Robust Chicken Ramen

Robust Chicken Ramen with the Works!

I absolutely love ramen noodles, and I’m not talking about those instant packs of Top Ramen (although, in truth, I’m a fan of those too), but a noodle soup with a rich, savory broth and springy, fresh noodles topped with an assortment of yummy toppings. Ramen is a national obsession in Japan, and in major cities all over the U.S. you’ll find noodle houses vying for the dollars of the ramen-crazed with all kinds of variations, some for authentic than others. Shio, miso, shoyu, and tonkotsu are all classic ramen broths that have their adherents. Tonkotsu, in particular, is frequently considered the highest pinnacle of ramen achievement, featuring a creamy, opaque, nearly white broth that’s the result of 12 hours or more of slowly simmering marrow-rich pork bones.

While I love tonkotsu ramen, in general I find it very heavy and quite oily. It’s heavenly to eat, but can be a gut-buster to say the least! Shio and shoyu versions are cleaner, perhaps more health-conscious in design. I like miso-based broths too, but I find they can be a little cloying and not for everyday eating. When I make ramen at home, I mostly want something clean, clear, and yet full of flavor. Also, I want it pretty easy to make, which means I’m not going to spend 12 hours making a fatty pork broth from bones that I have to special-order. That being said, I want real depth of flavor, so I’ll take my time and make a broth that simmers for about four hours. I like to make a huge amount and freeze most of it. I normally start with 18 or 20 quarts of water, but I’ve rewritten the recipe for 9 quarts, which will yield you 15 or more pretty substantial bowls of ramen noodles.

In my recipe you’ll see that I make the broth with a slew of specialty ingredients that you’ll need to source at a Japanese specialty market — kombu (dried kelp), bonito flakes (pressed, shaved fish), gyoma yo dashi (dried, shaved horse mackeral, sardine, and bonito), mirin (Japanese cooking wine), miso (sweet fermented soybean paste). You can leave one or two of these items out without much loss of flavor, but if you don’t make an effort to include most or all of these ingredients you’ll make a broth that lacks complexity and some specifically “Japanese” flavor profiles. If you’re in LA you can buy all of this stuff at the multiple locations Nijiya, Mitsuwa, Marukai, or Ranch 99. So find a good Japanese market in your area, or try online at japansuper.com or asianfoodgrocer.com. If you do find these items you’ll make a delicious chicken broth with briny undercurrents and a slightly smoky, slightly sweet, perfectly salty character. It’ll be complex, deep, and delicious.

Clockwise: kombu, ginger, bonito flakes, gyomu yo dashi, scallions, miso, shiitakes. 

You’ll also notice that the recipe calls for 2 frozen, roasted chicken carcasses. Okay, so maybe you don’t have a chicken carcass in your freezer, but it’s a good habit to start. Whenever I roast a chicken, I cut the meat off the bone and serve that, leaving behind a lovely pile of flavor-rich bones and meat. I save this, freeze it, and when the time comes to make broth I have a huge head-start on flavor-making. So it’s something to think about next time you roast a chicken. I don’t use carcasses from chickens roasted with lots of spice or BBQ flavor, but any simply roasted bird with herbs or lemon or whatever is fine. If you don’t have a roasted chicken carcass add another pound or so chicken backs to the stock.

I simmer this chicken-based broth for about four or five hours.

You will need:

9 quarts of cold water
2 pieces kombu, about 3 x 5 inches
3 and 1/2 pounds chicken backs (or other chicken bones with some skin)
2 frozen chicken carcasses (from roasted chickens, about 3 pounds pre-roasted)
1/4 cup of kosher salt
1/4 cup shiro miso (the light-colored, mild flavored miso)
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons white peppercorns
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 slices fresh ginger, about 3 inches long
4 shiitake mushrooms
8 scallions
2 cups bonito flakes (loosely packed)
1 cup gyomu yo dashi (loosely packed)

Now do this:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Put chicken backs, skin-side up, in a roasting pan and season with salt and a little pepper. Drizzle a little vegetable oil over the top. Roast for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, wipe off kombu with damp paper towel. Place kombu in a large pot and fill with the 9 quarts of cold water. Bring water to a boil, turn off heat, and allow the kombu to infuse the water for ten minutes. Remove kombu and discard.

