Sunday, November 2, 2014

Various bowls I've worked on.

Here are a few bowls I've made over the last few months that I'm particularly proud of. Some have been written about more than others.

Good ol Tonkotsu at 18 hours

Tonkotsu miso

Gasp... A challenger approaches? What could this style of ramen be???

More to come on this final style later... but indeed, it is spicy, intense, and reminiscent of true Sapporo food.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tantan men ingredients

This entry isn't really... for anyone except me? Maybe? I'd just like to share some findings on the tonkotsu tantanmen I made a few weeks ago.

Inventory for tan-tan-men assembly:

Tonkotsu broth (lower left). Bare. More chicken to help keep the flavor inline with most tantanmen style dishes. Yellow hue in fat comes from chicken. I imagine all pork legbone would still turn out well. (But where would the gelatin come from). No ingredients besides the following:
  • 4.5 lbs pork leg bones
  • 2 lbs chicken wings
  • 2 lbs chicken feet

Blanched bok choy. (30 seconds blanch tops in boiling water)

Negi threads. Soak in water for 30 min after slicing. 

Tare: Soy (two types, white and usukuchi), tahini, a bit of rice wine vinegar. Extremely simple. Typically tantanmen uses a lighter chicken stock, so less is more here,
  • I don't actually know if tare is the right word for this, but it seemed fitting, considering it's a flavor base. 
  • Szechuan pickles are also pretty common in what I've found, but it's hard to spot. 
  • Chinese black vinegar, also common. 

Chili lard: Used 1/4 cup lard, 1-2 tbs togarashi powder. Will steep for longer (color is more orange than desired).
  • Not sure if lard is required, I just like it. Veg oil would work better for the visual. 
Noodles include 1 egg white for 500 g flour. Interesting translucency achieved that I couldn't get in other attempts. May be useful for thicker, more robust styles, but here it seemed off. Color got a little grey as these rested of the few days prior, something I've experienced before (and one of the reasons I avoid egg in these noodles). No dye. 

Not shown is the soboro which included "sweet black bean paste," a rather hard to find item. I believe a good, sweet miso could be substituted (many of the recipes I found suggested this item is the precursor to miso in history, and they're both made similarly)

Wondering how this would turn out with a lighter, more standard chicken broth... time will tell.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Makeshift Hakata Tonkotsu, yet another Tonkotsu Experiment!

Using some of the leftover Tonkotsu from last week, and a really simple shoyu tare made with mostly white soy sauce, I put together a pretty decent Tonkotsu forward bowl. Sorta Hakata style? I dunno, the toppings sure are.

Topped with pork belly chashu, plenty of green onion, some onion lard, 6:30 sec egg, some benishoga (red ginger), and sesame and pepper of all things! Just like the way those last two looked.

The homemade noodles this go around contain egg white as part of the liquid content. Some recipes suggested this improved their chew, but I don't think they're necessary for this thinner style. Maybe would work with a Sapporo noodle, one with more robust chew. Here, I'm going for a bite, something that sort of breaks against the teeth. That requires lower water content, less protein perhaps too.

Looking back, this could have definitely used more aroma oil. Maybe a full tablespoon next time.

I'm also noticing that the soup probably could have gone longer on the fire, or reduced more. You can see it has some translucency, which keeps bothering me. It went for 12 hours after bone blanch, and, although jelly in the fridge, was surprisingly loose. This is a really light soup for a Tonkotsu. Which isn't bad... Actually it's kind of nice, but the consistency isn't as rich as I was hoping. Still, the pork flavor is solid, and balanced well. And it's got good color. My tongue feels coated in collagen.

I still have a lot of practice to do on this style of soup, but things look promising. I might amp up the salinity of the tare, however.

Speaking of which...

Stupid easy shoyu tare:

50 ml sake
50 ml mirin
2 tbs brown sugar
400 ml soy sauce (of choosing)
150 ml dashi

Combine sake and mirin in a sauce pot, being to a boil to remove most of the alcohol. Add sugar, dissolve. Cut heat, add soy sauce, turn heat on and to medium, bring liquid to 178 degrees f. Add dashi. Chill. Done.

Perhaps a tablespoon of salt would help this out... It's pretty loose and not as salty as I'd like.

Now I have leftovers... What to do??

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tantan men, a ridiculous Tonkotsu Success

Having toyed with the idea since my last post, I decided to make a Tonkotsu Tan tan men this weekend. Using a tonkotsu base is pretty atypical to style apparently, most seem to be made with a light chicken broth, clouded with heaps of ground sesame and chili oil. But I figured I could both practice the tonkotsu method, and try a new style out. 

