Ramen recipes with Chef Heidi Fink

Rich homemade broth, noodles and toppings in about an hour

  • Oct. 25, 2019 6:00 a.m.

– Recipes and story by Chef Heidi Fink Photography by Don Denton

People who cook ramen at home usually fall into two camps. Camp one uses instant soup via dried noodles and a flavour packet, possibly gussied up with some vegetables. Camp two undertakes an uber-authentic three-day process involving long-simmered pork bones and multiple trips to an Asian market.

But what if I told you there was a great middle ground, where rich homemade ramen broth was possible in about one hour?

A big bowl of ramen (real ramen, not instant) is one of the most delicious and satisfying foods to eat. The rich and flavourful broth, the bouncy noodles, the restrained toppings, and the tasty bits and sprinkles combine to give us solid comfort mixed with street-food excitement. I’ve been playing around with quicker, more accessible methods to make delicious ramen at home and I’m here to share my tips. While we may never be equal to a ramen master, we can all learn to make an excellent bowl of soup.

First, noodles. You can find fresh, dried and instant ramen noodles in Asian markets and in the Asian section of most supermarkets. They are all acceptable choices, so long as they are cooked at the last minute, and just barely cooked at that. The bouncy texture of just-cooked noodles is part of the charm of authentic ramen. But, if you have access to a shop that makes and sells its own fresh noodles, buy them! In Victoria, we are lucky to have I Kyu Noodle House in Chinatown that sells homemade fresh ramen noodles by the pound. I highly recommend their ramen. It is superior in taste and texture.

Next, the flavour base, known in Japanese as tare (pronounced TAH-rey). While every ramen shop’s tare is a trade secret, it usually falls into one of three categories: salt, soy sauce or miso paste, mixed into a base of dashi (see recipe). Traditionally, tare is added to the bowl before the broth and noodles, but I have added it to the broth itself to streamline the process and to give us ramen newbies more control over the final flavour (because how much tare are you supposed to add to each bowl anyway?)

Now, the broth! The big secret is to start with chicken broth (either good-quality store-bought or homemade) and add lots of flavour and great mouthfeel with aromatic vegetables, ground meat, unflavoured gelatin and Japanese seasonings. A 40-minute simmer is all you need to extract tons of flavour from the meat and vegetables; the dissolved gelatin adds the mouthfeel you get from long-simmered bones; and the dashi/tare mixture brings an authentic ramen taste. You can make the broth a day or two in advance, or make a huge batch and freeze it for a couple of months. And yes, I have included a vegetarian option in the recipes below.

Finally, toppings. The options are really quite endless. This is one of the ways to get creative with your soup, and personalize it to your tastes. Use any vegetable, either cooked or raw, and any stewed, grilled or roasted meat. Crispy tofu, soft-boiled eggs, sliced green onion, chili oil, garlic oil or marinated mushrooms. Explore your supermarket or Asian market and buy foods that strike your fancy. Thinly slice the toppings in advance.

When you sit down to enjoy your delicious, custom bowl of homemade ramen, do not forget the most important step: slurp your noodles loudly and with satisfaction.

DASHI — JAPANESE FLAVOUR BASE

Makes approx. 3 cups

One of the essentials of authentic Japanese cuisine, dashi is a light soup stock made with ingredients high in umami, that flavour compound that makes everything taste extra savoury and delicious. These ingredients are sold in Japanese and Chinese markets. Dashi is used to flavour soups and sauces of all kinds, and is an essential part of good ramen broth.

4 cups water

Two 4-inch-long pieces of konbu (dried kelp)

1 cup dried bonito flakes (smoked-dried fish, a.k.a. Katsuobushi)

Use scissors to snip each piece of konbu in several places. Place water and konbu in a 2-quart pot. Let soak for 30 to 60 minutes, until konbu has softened and expanded. Place pot on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Heat until the water comes to a boil, removing the konbu with tongs just before the water boils. It will take quite a while for the water to come to a boil because it is being heated over medium heat rather than high heat. The lower heat allows the flavour of the konbu to better infuse the water.

Once the water has come to a boil and you have removed the konbu, add the bonito flakes. Return to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat. Skim off any scum. Add a pinch of salt to the water and let the stock sit for about 2 minutes, until all the bonito flakes sink to the bottom.

Immediately strain dashi through a triple-thickness of cheesecloth and discard the solids. Use the dashi immediately or refrigerate for later use. Lasts 2 or 3 days in the fridge, or up to 1 month in the freezer.

