I love fall, I truly do. It’s the only time of year when my hair nearly always looks good, for one thing. Also, I love non-snow-related boots and sweaters and lightweight scarves and things that taste like pumpkin pie and air that smells like wood smoke. I am a walking, talking cliché in September and October, and I am fine with it, is what I’m saying.
So last week when the temperatures started to dip into the single digits at night, I decided it was soup season. (Not squash soup season: that starts next week.) It was time… for ramen.
Most of my internet-reading, food-loving friends will now immediately think of J.Kenji Lopez-Alt’s fantastic, exhaustive treatise on ramen broth over at Serious Eats. I’ve read it a number of times, and I admire it deeply. However, authenticity is not what I was going for here. I just wanted a warm, comforting bowl of soup with a rich-tasting broth and a bunch of yummy things floating in it. And a soft egg, because come on, there’s nothing better. I didn’t want to devote several days to this task, but I did have an entire Sunday afternoon, a new enameled cast-iron pot I wanted to play with, and a yearning for crispy pork.
Last fall, around this time, I made a recipe for caramelized pork ramen, because it sounded so appetizing and the photos were gorgeous. However, when implemented, pretty much exactly according to the recipe, the broth was insanely salty and fatty, and the add-ins were balanced too far to the sweet side. Only the pork was really to my liking. So this time around, I kept the concept of caramelizing the pork in a hot pan just before serving, and I improvised the rest.
I started with two pounds of bone-in pork shoulder roast. Normally I get boneless, but I wanted to add a bunch of flavour and body to the braising liquid, and bones are a quick way to get there. I seared the meat quickly on all sides and meanwhile, I poured four cups of homemade chicken stock seasoned heavily with light soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin into my new five-quart turquoise Cuisinart Dutch oven (Canadian Tire sale score, woot). I also sliced up a big chunk of ginger root, a leek, and two big cloves of garlic, and tossed them into the mix. I brought the whole thing up to a boil and then added the meat, covered the pot and plunked it into a 325-degree oven for about three hours.
As the pork simmered away, I washed and sliced a bunch of black kale into ribbons, sliced a pile of white button mushrooms, thawed a bowlful of frozen corn kernels, and boiled four eggs for exactly seven minutes, then dunked them in an ice bath. Kale’s not a typical ramen addition, but it was on sale and we like it, and it added some health benefits and colour.
Once the pork began to fall away from the bone, I took it out of the oven, removed the meat to a cutting board to cool a bit, put the bone back in with the braising liquid, added four cups of water and a little more soy sauce, brought it to a simmer on the stovetop and let it cook for another hour. Then I tasted and balanced it with a little more vinegar and a spoonful of sugar, turned off the heat and let the fat rise to the top for an hour. Once this was ready, I skimmed as much fat as I could from the broth, which left enough to give the broth some body and heft, but not make it greasy. Meanwhile, I shredded the pork with two forks and removed any extra fat or gristle.
Final assembly of the ramen bowls requires a few pots and pans, but all the steps are simple ones:
- Bring broth up to a rolling boil.
- Cook some of those instant ramen noodles (tossing the “flavour” packet, obviously) and divide them between your serving bowls.
- Add your veggie toppings: I placed small piles of kale, mushrooms, corn, and some dried wakame seaweed on top of the noodles.
- Slice your eggs in half neatly, wiping the knife between eggs.
- Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Scatter in a big handful of shredded pork, and sprinkle two teaspoons of brown sugar over it. Drizzle over a spoonful or two of broth (or a shake of soy sauce if you like it ultra-salty). Stir-fry two minutes, until pork takes on colour and crisps at edges. Remove to a plate and repeat with more pork if needed for serving.
- Ladle piping hot broth over your noodles and vegetables, to cover so the veg cook a bit and the seaweed rehydrates. Add a pile of pork to the centre of each noodle bowl and arrange two egg halves at sides.
- Grab chopsticks and a big spoon, sit yourself down, and enjoy. Slurping is optional (but really fun).
I know this sounds about as complicated as the Serious Eats one, but the nice thing is, everything except assembly can be done ahead of time. Chop your veg the day before. Make your broth whenever it’s convenient (even in the slow cooker), cool it, skim the fat, and even freeze it for future use. The pork can also be frozen. The eggs will keep in the fridge a few days – and you can marinate them in soy, mirin and rice vinegar for up to 12 hours, for even more umami goodness.
I can’t wait to make this again. Next time I’ll remember my Japanese condiments: furikake (rice seasoning with dried seaweed) and shichimi togarashi (seven-spice mix). Even without them, this was pretty darned amazing, and infinitely customizable. This is how we like it. I’d love to hear about how you make it.