Posted by: Food Lover | September 22, 2017

The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles


J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT

Hi, I’m ramen. You may remember me from such bowls as “First Dish I Learned to Cook On My Own,” the ever-popular “Morning After Peach Schnapps-Fueled College Dorm Room Party,” “Don’t Tell Mom The Microwave Is Dead,” or, one of my more subtle, emotional works, “Oriental Flavor.”

Despite its popularity among the cash-strapped and the sodium-starved, the world or ramen extends far beyond the instant variety we grew up on. Originating in China, alkaline noodles served in soupy broth have been in Japan for well over a century, but like pizza in America, only became widespread after World War II. Troops returning from overseas had developed a taste for the stretchy noodles, and the inexpensive ingredients—wheat flour, bones, and vegetables—made them an attractive dish for restaurants to serve.

Nowadays, ramen is high in the running for national dish of Japan. Museums have opened dedicated to its history. The instant ramen noodle was voted as the greatest Japanese export of the 20th century in a national poll (placing ahead of karaoke machines, walkmen, and Kurosawa films). And, just as with pizza in the U.S., regional styles and specialties abound with soups, noodles, and toppings, all varied according to local tastes, ingredients, and cultures.

I’m not going to even pretend that a comprehensive style guide of all the ramen out there is possible, but we’ll do our best to give you something to noodle over.

The Broths

You often see ramen categorized into four classes: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and tonkotsu (pork), which doesn’t make particular sense, as the first three are flavorings, while the fourth is the broth base. It’s sort of like saying “there are four basic types of pizza: Neapolitan, Sicilian, New York, and pepperoni.”

While it’s true that even in Japan, some folks see those four classes as distinct styles, there are plenty of cases where there are overlaps and outliers. For instance, what would you call a creamy, opaque, heavy ramen that’s made entirely with chicken bones? It doesn’t fall neatly into any of those categories, but it certainly exists.

Instead, it makes much more sense to categorize ramen broth first by its heaviness, then by the soup base ingredients, and finally by the seasoning source. This classification system, used by some Japanese sources, can be combined to cover pretty much every bowl of soup-based ramen in existence.

Classification by Heaviness

Heaviness is classified as either kotteri (rich) or assari (light). Kotteri broths will be thick, sticky, and usually opaque, packed with emulsified fats, minerals, and proteins from long-boiled bones. Opaque white bone broths are also known by their transliterated Chinese name, paitan. Assari broths are clear and thin, usually flavored with more vegetables, fish, or bones cooked relatively briefly at a light simmer so as not to cloud the broth.

It’s a sliding scale bordered on the kotteri side by Sapporo-style miso ramen that comes served with a pat of butter; and on the assari side with the lighter, clear seafood soups of Hakodate.

Classification by Broth Base

The broth base is the main ingredients simmered to make the soup. This can range from animal bones—pork, chicken, beef, and fresh fish being the most common—to even lighter broths made with sea kelp or or dried seafood. In addition to their main ingredient, ramen broths incorporate a variety of aromatics, such as charred onions, garlic, ginger, fresh scallions or leeks, and mushrooms.

The most widely recognized and celebrated broth worldwide these days is tonkotsu, a boiled pork bone broth. The best tonkotsu broths are a milky, golden color and leave a sticky sheen of gelatin on your lips as you slurp them.

Classification by Seasoning

The seasoning is the main salt source used to flavor the soup. It can be mixed directly into the soup base, but in many ramen shops, it’s added to each individual bowl, making the menu a bit more customizable. The most common seasonings are:

Shio: Sea salt is the oldest form of ramen seasoning, and derives from the original Chinese-style noodle soups. Shio ramen is popular in Hakodate, a southern city in the Hokkaido prefecture where strong Chinese ties influence local cuisine, but the weather is still mild enough for lighter, salt-based soups to flourish.

Shoyu: Japanese soy sauce is a popular ramen seasoning in the Kanto region of central Japan, originally emanating from Yokohama. Traditionally it’s paired with clear to brown chicken, seafood, and occasionally pork or beef-based broths, though these days shoyu is used willy-nilly by ramen chefs throughout Japan. It’s very common to see creamy tonkotsu pork broths flavored with shoyu, for instance.

Miso: Miso ramen is the youngest form of ramen, having gained popularity only in the mid 1960’s and originating from Northen Hokkaido, where cold weather demanded a bolder, heartier bowl of soup. Its youth has not stymied its popularity, and it can now be found all over Japan and the rest of the ramen-eating world, most often paired with heavier, more robust, and unique toppings like sweet corn or stir-fried pork belly and bean sprouts.

While in general, shio tends to be used to season ramen on the assari end of the scale and miso for the kotteri with shoyu somewhere in the middle, exceptions abound, and it’s not uncommon to find rich bone broths flavored with plain salt or lighter seafood broths paired with miso.

With these categories, we can classify pretty much any bowl of ramen we come across. For instance, the creamy chicken paitan ramen at New York’s Totto Ramen would be considered a kotteri ramen made with a chicken broth base and flavored with shoyu, while the shio ramen at Yebisu would be an assari, sea-based broth flavored with salt. Get it?

