Monday, March 31, 2014

The Momofuku ramen experience


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If you love a cooking adventure but have already fried turkeys, baked a wedding cake, dropped a beggar’s chicken, smoked bacon, barbecued brisket, and built your own pizza oven, I suggest you tackle the Momofuku ramen recipe. At different points in the ramen-making process you’ll feel challenged, martyred, excited, annoyed, fascinated, and proud. When you're done, you’ll never want to make Momofuku ramen again. What more could one ask from a cooking adventure? 

I bought the groceries a week ago Friday and served the ramen last Wednesday. Did a little work on the ramen every day in between. What follows is a whirlwind blow-by blow, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Momofuku ramen is all about an intensely flavorful broth. To make this broth, give yourself at least a day, preferably four. You start by steeping some dried seaweed in a big pot of hot water, then remove the seaweed and replace with dried shiitake mushrooms, which you simmer for a while. Remove the mushrooms and replace with a whole chicken, simmer for a while, remove the chicken and replace with five pounds of roasted pork neck bones and a pound of Benton’s bacon. Simmer for 7 hours or longer then add carrots and scallions and simmer some more. Strain.

Meanwhile, you should make some tare (no idea how to pronounce it), a special sauce that will season the broth. Roast chicken backs in a very hot oven until they're dark brown and exude a lot of sticky, fatty liquid and goo. Pluck out the bones, deglaze the pan with sake, and simmer with mirin and soy sauce for an hour. The finished tare will be the color of coffee and very salty. You can now use this strange substance to season your broth and after you do so, the broth is done!

Now to the toppings: Rub a big slab of pork belly and a big hunk of pork shoulder with sugar and salt and let sit overnight. The next day, roast them -- but separately, because they cook at different temperatures. Shred the pork shoulder. Put both shoulder and belly into the fridge. You could use the shoulder immediately, but the belly needs to chill.

When the pork belly is cold and firm, you're ready to go. Start heating that broth. Cut the belly into cubes and fry, warm the pork shoulder shreds in the oven, slice up some fish cake, cut nori into squares, poach a few eggs, chop a bunch of scallions, cook some collard greens, and boil fresh ramen noodles. Ladle hot broth into bowls, add your cooked noodles, and top with all the other ingredients mentioned in the previous sentence. Bon appetit!

Was the ramen good? Hell yeah, it was good. My father loves Asian noodles more than anyone I know and it was a huge pleasure to be able to serve him such an impressive bowl of ramen. He's not a gushy man, but he got a little gushy.

But to be perfectly frank -- and when am I not? -- the ratio of deliciousness to effort with Momofuku ramen is a lot lower than it is with Top Ramen, its trashy distant cousin. Top Ramen is lousy, but it 's no trouble at all. You never, ever wonder if it's worth the effort, you just snarf it up. Momofuku ramen is delicious, but it's a whole world of trouble, and as you're eating you'll be asking yourself whether it's that delicious.

I know what my answer is. Fun kitchen project. The box has now been checked. 

25 comments:

  1. I love this post with all my heart. Is it wrong that I now want to make that ramen even though I don't eat noodles?! Your writing is pure pleasure.

    In other news: we found out today that Dave was accepted into the Center for Cartoon Studies. Vermont, here we come!

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  2. honesty is the best policy. Love your writing!

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  3. Wow, that was a lot of work. I'm glad it was delicious! Your story reminds me of the first time my mom tried to cook from a Julia Child cook book -- She read the first page of the recipe, which said to roast some kind of meat. She bought the meat and roasted it. Then turned the page and discovered that the only point of roasting meat #1 was to glean some fat to roast with meat #2, which she hadn't purchased yet. :)

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  4. !!!!!! Well, wow. That is a very complicated recipe. It seems socially irresponsible to market a cookbook with that recipe in it to the average American public. That is kind of ridiculous. And I have built a pizza oven. And made dozens of wedding cakes. What is dropping a beggar's chicken?

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  5. I'm EXHAUSTED just reading this; don't know where you get the energy to do this along with taking care of chickens and goats!!

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    Replies
    1. Terrific that your Father loved the dish; what about the rest of the family?

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  6. That. Was. Incredible. Thank you so much for cooking that and writing about it. I feel like a more complete ramen lover for having read it. For a movie pic, try Ramen Girl on Netflix.

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  7. Good lord. I'm absolutely not up to that level of commitment to a meal. Wish I had a friend who was, though.

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  8. I am always in awe of your fearless and tireless nature in the kitchen, but this was over the top, even for you! Perhaps this would not be so much work if each item was an entree of its own before it became ramen broth? Surely that is how these types of recipes are formed. If Chang was a truly great cookbook writer, he would give you this recipe as part of an endless meal riff. I am glad it was delicious, and that your dad enjoyed it so much. I'm with Kristin, what's dropping a beggar's chicken?

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    Replies
    1. Everything that beckster said - if the "pieces" were part of an endless meal, that would be awesome. It would be like a week long feast, with "use the leftovers for this amazing ramen" at the end. And now we definitely need to know about "begger's chicken"! :) Best, Ida

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  9. tare - two syllables: "ta" and "re"
    the "a" is a long vowel sound similar to the word aha.
    "re" sounds like the "re" in restaurant. Technically, there is a soft "d" in the pronunciation but that's doesn't come naturally to the American tongue.

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  10. Wow. That's a weeks worth of cooking all for one dish. I salute you, but I will not be making this anytime soon.

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  11. Once again I get to live vicariously. Thanks for making the ramen and writing about it so vividly that I don't have to make it myself.

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  12. LOVED THIS! rock on, Tipsy.

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  13. Great blog post!! Brought back memories of my old ambitious days when I used to tackle 5 page recipes like the Mole Poblano de Guajolote from Diana Kennedy's "The Cuisines of Mexico". My husband actually went out to the local cookware store in Chicago and bought the largest Le Creuset flame dutch oven in the store and carried it back in a taxi. I had to make the dish then!! I think it took 3-4 days and had 50,000 ingredients. Appreciate your efforts!

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  14. Meant to say Applaud your efforts, anyway it looked very yummy.

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  15. Kind of off topic, but I have a question. When making bo ssam, do you skin the shoulder or leave the skin in tact? I can't tell from the recipe or the pictures. Thanks!

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