Reflections of a foodie & the making of Ramen

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Ginger Scallion Noodles

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. My time off from any type of legitimate food blogging had me thinking about the term “foodie”. Coincidentally, there is some debate brewing between the “foodies” and the anti-foodies here in Richmond, Va.

Phrases like “wads of vascularized ass-fat” have been forever embedded in my vocabulary.

For more on this story, see here and here. If you are reading this post for the ramen recipe, just skip my chatter and skip a few paragraphs below. :)

I try to stir clear of food politics, which is probably why I accidentally on purpose left my copy of “Omnivore’s dilemma” on a plane earlier this year. It somehow gets in the way of my enjoyment of food. I already know what is wrong with the food chain here in the U.S., all I have to do is look at the shopping cart of a Mom with 2 1/2 kids checking out at the grocery store.

I’ve also gotten a bit allergic to the term “foodie”. I, for the life of me, have no idea how that word has gotten a bad rap. It’s kinda a mouthful to say, “I’m a person who loves food.” But somehow the word has gotten equated with food elitism – which clearly does not describe me.

I do admit in the beginning of my food blogging days, I’ve explored the realm of fine dining and followed the work of Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Michel Richard and company.Years ago, scoring a reservation at El Bulli or the Fat Duck had been my ultimate dream, but that has changed. As one fine dining experience turned less and less gratifying while dollars spent on soulless food  continued growing, I realized that carefully composed plates of 10-course meals were no longer my scene.

I craved dining that satisfied the spirit and bowls of grub that were steeped in culture, not creations driven by the latest technology or a chef’s inflated ego.

Ethnic cuisine, made with recipes handed down through generations, is what makes me smile long after a meal. So forget El Bulli and the Fat Duck, hawker street fare from Malaysia or Singapore is what ultimately stimulates my salivary glands.

So let’s see what side of the Foodie spectrum I fall into:

  1. I adore Peking duck, duck confit, pork belly & roast suckling pig. The key theme here is crisp skin and unctuous, glorious fat.
  2. I have an annoying trait of insisting to make dishes the right way almost to the point of being unreasonable. Even if it takes a couple of days to prepare and just a few minutes to eat, I continue to forge ahead. I am leery of using shortcuts if they noticeably affect the end-products.
  3. I find rice and noodle bowls very appetizing. Specially if there is an egg nestled somewhere in that mess which relates back to the appeal of street food.
  4. I am obsessive about finding the right ingredient which can be downright frustrating in a town like Richmond, Va … and unfriendly to my pocketbook specially if I have to have them shipped from somewhere else.
  5. Before macarons, my obsession was apple pie and will remain so until I find the best recipe to make it. More on this in the next post.

Anyway, for purpose of full disclosure, here are some of the skeletons in my “foodie” pantry:

  1. I love catsup and knorr seasoning. I argue that this is either culture or genetics because I see my nieces and nephew do the same.
  2. Chicken bouillon. I tried, I really tried, specially after Ruhlman lambasted the use of this and insisted that water is a better substitute. Sorry man, I taste the difference. I’m sticking to the knorr soup bouillons cubes I get from the Asian store.
  3. I love instant noodles. Though I do get mine from the Japanese store which are infinitely superior to the Cup ‘O Noodles one gets from the neighborhood supermarket.
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Fresh Ramen noodles – yes they can be done!

Now just because I love instant noodles doesn’t mean I don’t care for the real thing. Much to the contrary, and just to show how contrary a foodie I can be, I am not averse to making my own ramen noodles … if the recipe works.

Ramen is a type of Chinese-style wheat noodles popularized in Japan in 1980’s. It may have gotten its name from the Chinese Lo-mien, nobody knows for sure. Ramen-ya(s) are restaurants that specialized in ramen fare and there are thousands of them scattered across Japan. No question, it’s one of that country’s top comfort food, much like cheeseburgers here in the United States.

When I googled making ramen noodles, I was highly amused to see that most of the hits I got were how to microwave those bricks of instant noodles. There were also youtube videos on how to prepare instant noodle – no kidding!

Out of curiosity, I watched Ramen Girl, a film about Abby, a young American woman in Tokyo trying to discover what she wanted out of life… as for me I discovered just how revered the art of ramen-making is in this Eastern culture. A bowl of ramen is meticulously prepared, all ingredients must be in harmony and the broth is what binds all these together – undoubtedly one of the most vital component. One memorable part of the movie was when Abby and her sensei (her ramen chef teacher) went to visit the sensei’s mother because even as Abby executed all the correct techniques needed to make the Ramen broth, something was amiss. After tasting Abby’s broth, the sensei’s mother said that her broth lacks spirit, that her mind was full of other things (her boyfriends keep on leaving her). “When you make your ramen broth you must pour whatever you are feeling into it. If you are sad, pour all your tears into the broth.

I wasn’t ready to make my broth yet, but I was ready to try out the noodles.

I first tried Momofuku’s ramen noodle recipe using alkaline water instead of the alkaline salts (potassium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate) that were mentioned in the recipe – for one thing I wasn’t ready to spend $50 on those salts.

I failed miserably.

Then I came across this recipe from Tess’s Japanese Kitchen. It uses a special ingredient called kansui which is the alkaline salts in liquid form and it was available at my local Asian market, $3.00 sounds much better than $50.

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Kansui – the magic ingredient behind ramen

The dough came together beautifully. The first time I made it, it did feel a bit wet and when I tried to cut the noodles they kept sticking together in two’s. For my next batch, I reduced the water just under the required 1 cup of liquid. I also found Mark of NoRecipes post on ramen very helpful.

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Ramen Dough Ball

The dough might feel slightly moist, but you can adjust the water to make it less wet. Wrap this ball in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

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Prepping dough for the pasta roller

You can use a rolling pin to shape the dough to get it ready for the pasta attachment. But it can be really hard to roll out but just do the best you can and the pasta roller will do the rest. The bench brush in the background is a good tool to remove excess flour.

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Stretching the dough out

Using the Kitchen Aid lasagna attachment, I rolled the dough twice through each setting of 1,3 & 5.

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By the time the dough was rolled after setting 3, I cut it in half.

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Linguine attachment

Make sure to flour enough when you start cutting into threads, the first time I did this I had problems with sticking.

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Fresh stacks of ramen!

Here’s a short collage of how to cook it.

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Click to enlarge

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