QUICK RAMEN PORK BROTH WITH SHIO (SALT)

This is a very basic clear broth, with lots of flavour and good mouthfeel. And it’s much quicker to make than traditional pork ramen broth.

1 Tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped medium

1 medium leek, sliced and washed

6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled,

sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins

1 pound (454 g) ground pork

1 litre (4 cups) chicken broth (e.g. Pacific)

500 ml (2 cups) water

2 to 3 tsp (10 to 15 ml) salt, to taste

1 pouch unflavoured gelatin, soaked in ½ cup cold water

up to 1 cup (250 ml) dashi, or to taste (see recipe above)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion, leek, garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the ground pork and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, water and salt, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered at a simmer (not a boil) until the broth is flavourful, about 30 or 40 minutes. In the last minute of cooking, add the gelatin and all its soaking water, stirring to dissolve.

Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer and discard solids. Stir dashi into the broth, starting with one-half a cup and increasing as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings by adding more salt and/or dashi until desired flavour is achieved. The broth should be a bit on the salty side so that it still has tons of flavour when eaten with noodles and toppings.

The broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 months.

QUICK RAMEN CHICKEN BROTH WITH SHOYU (SOY SAUCE)

A clear broth with a nice chicken flavour and a strong tangy hit of soy sauce.

1 Tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped medium

1 medium leek, sliced and washed

6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into

1/4-inch-thick coins

1 pound (454 g) ground chicken

1 litre (4 cups) chicken broth (e.g. Pacific)

750 ml (3 cups) water

½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt, or more, to taste

2 to 3 Tbsp (30 to 45 ml) Japanese soy sauce (e.g. Kikkoman),

or more, to taste

1 pouch unflavoured gelatin, soaked in ½ cup cold water

up to 1 cup (250 ml) dashi, or to taste (see recipe above)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion, leek, garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the ground chicken and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, water and salt, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered at a simmer (not a boil) until the broth is flavourful, about 30 or 40 minutes. In the last minute of cooking, add the gelatin and all its soaking water, stirring to dissolve.

Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer and discard solids. Add the soy sauce to the broth. Stir dashi into the broth, starting with one-half a cup and increasing as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings by adding more salt and/or soy sauce and/or dashi until desired flavour is achieved. The broth should be a bit on the salty side, so that it still has tons of flavour when eaten with noodles and toppings.

The broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 months.

QUICK RAMEN VEGETARIAN BROTH WITH MISO (FERMENTED SOY)

The addition of the dried mushrooms and miso paste provides extraordinary depth of flavour to this vegetarian broth.

1 Tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped medium

1 medium leek, sliced and washed

8 medium garlic cloves, smashed

and peeled

2 pieces fresh ginger (1-inch), peeled,

sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins

4 to 6 dried shiitake mushrooms

2 four-inch pieces dried konbu seaweed

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable broth

1 litre (4 cups) water

1 tsp (5 ml) salt, or more, to taste

4 to 6 Tbsp (60 to 90 ml) white miso paste, to taste

a few drops toasted sesame oil

1 Tbsp (15 ml) dry sherry – optional

1 Tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar – optional

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion, leek, garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, water, shiitake mushrooms, konbu seaweed, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the broth is flavourful, about 30 or 40 minutes, removing the konbu with tongs after about 10 minutes of cooking.

Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Remove the shiitake mushrooms to a plate to cool – these will be used later. Discard the rest of the solids. Place 4 Tbsp of miso paste in a small mixing bowl. Add one-half a cup of the broth and whisk until the miso and broth are smooth. Stir this mixture back into the pot of broth and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings by adding more salt and/or miso until desired flavour is achieved. The broth should be a bit on the salty side so that it still has tons of flavour when eaten with noodles and toppings. Stir in a few drops of toasted sesame oil. If you like, add the sherry and/or brown sugar.

The broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 months.

For the reserved shiitake mushrooms: Remove the stems and discard. Slice the mushroom caps into thin strips and place in a small bowl. Toss these strips with approximately 1 tsp of soy sauce, stirring well to coat evenly. Transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to serve the ramen.

CHAR SIU PORK

Ramen traditionally uses chashu pork belly as a topping, but I prefer the intensity of flavour and ease of preparation of Chinese char siu (which is, incidentally, the inspiration for Japanese chashu).

