Unlike the ubiquitous ramen known to most Americans, tsukemen does not lend itself to packaging in small cellophane packets, and since it is a combination of cold noodles and hot broth, it is not as common and the more accessible hot noodle soup most of us think of when the word ramen is mentioned.
First off, I prepared a nice soup, this needs to be a strongly flavored soup, as it will be the primary flavoring for the dish. I took 3 cups of water, 1/4 cup of shoyu, 1/8 cup of Red Boat Fish Sauce, a teaspoon of agave syrup, a chunk of smoked brisket fat, about 3 to 4 ounces of the hard bark and fat from a previous cook and adding all of these together, I brought it to a boil. To this, I added the peels and trimmed ends from a large carrot, and some green onion trimmings. At the last minute, I added some Rayu Sesame Oil, a spicy oil that is also quite aromatic. This broth was then sprinkled with Mitsuba (called Japanese Parsley by some) and sliced scallions.
The Broth served very hot
In the end, as you can see, there was a little over 2 cups of the broth. Next was the boiling of the noodles, in this case, I was able to get some fresh steamed Chinese alkali noodles, used often for making chow mein and similar types of noodle dishes, it is a great analog for the ramen noodles used in Japanese cookery and is more easily found. These were boiled until just cooked, then shocked in an ice water bath. For this dish, the noodles need to be rinsed and chilled, the ice water bath does this quite nicely. Nobody wants over cooked or gummy cold noodles. I also sprinkled a little sliced scallion onto the noodles.
Chilled for serving
Finally, the only thing left was to prepare some vegetables for use in dipping with the noodles. This is almost like preparing a salad, without the dressing. First, the aforementioned paper thin slices of tri-tip, yes I am liking my new meat slicing knife. Then some blanched julienne of carrots, some blanched bean sprouts, some raw Nappa cabbage and some mushrooms that had been boiled in the soup, to fortify the dipping soup and soften the Shiitake mushrooms. I was really happy to see that the tri-tip had retained both it's marbling and was quite close to rare. This made for the perfect texture once it was dipped in the very hot soup.
Unlike most ramen dishes, I believe Tsukemen has no single great note, all of the ingredients must be right for the overall dish to really sing. In blanching the carrots, I am trying to soften the thin julienne just a bit, and start the process of brightening the sweetness, the bean sprouts are heated just enough to soften that beany quality, but, to maintain most of the crispness. This dish ends up being all about the contrasts of the hot and cold, sweet, salty, herbal and savory and about the textures, at first crisp, or tender, lean then fatty, it is a wonderful dish that is not well known enough here. I tried to get a dipping shot, however, I am right handed and cannot use hashi left handed, nor can I apparently focus my camera using my left hand only. Almost...
Ah well, that is clear enough to illustrate how I eat it. Others eat it the more normal way, of eating the noodles or the vegetable and meat separately. It all works great. I like to shove it all into the bowl, the grab the whole lot and then eat the whole mess at once.
Ready for the Dipping
Overall, a nice dinner, without too much gluttony. I think I get a Girl Scout cookie as I ate lots of vegetables.