This, my friends, is one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. The place: Japan. The food: ramen. The feeling: ASDHADHIJFSG UNEXPLAINABLE. So good that I, a very un-Asian journalism student from Tennessee, decided to attempt making my own.
I’m slightly insane on normal days, and things like fall break only increase the crazy. Since I didn’t get to travel over the weekend and I’ve been craving what I fondly call “legit ramen” ever since I went to Tokyo last year, I decided to take the extra day my university blessed me with (that’s right. ONE. DAY.) and go for the gold, so to speak.
The nail-biting started at the ingredient list.
Shitake mushrooms, miso, pork belly, kelp, mirin…were these things at Kroger? Would I have to cross the street to Publix or take a drastic trip to the Asian Market?!
The answer: Kroger is stocked surprisingly well.
All the ingredients were bought, and it was time for prep. I squashed my feelings of foreboding and got to work hacking meat and removing livers. The worst part of making ramen is the way the recipe has you throw most things away. It’s all, “simmer the bacon for 45 minutes and discard.” I have to discard the bacon?! What kind of world is this?
The reason you discard everything is because the broth is just that – broth. No stray carrots, no remnant of shredded chicken, no thinly-sliced onion. However, the stuff that brewed in the broth at one time or another? Pork bones, a whole chicken, vegetables, and let’s not forget the seaweed:
The key word to this recipe is simmer. Yes, cooking it was an all-day (and a half) process, but it didn’t keep me in the kitchen the whole time. It was a whole lot of phone timers and “make sure nothing’s burning” sniffs. I even got out for a jog while the pork bones roasted in the oven.
At the end, I had a hearty, meaty broth that was all mouthfeel and not much flavor. That’s where the taré comes in. Taré is an intense sauce, boiled and simmered and, finally, reduced for an hour. The ingredient list was simple: soy sauce, mirin (rice sherry), and sake.
I spiked the broth with the taré and it transformed into a flavorful pot of liquid that defies logic – impossibly meaty, yet completely smooth. Pretty unnerving. Thank you, Japanese cooks, for the confusing delight of ramen.
Now came the best part: toppings! I had bacon, corn, shallots, and slow-poached eggs to put in the ramen (it was my first time making eggs like this…they were surprisingly perfect!).
The result of my crazy, time-consuming ramen was…good. It was nothing amazing, and also not something I would spend that much time for again. Yet it was still really, really good, especially with the corn (weird, right?). And it was at least a distant, disenfranchised third cousin to the ramen I had in Tokyo, so I got to reminisce a bit. Have you ever spent a huge amount of time on a cooking experiment? Was it worth it?