I began living on my own right after graduating from high school. It wasn’t because I had a dysfunctional family. My mom and dad loved me and I loved them, but I had an independent streak and wanted to “make it on my own.”
In addition to carrying 15 to 18 hours a semester at the University of Houston, I worked in the law library of Baker and Botts and played in a band several nights a week.
The band was more fun than the law library, and while it paid better, it was not as conducive to a studious life. Money was always an issue, and so more often than not, my default dinner was Ramen.
It was cheap, very cheap and it tasted good. It was a go-to for most of my friends and then many of my friends grew up but I did not. For my friends, Ramen wasn’t good enough anymore.
I never lost my taste for a good bowl of noodles. That said, I no longer open a package of Ramen into boiling water and add the “flavor” package.
Here’s a little food trivia for you to keep until the right moment to impress your friends. The first archaeological evidence of noodles goes back about 4,000 years. I think that’s the approximate shelf life of packaged noodles. The first written evidence of noodles goes back to 25 A.D.
A good bowl of noodles, whether it be ramen, udon, yakisoba or any of a number of other noodles, is totally dependent on the broth.
The traditional way to make the broth and its accompaniments is very time intensive taking two or three days. Many restaurants that serve noodle dishes still do it this way. The depth of flavors that can be achieved is absolutely amazing.
Today, I will describe one way to make a traditional stock with the accompaniments and then I will show a quick and easy way. You are encouraged to try the traditional way at least once. I promise you the time you commit with be worth it.
We begin by making the dashi. Dashi is a clear broth made with kombu and katsuobushi. Kombu is a dried kelp that comes in sheets. Katsuobushi is dried fish shavings and is usually bought as bonito flakes. This stuff is intensely flavored so we don’t simmer it too long. To add a little additional umami to the broth I like to use dried mushrooms like shiitake, wood ears or morels. The broth can be made using either chicken stock or vegetable stock. The dashi only takes about 15 minutes to make and will keep chilled for about a week. The recipe is included.
Next, we make the tare. Tare is a flavored concentrated soy sauce. It is used as a marinade, a braising liquid, and flavoring for the stock. Soft boiled eggs are marinated in the tare. Pork belly is braised in the tare. Finally, the finished dish is topped with the tare. Recipes for the tare, the pork belly (chasu) and the marinated eggs (nitamago) are included. You can just use the tare to enhance the broth. But it doesn’t take much effort to do the eggs and the pork belly. These are truly delicious.
Finally make some garlic chili oil. Take eight to 10 cloves of garlic and simmer in about ½ cup of canola oil for 15 minutes or so. It is very important to keep the oil barely at a simmer. You don’t want to fry the garlic. Remove from heat and stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes. Let rest for a couple of minutes and stir in about a tablespoon of sesame seeds. This chili oil will keep for two weeks, in a tight container in your refrigerator.
You have now made all the components except the noodles. Cook your choice of noodles al dente right in the dashi. Top with an egg, halved length-wise and a slice of the pork belly. Drizzle with a little of the tare, the chili oil and some slivered scallions. It is really hard to beat a truly homemade noodle dish. Make it for your favorite people in your life to tell them how special they are.
What if you only have 30 minutes? Take six cups of vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Slice a three inch piece of fresh ginger thinly (you don’t even have to peal it) and add to the stock along with three cloves of garlic crushed. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Slice about 12 ounces of fresh mushrooms and place in one layer in a large skillet along with a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Do not touch them for five minutes. After five minutes stir them and add 1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce, another tablespoon of butter, and a tablespoon of white or yellow miso.
Remove and discard the ginger and garlic from the stock and add four eggs to the stock. Bring the stock to a boil and cook the eggs 6 minutes for runny yolks and 8 minutes for yolks that are set a little more. Remove the eggs and peal under running water.
Return the stock to a boil and cook your noodles of choice. I like soba (buckwheat) noodles for this dish.
To serve, put the noodles with a good amount of stock in a bowl. Top with an egg that you have sliced length wise and add some frozen pealed edamame. The hot stock will defrost the edamame. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and slivered scallions. Start to finish less than 30 minutes.