Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not-So-Instant Ramen

New York City is loaded with ramen-yas. Barely a month or two goes by without a new one opening, and a quick scan of yelp shows pages and pages of them. No publication can avoid writing about them either; yawnthrillist might actually write something every other week.  For instance, their 10 Absolute Best Ramen Spots in NYC (SEP,  2014). Their 8 Best Under-the-Radar Ramen Spots in NYC (JAN, 2015). Things change dramatically in 4 months, I'm guessing. Don't forget their Secret, Late-Night Ramen (MAY, 2014)...and shhhhhhh...they're a secret...or at least they were.

The Village Voice can't help itself, with The Ten Best Bowls of Ramen in NYC (FEB, 2015). Can Business Insider?  Nope - they found The 9 Best Ramen Spots in NYC (JAN, 2015). Serious Eats was in on it, way before the above yutzes, writing about The Best Ramen in NYC, back in SEP, 2010! Of course, that had to be updated, so The Best Ramen Shops in NYC was published 3 years later (and I think it's time for an update, SE). You don't think the paper of record was going to let this pass without weighing in, do you?  No way - the NY Times was on it, sending out their numero uno food critic, Pete Wells, who wrote: Slurp Worthy: The Top 10 Ramen Destinations in New York (MAY, 2014). And now, we can all rest easy. Many credit David Chang for helping to grow the ramen craze - I'm sure that's debatable, but why argue?

One of my favorite ramen joints has always been Rai Rai Ken, in the East Village, on 10th St between 1 & 2. It opened years before Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar, for those who care. And I seem to remember ramen places in midtown, even years before that. So, while the craze may die down, ramen was around long before the craze, and will be around long after people are done chasing the next ramencronut.

But what if you don't want to go out for ramen? Obviously, there's always Top Ramen, or one of its close competitors. Might even make you think you're back in college.  Though at 25¢ a package, how good can that stuff be for you, or even just be, for that matter? Yeah, yeah, I know how Mr. Chang likes to eat it right out of the package, and that ramen burgers are great - but...no.

So...how about making a little ramen at home? I'm not talking about making a 12-hour broth, with pork and chicken and dried herring, or even using that little package of flavoring that comes hidden inside your Top Ramen, like some weird Cracker Jack-y prize of sodium and chemicals. It's easier than you think - and even Significant Eater, a salt-lover if ever there was one, likes my homemade, somewhat healthier version.

First - the noodles. 'Cause let's face it - ramen's mostly about the noodles. I'm lucky enough that I can score fresh ramen noodles made by Sun Noodles - the same Sun that supplies many of the ramen places in NYC with noodles. But if you can't, then it's ok to use just the noodles (not the dried chemicals) from an instant ramen package; that way, you can even pretend you're David Chang.

A great thing about ramen - it's a way to use up those fridge leftovers you might have hanging around.  Roasted chicken, a piece of steak or half a pork chop, a carrot or two, some celery, a scallion, ramps (!) - and you're ready to go. Here's part of the mise en place for a ramen I made last week...
Ramen Mise En Place
I started by sautéing a few sliced cremini mushrooms (good umami!) and an onion in a bit of oil. Once they were cooked, I added a cup of chicken stock (homemade if you have it, or your favorite store-bought brand). That simmered for a few minutes, and then I added the rest of the vegetables. While they were simmering away, I cooked the noodles per package directions, and shocked them when they were done.

Now you've got cooked noodles and cooked vegetables in a bit of broth. I don't always want a ton of soup, but you might - be my guest and add more stock or water as you see fit. Season the broth as you like - I don't eschew the chemicals altogether, as that Kikkoman stuff up there might have a bunch of unpronounceable things in it.

Put out a bunch of condiments like hot sauces, Japanese pepper blends (Shichimi), soy, vinegar, etc. on the table. Chopsticks and spoons, too. Portion the cooked noodles into your bowls and pour the hot stuff over. Not-so-instant ramen is yours...
Not-Instant Ramen
Don't forget, you can get really creative with this stuff. A few years back, I even made this ramen on Passover...
Matzo Ball Ramen
Just don't tell my grandmother. Or Chang.