Adventures in Ramen #1: The Basics
My wife gave me the best birthday present ever! A 5 day intensive course in Ramen making at the Ramen Dream Academy in Higashiosaka, Japan with sensei Rikisai Miyajima. We've been making ramen at the Spice Trail following David Chang's recipe from the Momofuku Cookbook. However it was time to dig deeper and get schooled. Plus my wife is awesome.
Over the course of this blog, I'll describe what I learned and try to be as descriptive as possible. Excuse the occasional pictures of chicken heads and pigs skulls being smashed open. It will happen.
I will break this blog up into several pieces as there is a lot of information to digest. I hope it helps you in your own ramen adventures.
The Basics of Ramen
The basics of ramen come down to a few simple combinations of items:
Soup + Noodle + Protein
Ironically, making ramen is anything but simple.
The most important part of this is the soup. The type of soup you make (and there are many) will determine the type of noodle and protein that pairs best with it. Although there is some creative license to mix and match these three, traditional styles of ramen adhere quite firmly to specific combinations.
There are many preparations from hot to cold, vegan to full on pork overload. I’ll try to uncover the ones that I learned about at the Ramen Dream Academy under sensei Miyajima. Sensei and his brother used to own and operate their own shop called Ninja Ramen (his family is descended from the ninja line and he is not without a sense of humor). He has since decided it’s all too much hassle and he’d rather be teaching others to carry on the traditions instead of toiling away in the kitchen himself. Fair deal.
So let's start with the soup, which is the leading ingredient to the style of ramen you want to make.
Soup is made up of 3 key ingredients:
Broth/Stock + Oil/Fat + Salt/Tare
No matter what kind of ramen you make, the proportions of these three should never change. The best ramen shops are popular not only because of taste, but also because every bowl of ramen they make will taste exactly the same.
Soup is about density
Salt is about concentration
Fat is about amount
More salt needs more oil
Here is the magic formula - use it wisely!
Whatever amount of soup you use, lets say 360cc...
Use 10% of that amount for the seasoning/tare, in this case 36cc
7-10% is the fat, and this is a bit hard to calculate because fat will be in your tare, broth and whatever lard or oil you use to make up the difference. It is up to you to figure out if you want to be on the fattier side (10%) or the leaner side (7% - but let's be honest it’s all fatty). Once you decide that you’ll need to measure the amount of fat in your tare and broth and balance with oil/lard to make up the difference. If this is all too complicated, use 10cc of oil/lard/fat per 360cc of broth.
With ramen, the ultimate goal is to achieve a taste of ‘umami’ in your dish. Umami being the ‘fifth’ cardinal flavor. Only recently ‘discovered’ by the Western palate the Japanese have known for a while that besides salt, sweet, sour and bitter, a fifth base flavor of ‘savory’ exists that is the perfect blend of all flavors. It sounds whimsical but it is in fact a specific combination of acid profiles that give you this sense. More on that later. The takeaway is that umami is measured and not made. Once the proportions are right, changing any quantity can throw off the balance and with it, the umami. So do yourself a favor if you are making ramen, make sure you have a lot of measurement spoons handy so you know exactly how much of what ingredient to use.
Next post we will discuss: Broth
Hit me up with comments if you have any questions!