up in bowls and plates and let everyone have at it. Was it good? To me it was delicious. A little hard to work afterwards but worth the effort. Did anyone else like it? I am not sure. They told me I could work from home tomorrow, than promptly cut my access to the company intranet off. I don’t think I killed off any of the five ladies I work with… so all is good!
side note: three Ramen haikus borrowed from the Ramen Haiku page:
boil water, open bag
add noodles and seasoning
fifteen cents, good food
hey roomie stay back,
dont bogart my noodles man
and dude, you snore loud
i shot the sherriff,
but jail ramen sure is good
make a shank from bag
- Ramen Base
- 8 quarts water
- 2 pieces konbu
- 2 cups dried shiitakes
- 8 chicken legs and thighs
- 5 pounds pork necks
- 2 pig feet
- 1 onion
- 4 carrots
- 4 cups bonito flakes
- 1 cup soy
- 1 cup mirin
- 1 cup sake
- 1 kitchen sink
- Pork Belly and Shoulder
- 3 pounds pork belly
- 3 pounds pork shoulder
- 2 T. chopped dried orange
- 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice
- 1/2 cup Maldon smoked sea salt
- 1/2 brown sugar
- snap peas
- 1 – 63 degree egg per person
- shredded seaweed
- baby shiitakes
- Bring 8 quarts of water to boil with both pieces of konbu. Most people soak their konbu first. I am lazy and did not. Simmer 20 minutes.
- Add dried shiitakes and cook one hour.
- Strain out shiitakes and add chicken parts.
- Simmer one hour, or until meat falls off bone.
- Remove chicken, make bbq to keep you going strong.
- Roast pork bones and feet for one hour till browned.
- Add pork products to broth and start the slow simmer.
- After the first day of continuous simmering, add bonito and vegetables.
- Simmer 36 hours while drinking lots of barleywine. I drank bourbon barrel aged Big Foot from Sierra Nevada brewing.
- Strain and wonder why you did this for 10 minutes of eating.
- Rub dried orange, five spice, sugar and salt all over belly and shoulder.
- Let sit for 12 hours
- Bake at 250 for six hours causing your dog to question your sanity as you both drool uncontrollably staring into the oven. Much like watching your pet fish not swim. Are they dead?
- Remove, chill.
- Chop shoulder up.
- Slice belly.
- Brown belly, warm shoulder, saute shiitake, chop snap peas, cook noodles… I probably forgot something, but if you made it this far I am confident you are marathon material and can go the distance required. Fight your inner pork demons and rise to the occasion!
- Eat Till You Bleed, you earned it.