Now, put cooked chicken backs into the water and add all the juices that accumulated in the roasting pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan and add anything you can get off the bottom. Add chicken carcasses, if you have them, add salt, miso, mirin, peppercorns, soy sauce, sugar, sliced ginger, and scallions. Bring pot to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer, so that the broth is constantly bubbling but not to rapidly. Simmer for four hours. Periodically skim off any foamy scum that might come to the surface.

Now add shiitake mushrooms and simmer for about ten minutes. Remove shiitakes and put in a bowl. You can slice these later for a garnish over the noodles. Now add the bonito flakes and gyomu yo dashi. Turn off heat and allow the dried fish to infuse the broth for about 15 minutes. Line a strainer with several layers of cheesecloth and place over another large pot. Strain broth carefully through the cheesecloth. Discard solids.

Your broth is finished. If you wish, skim off some of the oils that may float on the surface. Check for seasoning and add, as you see fit, a little salt, pepper, soy, or sugar.

Chicken, bok choy, komatusuna, kamaboko, mitsuba, scallions, bean sprouts, enoki, shiitakes, menma, soft-boiled egg. 

Now for the ingredients. Don’t use the hard noodles found in the plastic packets. While tasty in their own way, instant noodles are no match for fresh (or good frozen) ramen noodles. You’ll find them at the same place you purchased your Japanese stock ingredients. They’re easy to cook; most brands recommend you briefly boil them (up to three minutes or so) to finish cooking them and warm them through. They should be slightly al-dente when properly cooked. Rinse them in cool water after warming up to remove any excess starches (the starches will stick the noodles to each). Put the noodles in a bowl and top with any of the following garnishes. Pour rapidly boiling broth over the top and eat immediately.

Other ingredients I like in my Robust Ramen broth:

  • sliced cooked chicken
  • roasted pork, thinly sliced
  • cubes of firm tofu
  • poached shrimp
  • soft-boiled egg, Japanese-style (recipe below)
  • sliced kamaboko (fish cake)
  • sliced shiitake mushrooms (cooked briefly in the broth, from before)
  • sliced woodear mushrooms
  • enoki mushrooms
  • baby bok choy (blanched in salted water and shocked in an ice bath)
  • komatsuna (small turnip greens, cooked like the baby bok)
  • par-cooked broccoli
  • par-cooked spinach
  • cooked and seasoned bamboo shoots
  • cooked corn
  • blanched and marinated bean sprouts (recipe below)
  • thinly sliced green onions
  • mitsuba (a Japanese herb very similar to parsley)
  • pickled ginger
  • kimchee
  • small sheets of nori (dried pressed seaweed sheets)
Some seasonings to have on hand at the table:
  • soy sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • shichimi togarashi (a dried spicy pepper seasoning shake)
  • furikake (a dried seawood seasoning shake)
  • sambal oeleck (chili & garlic paste)
  • sriracha (smooth chili sauce)
Honestly, you’re only limited by your imagination! Have fun. Eat well. 
Marinated Bean Sprouts:

Heat a pot of salted water to boiling. Add to the pot 12 ounces of fresh mung bean sprouts. Cook for one minute or until bean sprouts start to wilt. Remove bean sprouts and shock in an ice bath. Drain bean sprouts and dry well on a kitchen towel. In a bowl add bean sprouts, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger, and one tablespoon toasted dark sesame oil. Toss to combine. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Soft-boiled Egg, Japanese style:

Put cold eggs in a single layer in a small pot. Add a pinch of salt and fill with water to cover about an inch over the eggs. Bring to a boil. Remove eggs and put into a bowl filled with room temperature water. Leave eggs for five minutes. Add a cup of ice cubes to the bowl. Leave for another five minutes. Remove eggs and peel before serving noodles.

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