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Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Instant Ramen" From Scratch

The post over at about ramen got me thinking a little while back--instead of eating cheapo instant ramen that may have dubious ingredients like palm oil, why not just make instant ramen from scratch? And with that, I set off to do some research.

Turns out finding ramen noodle recipes isn't as fruitful as I would have thought. There are some recipes out there, but it is a tad difficult to figure out if they are good or not. Having never been to Japan I don't have a good sense as to what makes Really Good Ramen, but I know what tastes good, and I know I want to make something closer to Instant Ramen than fresh ramen. Why? Well, I ask you, Why Not? Don't have an answer, do ya? Just what I thought.

The defining flavor characteristic in my opinion is that instant ramen noodles are fried. It seems to enhance the mouthfeel of the noodle, as opposed to just using fresh noodles. Since I don't want to be deep frying today (FSM, it can get messy), I decided to pan fry the noodles. And since many ramen recipes call for a bit of butter in the soup, I decided to fry in clarified butter. It isn't traditional, but I think it could be considered in the spirit of the tradition.

Recipes for ramen noodles, when made fresh, all seem to agree that it is a basic flour, egg, water, salt dealio. While there were some conflicting ratios, the one that I chose to use was straightforward.

Ramen Noodle Recipe
  • 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large, not jumbo egg (learned that by experience)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • A generous amount of flour for dusting

Add all the dry ingredients, make a well, and add the egg + water. Work the ingredients together with a fork until mostly combined, then roll out flat on a very well floured counter. Really, more flour is better in this case. The dough ball for a single batch will look quite small, but that's okay. You don't need a ton of noodles.

When the dough ball is rolled flat and thin as you can possibly make it (think crepe thin), first check and make sure it can be released from the counter. If it isn't really easy to release, use a long bladed knife to scrape it up and add more flour under the dough. Once you are confident about being able to release the noodles, generously flour the top of the flat dough.

To shape the noodles, I used a rolling pizza cutter. There is no way with the equipment I have to make them as thin as real Instant Ramen, but I got as close as I can.

I made several batches, and the one pictured here is just white flour. This batch did not have enough flour on it, and the noodles after they were cut tended to stick, so I would suggest more. Either that, or apparently some ramen shops use baking soda to help prevent sticking. You could also just roll up the flat dough like a jelly roll and use a very sharp knife to cut the noodles. Up to you. The other batches I made were from White Whole Wheat flour from Trader Joe's, which tasted fantastic. In fact, for those complaining about the nutritional quality of ramen, just make it with White Whole Wheat.

When assembling the 'groups' of noodles, keep them well dusted with flour and try not to squish them together. Let them dry on the counter for about an hour, and make sure to flip them at the half hour mark.

Now the tricky thing is that you want the noodles to be fried, but not to take on any more color or caramel-like flavors. If memory serves, wheat starts to brown at ~350F, so the pan frying needs to be somewhere between 212F (so the water in the noodle will actually turn to vapor), and less than ~350F (so excessive browning doesn't occur).

It turns out that this is pretty easy. Clarify your butter in a pan on medium low, and as long as you never let it smoke, yet water sizzles when it touches the pan (test with a drop or two), you are in the right temperature zone.

The next part of the equation is the soup broth. Now, there are lots of different kinds of ramen, and since I don't currently have any dashi I won't be making anything closely Japanese, so I decided for a simple chicken and soy broth. Also, since many of the instant ramen in the United States is beef/chicken/seafood/whatever, I think it makes more sense to use a broth as opposed to dashi.

Ramen Soup Broth for Two Portions of Noodles

  • 2 chicken carcasses or equivalent
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespood dried onion, or half an onion diced
  • Soy sauce
  • Sweet chili sauce
  • 1 egg white (optional)

Now this is why making roast chickens and saving the carcasses in the freezer is so awesome. First off, buying whole chickens from Costco is the cheapest way to get really good poultry. Second, roast chickens are easy and delicious. Third, the bones make super easy and super fantastic stock or broth for many applications. So, to make the broth for the ramen, take a couple of chicken carcasses out of the freezer, and gently simmer with six to eight cups of water for about two hours with the onions. After the liquid has reduced by about a third, give it a taste. If it has a deep, rich flavor (i.e. umami), remove and discard the bones. If not, keep simmering.

After you've discarded the bones, bring to a boil and add one egg white. Stir for about a minute, then strain through a fine mesh. The egg white helps remove excessive particles and isn't absolutely necessary, but helps the broth look a bit nicer. Remove from heat, add soy sauce until you can distinctly taste it, but not over powering. Then add about a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce, and violin!, your broth is done!

The last step is to boil your noodles in lightly salted water until they are about half done--4-5 minutes. Drain the ramen, add the noodles to the broth, and continue to simmer. Add other items such as vegetables, eggs, seaweed, or various meats. Enjoy your "Instant Ramen" with perhaps a Sapporo or Asahi beer, and excellent Japanese Anime like Cowboy Bebop.

And there you have it, "Instant Ramen" From Scratch. Ra-Men!

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