Ramen is one of my favourite foods. It started with the packages with the "doll" on the front (in Cantonese we called ramen "doll noodles") and like most teenagers, I went through a phase of eating the noodles raw, covered with a heavy dusting from the seasoning packet. Oh, you too? I'm not surprised.
My decision to embark on a homemade ramen journey was not influenced by my dislike of the instant varieties: I was happy with my doll noodles (even happier with Shin Ramyun Black) I just didn't think guests wanted to come to a retreat where I spent 5 minutes cooking up a noodle soup with little to no nutritional value and leaving them desperate for water for the rest of the evening. (Oh, and watching "Mind of a Chef" on Netflix. that might have had something to do with my homemade ramen obsession.)
My ramen research inevitably led me to Ivan Orkin, the Jewish-ramen-genius who successfully wowed Tokyo with his ramen restaurants. He wrote a wonderful book that not only detailed his journey to ramen stardom, but it also includes detailed recipes to every single component of his ramen bowl.
In my opinion, the revolutionary component is the sofrito. It's a six-hour braise of aromatic onions, apples, ginger and garlic in oil. It's added to the chicken broth to give it an incredible depth of flavour that isn't just salty. I think cool chefs call that "umami". The recipe makes a generous 4 cups of sofrito, and only a tablespoon or two are used for a bowl of broth. So the six hours of sofrito-making actually translates into... hang on... carry the one... like 50 bowls of ramen.
Now whenever I want a delicious bowl of ramen broth, I go to my fridge, open the jar of sofrito, scoop out a generous heaping tablespoon of onion-apple-garlic-ginger mixture, give it a sizzle in the pot with a heaping teaspoon of salt and a drizzle of soy sauce, add half a carton of chicken broth and bring to boil.
Pour the hot soup over freshly cooked noodles, and I've got an incredible bowl of ramen.
It's not exactly how Ivan does it, but it doesn't differ by much. At the retreat, I loosely followed his half-cooked eggs recipe as well as his toasted rye noodles. Both were fantastic.
The front-end labour to make homemade ramen is undeniably time consuming. But once the components are prepared, the assembly is so simple, which is exactly what I want for Friday night welcome dinner at the weekend retreat.
Ramen is just one of those things that I'm going to love forever: whether I have fresh (or frozen) homemade toasted rye noodles with my homemade broth, or if I peel back a disposable bowl of Shin Ramyun. It triggers that nostalgic comfort food that is equivalent to my husband's need for a big mac. Until I hear otherwise, homemade ramen will always be Friday night dinner at my winter retreats. (Note that gluten free and vegetarian diets can be accommodated!)
Adapted from Ivan Orkin's recipe found in Ivan Ramen
12 oz sweet, crisp apples, peeled and cut into chunks (I use Ambrosia or Gala apples)
2.5 lbs yellow onions, roughly chopped
6 oz garlic, finely minced
3 oz fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 litre vegetable oil (or other flavourless oil)
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.
Process the apples and onions in the food processor until they are a very small dice. Do this in batches and pulse in short bursts to avoid turning everything to mush.
Put the apples and onions into a deep sauté pan (I use a large roasting pan) that will hold the ingredients in a 1-inch layer. Pour in the oil, set the pan over medium heat, and cook until the oil begins to bubble and the vegetables begin to sweat. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven for 3 hours. The onions and apples should cook very slowly and should only take on colour toward the end of cooking. Stir the ingredients regularly to prevent browning.
Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for another 2 or 3 hours, stirring and rotating regularly to ensure uniform cooking. The mixture should look creamy and not crisp.
Cool the sofrito completely and store in the fridge for at least two weeks or for a few months in the freezer. I freeze the sofrito in ice cube trays; when solid, I pop them out and store in a ziplock bag in the freezer.