My god, it turned out so well.

Feast on that.

The key to success was really in this Tonkotsu method that I've been shamefully avoiding but ultimately knowing was the real deal. "It's too simple!" I said. "It doesn't have enough stuff in it" I said. "It's going to be gross!" I said.

I was wrong. Keep it simple but use proper technique.

It uses just pork and chicken parts. No additional items needed. Keeping it simple was really the way to go. The result was a pristine white, clean, not too heavy, but still nicely creamy, Tonkotsu broth. 

Look at that white pig water. Gorgeous.

Here's the ratios:

4 lbs pork leg bones, broken in half to expose yellow marrow
1.5 lbs chicken feet, blanched, toes and blemishes removed
2 lbs whole chicken wings. 

The pork bones need something to really reduce their overt funk, so the chicken provides balance and lightens the body. NO AROMATICS and a rapid boil (after blanching of course) for 12 hours results in a perfectly white broth, brimming with gelatin and fat. Virtually impossible to screw up.

Also it turns into white pork jelly. Dat gelatin content.  
A soy/sesame tare rounded things out. Typical to tantan men, it has ground sesame, but I deviated slightly by using white soy sauce and altering the amounts. Since the broth itself is pretty rich, I reduced the sesame paste levels and increased the other components. The resulting soup is surprisingly drinkable, but has a nice nuttiness and good complexity.

Some other recipes I came across included sake, Chinese black vinegar, and Szechuan pickles (an ingredient I am extremely unfamiliar with). All of these might be interesting additions in the future. But you can tell that the chinese influence is quite prevalent in this style of ramen. 

Noodles were 40% water, 1% added protein, 1% kansui, 1% salt. Tacky dough, but nice bite, less chew than Sapporo. Paired really well. These cook for about a minute. Overcooking is a little easy given the lower protein level. 

Homemade chili oil was dead simple and could have steeped longer. Making aroma oil of your choice, then adding in a heap of ground korean togarashi powder results in some lightly spiced, tasty chili oil. Looking for darker color next time, which would come from longer steeping. Blood red type color.

Soboro (the ground pork) has sweet bean paste in it (called tenmenjan in Japanese, a cousin of miso). Cook ground pork until no longer pink and water evaporates, add ginger, garlic and sweat. Then the tenmenjan and perhaps some sake. Boom, done. Sweet salty goodness. Consider using hoisin or oyster sauce instead in a pinch. Maybe even a really dark miso. Lot of flexibility in this. It's delicious though. 

Other toppings were pork belly, half cooked egg, blanched bokchoy, and some green onion threads. Really nice overall. Very pleased with this go around.

I even had some the next day! 

What style should I attempt next?? With a solid Tonkotsu finally in my grasp, I'm quite curious. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What exactly IS tantan men?

I have tantan men on the brain. But I've run into sort of a snag in my development of the method.

Usually a particular style of ramen has a certain distinct characteristic in the soup. Shoyu ramen has soy sauce, and is brown tinged. Tonkotsu is creamy and white. Even regional styles often have a distinguishing piece, if nuanced.

But tantan men... I have almost no idea. I know it's based on dan dan noodles, a spicy Sichuan noodle dish with sesame and chili oil. Sometimes the dish is without broth, sometimes not. In china it often includes pickled vegetables of some kind, though this isn't entirely the case in Japan. There, the vegetable of choice is usually bokchoy or cabbage. A "soboro" style ground pork is also pretty typical.

So as far as toppings and aroma oil, we're in the clear. Sesame chili oil, soboro, bokchoy. Easy.

But as a dish, since it isn't inherently tied to the base broth like other styles, tantan men is much harder to nail down. Do you go with a fish stock? Do you go chicken forward? Double soup! Tonkotsu? (If Tonkotsu, shouldn't it be fairly light to not be overwhelmed by the fat from the sesame?)

And what about the noodles? Those can change dramatically depending on the richness of the broth.

Is there even a "tare" in the typical sense? I've seen a few recipes that use ground sesame and xo sauce, but that's a wash too!

I'm going to play with it this weekend I think... If it turns out like garbage, at least I tried?

Somehow, the most freedom in the style makes it even more cumbersome. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ramen Party Tidbit

Whenever I make ramen, I make sure to invite friends over for a ramen party. (cooking ramen takes all day, might as well make an event out of it!)