Oils and Other Seasonings

Some ramen shops will finish a bowl of ramen with a small ladleful of flavorful oil or fat—Clarified pork fat of various chili or sesame oils, for instance. More esoteric broth flavorings such as tahini-style sesame paste or powdered smoked and dried bonito can also be found. And of course, MSG usage is common—the Japanese don’t have the same hang ups about it as we do here in the States.

The Noodles

There are more types of noodles in Japan than there are shapes of pasta in Italy. Okay, I don’t know if that’s 100% true, but it sure seems that way. Whether straight, thin, and narrow, thick and wavy, or wide and flat, ramen chefs will select noodles based on their bounciness, their ability to cling to broth, and their texture in the mouth, searching for a noodle that interacts harmoniously with the soup in the bowl.

Serious ramen chefs are notoriously militant about noodle-eating etiquette. They say that perfect noodles will only last for five minutes after they are added to the hot broth—any longer than that and they become overcooked and mushy—so as a patron, it’s your duty to start eating as soon as the bowl is delivered and not stop until you’re finished; Hence the wild slurping you’ll find in a typical Japanese ramen shop. Order ramen to go and you’ll get your noodles on the side, intended to be added to the reheated broth when you get it home—that is, if the ramen shop even allows to-go orders. Many refuse.

Still hungry after you’re done slurping? Ask for kaedama, an extra serving of noodles to be added to the leftover broth in your bowl.

Some noodle classification is in order.

To begin with, let’s define exactly what a ramen noodle is. Originating from China, ramen-style noodles are made with wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui, an alkaline water which gives the noodles their characteristic bounce and their yellowish hue. While it’s possible to find noodles made with eggs in place of the kansui, this is far more common in China than it is in Japan.

Fresh noodles are the norm for high-end ramen shops. While size and shape vary, you’ll typically see thin, straight noodles paired with hearty tonkotsu-style broths—the noodles cling together and hold soup in via capillary action, delivering plenty of hearty pork flavor with each slurp—while wavy noodles tend to be paired with miso-flavored ramens, their waves capturing the nutty bits of fermented soy bean. Shio and shoyu-flavored lighter soups can get any type of noodle and the selection varies widely by region.

Just as spaghetti is not inherently better or worse than tagliatelle, trying to declare one style of noodle—thin and straight or thick and wavy—as the best is a futile effort.

Dried Noodles are made by drying fresh, uncooked noodles and are an excellent choice for home cooking, though they’re occasionally used in restaurants as well (but you’re much more likely to find more traditional Japanese-style noodles such as udon, somen, and soba in dried form than Chinese-derived ramen). Generally, with dried noodles, the thinner and straighter they are, the better they reconstitute.

Instant Noodles were invented in 1958 by Momofuku Ando and were most likely your very first introduction to the world of ramen. What hungry college student hasn’t nursed themselves out of a hangover over a 59¢ bowl of instant ramen? The most common method of production is to deep-fry par-cooked bricks of noodles to dehydrate them (aka “de-fry-drating”). Take a look at the fat content on a pack of inexpensive instant ramen. That all comes from the dehydrating process.

Higher-end instant noodle brands, such as Myoja Chukazanmai, are made by air-drying par-cooked noodles, resulting in an end product that’s costlier to produce, but far more similar to traditional ramen.

The Toppings

Toppings on bowls of ramen are more than an afterthought. For many shops, it’s their defining characteristic. Toppings can vary from simple vegetables and seasonings to far more complex meats and sauces that must be prepared separately and in advance. Here are some common ones you might find.

Meat

Chashu pork is by far the most popular ramen topping. Though the name is derived from the Chinese char siu roast pork, the Japanese version is made by simmering pork in a sweet soy and mirin sauce until it’s fall-apart tender. Pork loin is common, but I prefer the kind made with fatty pork belly. You can see my own recipe for chashu here.

Kakuni is similar to chashu in that it’s simmered pork belly, but this version comes in chunks and is modeled after the Chinese method of red braising.

Bacon can be sliced and added to the simmering broth, or stir-fried briefly before topping the bowl.

Shredded Pork made by braising pork shoulder then pulling and shredding the meat has become increasingly popular—it’s what David Chang uses to top his bowls at Momofuku. For my own take, I like to crisp up the shreds of pork shoulder carnitas-style before topping the bowl.

Get the recipe for Miso Ramen with Crispy Shredded Pork here!

Ground Meat is usually stir-fried with other ingredients like bean sprouts or cabbage before it’s added.

Seafood such as scallops, shrimp, mussels, and crab are simmered gently and paired with lighter, sea-flavored broths.

Kamaboko is the familiar white and red fish cake that comes sliced on top of sea-flavored ramen. When it’s formed into a spiral shape, it’s called narutomaki.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE:
http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/09/the-serious-eats-guide-to-ramen-styles.html

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: