Ramen (ラーメン) is a famous Japanese soup, composed of stock, noodles and different toppings. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who didn’t like this huge, filling, comforting bowl of goodness. I tasted ramen last year during my first trip to Japan and fell in love with it. Since I haven’t seen it in my city’s restaurants, I decided to make it at home, but it took me many months to find the right stock making method. Since then I have been preparing it all year round, but it becomes a staple when cold autumn days arrive.
I read everywhere that stock was the most important and difficult part. There are four main types of ramen: shio (very clear, with salt added to stock), tonkotsu (pork bone-based stock), shoyu (soy sauce + chicken stock) and miso (with miso added to stock), but every good ramen shop has its secret special methods and ingredients, often mixing dried fish, chicken and pork bones. Not to mention regional ramen versions… I have read about ramen stocks prepared for dozens of hours, of secretly kept recipes… I saw Tampopo too (if you haven’t seen it, you are missing one of the biggest gourmet moments in film history!). I knew the ramens I had tasted in Japan were based on chicken stock and since I had been making my own stocks for at least ten years, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I was completely wrong. The stock prepared the traditional European way has always been perfect in my Western and even Chinese dishes (such as Mapo Dofu), but simply didn’t work as a basis for ramen. It is difficult to explain why but something crucial was missing and my soups tasted like European chicken stock with noodles; not like ramen.
I finally was saved by a recipe found in “Japanese Farm Food”, a fascinating book written by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, who runs a farm in Saitama prefecture with her Japanese husband. Thanks to her unique insight into the Japanese cuisine (she is one of the rare foreigners living in the countryside) and her passion for food, this book is a precious item and I strongly advise it to every fan of Japanese cuisine (though rather not complete beginners). Her method, based on previously baked chicken and vegetables, reminded me of the recipes I saw on some US and British blogs and which surprise many cooks who, like me, use the traditional raw carcass. Actually this stock-making process (probably practiced by many of you regularly) creates a perfect ramen basis. Throughout the months I gradually adapted Nancy Hachisu’s recipe to my taste, but the changes are tiny. It is still her miraculous method and still the best chicken stock for ramen I have ever made. (Even though, after several experiments, I still prefer the traditional raw carcass method in both Western and Chinese dishes).
The recipe is quite easy, though it does take time (and a bit more efforts than the traditional raw carcass method). Depending on your preferences, you have a choice between a chicken carcass and, if you wish to use the bird’s meat in the ramen afterwards, cut up chicken pieces (but they must be on the bone!) or a whole chicken (but I would advise cutting out breasts: they will dry out in the baking and then simmering process). My favourite – and cheapest – way is to take a whole chicken, cut off the breasts, the legs and leave only the carcass with wings as the stock basis. I prepare another dish with legs and grill/roast breasts separately to serve them afterwards as a ramen topping.
The more you bake the carcass and the vegetables, the deeper the taste will be and the darker the colour of course.
Below is a list of my favourite toppings, some being obviously not traditional at all (my beloved courgette, for example). I am crazy for yuzu koshou here with its slight bitterness, but many people dislike it, so taste it first (it will change the taste of the whole soup). I also like adding soy sauce before serving ramen. Check Wikipedia for the list of traditional toppings.
Strained stock will keep for at least four days in the coldest part of the fridge (I have never tested a longer period).
Preparation: 3 -4 hours
Ingredients (serves 4):
1 chicken carcass (or a whole chicken if you want to use the chicken meat in the soup afterwards)
1 leek with leaves
about 5-6 cm fresh ginger
1 medium carrot
2-3 tablespoons oil (one that supports well high temperatures)
4 portions of Japanese noodles (my favourite noodles are thin, very curly yellowish wheat noodles)
freshly grated black pepper
soy sauce (I use low-sodium to have more soy sauce taste but not too much salt)
My favourite toppings (I usually don’t put them all at the same time):
half-boiled egg (hard-boiled is ok too)
sliced roast or steamed meat (chicken, pork, beef)
chopped spring onions or chives
yuzu koshou (a paste made with chilli and yuzu peel)
shichimi togarashi (Japanese hot seasoning)
soy bean or mung bean sprouts
frozen green peas
blanched or grilled courgette
Preheat the oven to 235°C (450°F).
Place the chicken pieces or carcass or the whole bird in a baking dish.
Add the carrot cut up in several pieces, the leek’s whitish part (also cut up), half of the ginger (cut into two pieces) and a shallot. With your hands baste both the carcass and the vegetables with oil.
Sprinkle everything generously with salt, put the carcass skin side up and bake for at least 1 hour until the chicken skin becomes golden brown.
Take the dish out of the oven.
(You can leave the meat on the bones and simmer it, but personally I think it’s worth cutting out a bit of crisp skin and the meat out of the bones after the baking process. The crisp salty skin eaten off the bone is a pure delight, while the meat can be used afterwards in ramen, in other dishes, sandwiches… or simply also eaten on its own. And do not forget the chicken oysters, called “sot-l’y-laisse” in French, which could be translated roughly as “only a fool leaves them”…).
Boil some water and pour onto the baking dish.
Scrape well the baking dish of all the meat/vegetable drippings and throw everything into a big cooking pan.
Add the remaining half of the ginger, the leek leaves and about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated pepper.
Simmer everything covered for at least two hours.
Strain the stock and either put into the fridge to remove the fat afterwards (it will form a thick white layer after several hours) or, if you don’t care about fat, you can serve the ramen at once.
Reheat the stock if needed. Add soy sauce to taste.
In the meantime boil some water and put ramen noodles into it.
Cover and wait about 10 minutes until they soften (I prefer them slightly al dente but feel free to leave them for longer).
In each bowl put frozen peas, a portion of noodles and pour the stock over them.
Add the toppings: sprouts, halved egg, roasted meat, chives, chili oil… Serve very hot!
Once cooled and strained, the stock will keep for at least four days in the fridge.