I've found that expediting loads of ramen bowls at once is challenging in a home kitchen. Especially when plating needs to happen. Sometimes I'll have 6 people over, and they should all get ramen at the same time. This is particularly challenging in my kitchen, where I can only cook two orders of noodles at a time. This is my usual setup:

Noodle baskets and all, that's the most I can cook.
This means I can really only do two orders at the same time. If noodles and broth take 2 minutes a bowl to cook, that's an extra 4 minutes of noodles getting soggy. This is further impacted by having to plate. It's tough to top, set up new bowls, and cook noodles all at once.

So I've come up with a few strategies that mitigate this.
  1. Add tare to as many bowls in advance as possible. 
  2. Add your stock to all bowls if possible.
  3. Cook and drain noodles quickly, and send the now filled bowls to the table. 
  4. Allow your guests to top the bowls themselves. Preslice your chashu, eggs, and other toppings, and bring everything out on a platter or containers to let guests pick what they want. This saves a ton of time and your guests can pick how much they like.  
The result is nice! When I did this last week we found that the guests liked topping the dishes themselves. Some wanted two eggs. Some wanted none, some wanted just one slice of pork. Here's a photo of the madness. 

Classic Miso... topped with pork belly, green onion strips, beansprouts, and a half cooked egg in the back.

By the time the first people are done topping, the remaining bowls should be out and ready for the guests. 

It also means I don't have to yell at people to eat while it's hot, haha. 

Will definitely be doing this in the future.

Fun little tidbit I think. Love when things turn out successfully. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Some photos of "Hakata Miso"

I mentioned this in the last blog post, but a recent tonkotsu attempt ended poorly. I attempted to revive it with a miso base that I've had a lot of success with in the past. It combines sharp, raw ingredients with subtle, caremelized onions. The best of both worlds really.

The initial goal of this bowl was simple: I wanted to replicate Hakata Style Tonkotsu.

This style of ramen is designated by the following main characteristics:

  1. A pork forward tonkotsu broth. Rich, creamy, decadent. Sometimes funky. Usually uses pork femur bones, but can also use neck bones, skulls, or trotters. 
  2. Low to little additional seasoning beyond salt. Sometimes tare is used, but not always.
  3. Taut, wire thin, low alkalinity noodles. Often cooked for just a few seconds. Firmness level can often be requested at the shop. 
  4. Sparse toppings. Lots of green onion or welsh onion, maybe some chashu, that's about it. Woodear mushrooms or menma are occasionally included, to provide extra texture, but these are hardly required
But because the broth is so critical to the style, I wanted to really nail down that aspect. Without that in line, I had to resort to some alterations. But here are some photos on how it turned out!

Green Onion, always a staple. The thinner the better I think!
The chashu is seared and then braised in soy, mirin, sake. I've had some incredible success with the quality of the pork belly at my local grocery. Buying high quality ingredients really impacts the dish.
The eggs are standard for me. Boil 6 minutes, 30 seconds. Perfect every time. 
This is the base soup with the tare added. It's quite rich looking, really opaque. Good fat floating on the top too, mostly from the fatback, which didn't fully emulsify into the broth by service. But I'm actually ok with that!
Here are the "Hakata" style noodles. It's in quotes because the recipe deviates pretty generously from style, with far more water content added to these than typical. 
Ah... Hakata noodles. How you tempt me. But the truth is, I will never be able to do you justice in my kitchen. 

Hakata ramen noodles are some of the driest, firmest, most difficult to work with noodles I have come across. Much of this is attributed to the water content (about 22-26g water per 100g flour). This is an absurdly small amount of water, and it's impossible to press this dough together at home. Industrial manufacturers have vacuum technology and incredibly robust rollers that can sheet this dough out, but us home cooks don't. 

So my makeshift version bumps the water content up to 36%, which is still extremely difficult to work with, but manageable if you have an electric pasta machine, patience, and a desire for noodle glory. The result is taught, but still sort of springy, noodles. I also reduced the gluten to about 13% protein by weight (since additional protein makes doughs more thirsty), and reduced the alkaline addition to about 1g per 100g flour. 1g kansui per 100g flour is pretty standard as is, and this also helps keep the flavor more neutral (wheras a Sapporo noodle is much more distinctly minerally). 

Back to photos:

A touch of Beni-shoga (pickled red ginger), which is another typical Hakata topping, and we're good to go!

The composed bowl. "Hakata" Style Miso-Tonkotsu!
That covers all of it! I think I'm going to keep pressing on with my miso endevors... but perhaps I'll revist Tonkotsu soon enough.