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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Smoked Brisket Ramen

I have just received my copy of Lucky Peach, a new quarterly from the minds of Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame, writer Peter Meehan and the folks from Zero Point Zero Productions. If you have not read this amazing journal, and you like food, you need to get a copy. It is the best food writing I have read in a long time, maybe ever. The first issue is all about ramen. I love ramen. Suddenly, I need ramen. I think it is a heritage thing, those pesky ancestors of mine driving me to the noodle. Sadly there are no good ramen shops near home; I am left to my own devices, this is never good. But, there is often good food.
First, I need to make a few basics. I need a dashi, which is nothing more than a flavored broth, usually this is either fish or fowl based and fairly light in flavor and texture. Then, there is the tare, this is the intense flavoring that defines the dish, often this is miso, shoyu or salt.  Finally, there is a third item that most folks in the U.S. do not understand, or even realize is a part of traditional ramen, which is the fat.

Yes, the fat, often dressed over the dish, sometimes actually blended with the noodles first. I opted for a smoked brisket and bacon dashi, the tare will be a smoked brisket, bacon and shiitake infused shoyu, the fat is going to be a curried bacon/garlic infused smoked brisket, bacon fat skimmed from the broth, this was inspired by the work of Chef Danny Bowien at Mission Chinese Foods.
The whole success of this dish will rest on the 1/4 pound of smoked brisket point, 1/8 pound of uncured apple wood smoked bacon and the aromatics of 1/2 yellow onion and 1/2 of a large carrot. These were steeped along with a sheet of konbu in three cups of water at 150F for one hour. It must not boil. I then removed the konbu and all but 1 cup of broth. At this point, the remaining one cup was boiled hard for 20 minutes, I had to add a little water, until the meats and vegetables were completely reduce and the broth was milky with protein. I cut the heat, returned the reserved broth and added 1/8 cup of fish sauce and several turns worth of ground Phu Quoc black pepper. This was strained and refrigerated overnight.

The fat was skimmed, reheated with some more bacon (man gotta eat breakfast) and then the fat was turned off and 3 teaspoons of curry powder and some slivered garlic was added. This was allowed to cool. I will toss a teaspoon or so of this with the ramen noodles just after boiling.

Shiitake mushrooms were rehydrated and added to about 1/2 cup of the brisket broth, a shot of sherry, 1/8 cup of shoyu, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a few shots or so of fish sauce. This was reduced by half to create a thick syrup. This would be my tare.

Next, I purchased some fresh ramen noodles. But, next time, I will make them from the recipe in Lucky Peach. Some vegetables were procurred as well. One can't just eat fat and meat and expect good results, you need some fiber.
Well, that photo sort of blows, best one of a series of photos that somehow failed to be focused. What we have here are blanched bean sprouts, seared carrots, curried bacon lard, shiitake mushrooms stewed in the tare and a very soft boiled egg. Here is the bowl with the noodles and other stuff, including the fat, which I dolloped onto the top of the noodles.

Serving is as simple as cooking the noodles, placing them in the bowl and then the sliced vegetables are added, some seared brisket point and then the fat was placed on the noodles. ThenI drizzled the tare, a syrup really, over the vegetables and noodles.  I added a soft boiled egg, really a warmed egg, to the ramen and the dashi was poured over the top. The dashi has to be really hot to make it all work
Look at that bowl of goodness, those seared up slices of brisket point were tender with a wonderful crunch along the edges. The vegetables were also just right. Most importantly, the fat melted into the noodles and the egg got just enough heat to tighten up to a custardy consistency. I have to say, this was exceptional ramen, with a deep complex flavor and each ingredient offered it owns taste and texture, I really love that kind of clarity in food.

And you might say, it is a mish mash of styles and what of this fish sauce stuff. Well, of late, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the idea of authenticity, of what really defines a cuisine and how it "should" taste. I know of no other style of cooking than to take the best of what I have, to cook with it, to make good food. It is authentic to me, it is authentic to this place and time. Will you find this dish in Hiroshima, or Ibaraki, or Gifu, where my family hails from, I doubt it. But, I bet folks there would have enjoyed this bowl.


  1. I'm sure David Chang and Danny Bowien would approve of this post. What a great way to honor their outstanding efforts in Lucky Peach. I'm hoping to get a call the day you make noodles for a revisit.

  2. There will be a revisit with hand made ramen noodles, and the call will be made.

  3. My copy of Lucky Peach won't arrive until at least the 10th, so here I thought I wouldn't have to worry about getting hungry for ramen for a while, and you post this...
    Could I hope for an email the day you revisit ramen?

  4. I think notice will be given, first, I will need to smoke up another brisket, or maybe a pork shoulder.