Ramen is one of those foods that has had quite the changing reputation over the years. It started as a convenient, easy to make instant noodle packet. It's cheap price then led it to become synonymous with poor-college-student/starving-artist food. Now that Asian street food trend is in full swing, popularized by chefs like David Chang and Eddie Huang, ramen is back and badder than ever. And by bad, I really mean good. Pop up ramen places are everywhere these days. But true, authentic ramen is nothing like its flavor packet-ed brother. Traditional ramen is made with broth that has been boiled for hours, fortified with the vitamins and minerals from the meat it is cooked from. It is garnished and further flavored with soy sauce, miso, green onions, slices of meat and various vegetables. Though each region in Japan has its own variety, mine here is made with a pork broth, flavored with dried shiitakes and star anise. The broth serves as a delicious base for all sorts of Asian soups, but for this one, I added lots of chili oil and soy sauce for a deep, savory flavor. This is definitely not your typical bowl of ramen.
For the Pork Broth (give yourself about 6 hours, or overnight to simmer. Yields about 5 cups):
- 1 lb pork neck or back bones
- small handful dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 or 3 stalks scallions, white and green parts
- 2 star anise pods
- 3 slices fresh ginger
- 8 cups water
For the Ramen (cooking time is 20 min):
- 2 cups Pork Broth
- noodles of some kind. I used dried wheat noodles, but also feel free to use udon
- soy sauce, to taste (I used about 3 tbsp)
- chili oil and sesame oil, for drizzling
- vegetables (bok choi, spinach, bean sprouts, green onions)
- protein (poached egg, sliced pork belly (click here for recipe), pork meatballs, tofu, or one of the pork pieces used to make the broth)
- optional: Sichuan peppercorns and Sriracha, for added spice
First, make your broth. Combine all of the ingredients in a big stockpot. Add about 8 cups of water. Bring this to a boil. As it boils, scrum will float to the top. Skim this off with a ladle or a mesh spoon. Reduce heat to low and simmer for the next 6 hours or so, with the lid slightly askew.
Star anise used to scare me as a child because I would inevitably bite into one of these and it would feel like biting into a piece of bark, but taste disgusting. However, adding two of these to the broth brings out such a nice complex flavor - do not omit!
Once the broth is done, you can cook your ramen as if you're making pasta, just make sure to reserve the juice for slurping. The ingredients above are so loosely written, please forgive me, but there really is no way to make terrible ramen. When cooking it, make sure to add the soy sauce since the broth is unsalted. Other than that, add whatever you have on hand. The benefits of spending the time to cook the pork broth is to be able to make a quick and complex meal with very little forethought. Enjoy!