Even though chef David Chang proclaimed that ramen is dead, I have to beg to differ. With the proliferation of ramen restaurants cropping up near me in San Francisco, it's hard to escape this complicated but soul-satisfying Japanese comfort food. To put it bluntly, everyone's serving it!
If you're brave enough to attempt making ramen (and not the instant kind) at home, here are five tips from chef Masa Hamaya to help you put together the perfect slurp-worthy bowl.
A Ramen Obsession
Upon meeting chef Masa Hamaya at Ozumo Restaurant in San Francisco to try the four ramens on his menu, I was immediately struck by his obsession with ramen. Even though he used to be the sushi chef at Uchiko in Austin, he said that he could talk for two years on the subject of ramen and was still constantly tinkering with his recipes.
The Many Varieties of Ramen
Hamaya said that ramen has a complicated history and that what is deemed a perfect bowl of ramen is really personal. In Japan, with so many styles of noodles, broth, and toppings out there, some go on a quest to taste as many bowls as possible, while others stop and only frequent their favorite ramen joint once they find it.
Variety was clearly evident in the four different ramens that Hamaya put on the menu, from a standard tonkotsu (pork), to chicken, pork, and seafood, and even a vegan version. His broths cook slowly for a full 24 hours until all the flavor is extracted from the ingredients before they are combined with ramen noodles made from wheat, egg, or even rice (for a gluten-free version), and finally topped with things from braised pork belly to seared shishito peppers.
I asked chef Hamaya for some tips for those who want to take the plunge and make ramen from scratch at home, and here are the top five that he shared with me!
5 Expert Tips for Making the Perfect Bowl of Ramen
1. It's all about the noodles and broth.
Hamaya said that if the noodles and broth are perfect, toppings are pretty much unnecessary. Focus on getting your broth full of flavor and richness, and take your time doing it. If you're not making noodles from scratch, source the best possible ones you can find and buy them fresh.
2. Flavor and body in the broth come from lots of ingredients.
A lot of bones (and vegetables if you want to do a vegetarian broth) need to go into the stockpot, and he means a lot. You can't get good flavor and a thick broth without lots of ingredients and time to extract all the flavors. The stockpot should be packed full of ingredients before water is added, and a few gallons of water should reduce to only a few liters of broth when it's ready.
3. Never season your broth.
The broth is never seasoned because it is combined with a seasoned base (tare in Japanese) when individual bowls of ramen are composed. The base can be the braising liquid from meat, soy sauce, tamari, dashi, or countless other things, but salt is never added to the broth itself so that the seasoning in the final bowl of ramen comes from only one source.
4. Never salt the ramen noodle cooking water.
For the same reasoning as why the broth is never salted, Hamaya says that ramen noodles are never cooked in salted water. This is a departure from the Italian pasta cooking technique, but he was emphatic that again, the soup base seasons both the broth and the noodles when everything is combined together.
5. Cook the noodles properly.
Ramen noodles should be just cooked through, similar to cooking Italian pasta al dente. Undercooked noodles will be floury and tough, but overcooked noodles will be soggy and pasty. Cook your noodles at the last second when everything else is ready, keep a watchful eye on the time, and make sure you keep tasting the noodles so that the second they are ready, they come out of the water.
Thanks chef Hamaya and Ozumo Restaurant!
(Image credits: Christine Gallary)