2.25 pounds (1 kg) pork tenderloin or boneless pork

shoulder roasts

Marinade:

½ cup (125 ml) soy sauce

½ cup (125 ml) white sugar

⅓ cup (83 ml) hoisin sauce

¼ cup (60 ml) dry sherry

½ tsp. (2.5 ml) Chinese Five Spices

8 cloves garlic, minced

equal amount ginger, minced

1 ½ tsp (7 ml) toasted sesame oil

For glaze:

Reserved marinade

¼ cup (60 ml) brown sugar

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (40 ml) ketchup

Use the tenderloin as is, but the shoulder roasts should be cut down into pieces about the same thickness as the tenderloins. Cover roasts with marinade and marinate at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours, turning roasts from time to time.

Remove pork roasts from marinade and roast in a 325°F convection oven (or 350° regular oven setting), basting with reduced glaze (see below) at least twice, until pork registers 140° F.

To reduce glaze, strain garlic and ginger out of marinade. Bring glaze to a boil, cook until reduced by one third, stir in brown sugar and ketchup. Boil for a few minutes. Use this to glaze the pork roasts as they are cooking. When the roasts are completely cool, thinly slice against the grain to serve in ramen. Precooked char siu can be kept in the fridge up to 4 days or in the freezer up to 2 months.

CRISPY ROASTED TOFU

1 pound (454 g, about 1.5 blocks) medium tofu, Superior or Soyganic brands

1 Tbsp (15 ml) toasted sesame oil

½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse and drain tofu. Slice into small cubes. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp sesame oil and sprinkle with the salt. Use the edges of the parchment to gently lift, flip and turn the tofu around so to coat each piece as evenly as possible with the oil and salt. Lay the parchment flat again and use your hands to gently spread out the tofu into an even layer, with no tofu pieces touching each other, if possible.

Place in the oven, on the bottom shelf, and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the tray once during cooking, until the tofu is light golden and turning crispy in spots. Do not overcook. The tofu will dry up and shrivel once it cools if you overcook it. Remove from oven and set aside.

SOFT BOILED EGGS

Eggs with a soft-cooked centre are a hallmark of most bowls of ramen. I prefer not to marinate the eggs because I find the egg whites get rubbery very quickly, but they are flavourful and traditional.

4 eggs

Marinade:

2 Tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce,

2 Tbsp (30 ml) mirin – mixed in a Ziploc bag

Method one: Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place the 4 eggs in a pot and cover with cold water so the eggs are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately remove the eggs and place in the bowl of ice water. Let cool and then peel. Place eggs in the marinade, if desired, and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

Method two: Have a bowl of ice water ready. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Immediately add the eggs and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, depending on how soft you like your yolks. Immediately remove from water and place in the bowl of ice water. Let cool and then peel. Place eggs in the marinade, if desired, and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

GINGER-GARLIC-CHILI OIL

This flavourful oil tastes delicious drizzled on practically anything.

¼ cup to ⅓ cup (60 to 85 ml) canola oil

4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

equal quantity of minced fresh ginger

½ tsp (2.5 ml) dried chili flakes

1 tsp (5 ml) toasted sesame oil

Heat the oil, garlic and ginger in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is sticky and just starting to turn light gold. Add the chili flakes and keep cooking for another 20 seconds or so. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and scrape the contents into a bowl. Allow to cool and then add the toasted sesame oil.

RAMEN TOPPINGS

Ramen toppings can be anything you want: marinated meats, vegetables of any kind (either raw or precooked), tofu, mushrooms, green onions, fried onions, toasted sesame seeds, soft-boiled eggs, crispy roasted tofu, chili oil, hoisin sauce and more. Choose anywhere from three to eight toppings and be sure all toppings are sliced thinly so that they heat up quickly in the broth.

TO BUILD A BOWL OF RAMEN

Up to 1 ½ cups (375 ml) broth of your choice

50 to 100 g of fresh ramen noodles

Water for cooking the noodles

3 to 8 toppings, prepared

Large ceramic bowl, preheated

Preheat your bowls. The easiest way is to keep them warm is in a low oven. Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Meanwhile, heat the ramen broth in a small pot. Have all the toppings prepared, sliced, precooked, as necessary.

As soon as the water boils, add the ramen noodles and stir to make sure they don’t stick. Boil the noodles for about two minutes, making sure to pull them from the water while they are still quite firm and bouncy. Strain the noodles well.

Place the noodles in the preheated bowls, quickly arrange the protein and vegetables of your choice all over the top of the noodles, and then pour in heated broth until it just covers the noodles and toppings. Drizzle or sprinkle on the “flavour toppings” (chili oil, sesame seeds and the like) and serve immediately.

More recipes, classes and a blog from Chef Heidi Fink here.

Special thanks to Ramen model Kai Schaddelee.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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