I have been craving Proper Ramen for quite some time now. It has been over two years since I last had any (and then I was living in Manila), and I have slowly, slowly slowly become aware that I need another dose in my life. Ramen that doesn’t come in little plastic packets with a sachet of seasoned salt is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite rare in the upper Midwest. (Or at least in Minneapolis/St. Paul…I can’t vouch for the lack of good Japanese cooking elsewhere, and come to think of it, Chicago might be a pretty good bet if one is looking for a decent bowl…but I digress…plus, I’m NOT driving 9 hours for a bowl of soup that isn’t so legendary I haven’t already heard of it!)
What’s perhaps even more disturbing than a lack of Proper Ramen in my immediate environs is the lack of understanding around these parts that instant ramen is a sad sallow guttering tealight candle compared to the roaring bonfire of flavor simmering in a bowl of Proper Ramen. The butcher laughed at me when he found out where the pork knuckles he’d just wrapped for me were headed. “Ramen?! Oh, lady, that’s in aisle four!”. The kid at the liquor store ringing up my bottle of Sake: “um, I guess I didn’t realize there was any other kind than instant…” Nearly everyone I’ve told of my impending culinary triumph has stared at me with a vaguely pitying look, and one co-worker even asked if we just didn’t have instant ramen back in MT (where I grew up). Oh boy.
Anyhow, my yen for Proper Ramen manifested about 6 months ago when a friend posted about making stock for ramen on faceybook…and it’s been on my brain ever since, percolating. I tracked down the recipe he was using (from the Momofuku cookbook) and then checked the cookbook out of my local library and promply immersed myself in the drool-worthy pages. Not only does it include a recipe for a lovely-looking ramen stock, but also for tare (the salty seasoning condiment used in ramen) as well as the recipe for honest-to-god alkaline ramen noodles (which I may or may not make, since you can substitute good fresh lo-mein noodles in a pinch…but I do have a pasta machine…and it is tempting!). But I digress again. The first step is going to be making the ramen broth. It keeps nicely in the freezer, so we can go from there if I want to make noodles from scratch.
The past couple weeks have been spent tracking down some ingredients that are , shall we say, less prevalent in the standard American grocery store: hog knuckles (meaty neck bones are NOT to be found…believe me, I tried), kombu, dried shiitakes, and a good, dry Sake. Everything else in the recipe is fairly standard grocery store fare that I’ll nab on my way home tonight. So tomorrow I intend to embark on the quest of Proper Ramen…