Friday, December 14, 2012

Cooking at home: 30-hour "Instant" Ramen

Like many Hong Kong families, I always keep a handful packets of instant ramen at home – whether that be for a quick fix for breakfast, lunch, dinner or midnight snack, or just about any time when I need some value-for-money calories. After all, it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s easy and it actually tastes okay.

But what I am sharing today is quite different than what you have in mind when we talk about instant ramen. First, it’s not “instant” – it’s cooked for 30 hours; second it’s not cheap – it probably cost as much as you would in one of the many ramen shops in town, but it’s still relatively easy to make, and is definitely close to the quality of any version you can find anywhere sans Japan.

Opening the package - comes with everything - oil, garlic, sesame, chili sauce, noodles and soup base, and instruction manual too!
Step 1: Get the best instant ramen I can find

Forget those cheap ones you can find in chain supermarkets – noodles and soup are the heart and soul of any good ramen so don’t cut corners on this. To get a decent one, “Made in Japan” is a must, and better yet, pick up one of those half-cooked ones endorsed/licensed from one of the great Japanese ramen houses – I am sure you can find them in Japanese supermarkets.

Well, I picked up my Ippudo ready-made ramen pack in Osaka airport last month, just when I wanted to use up my spare changes at the souvenir shop. It’s half-cooked (instead of the dry one more commonly find) – hence it’s fresher and faster to cook - and with all the condiments – soup base, oil, chili paste, and even garlic. All you need is water and any extras you want to put in. 

Step 2: Use the best ingredients I can afford

Of course I am not going to just show you how to boil water, put the noodles in, and voila, you get a bowl of perfectly-cooked instant ramen… I decided to use green onions, char siu (pork) and eggs to go with my bowl. For both green onions, I used the Naganegi from Oita, and eggs from Miyazaki prefecture – both farming-rich regions in Kyushu of southern Japan. For pork, I used the organic one bred and imported from Canada.

Pork Belly after 30 hours - can you feel the tenderness just by looking at the picture?
Step 3: Cook the same way as a commercial ramen house

Marinating the pork is quite straight forward – soy sauce, mirin, sugar are pretty much all you need. The hardest part is how to keep the pork moist and tender while allow time for the marinate to work to bring flavor to the meat while cooking. That’s where my sous vide machine came in handy. I rolled my pork belly with the rind on and tied with a piece of string, put that in a plastic pouch, pour my marinate in and freeze it. After vacuuming the pouch with the pork and frozen marinate (my vacuum machine can’t handle liquid – that’s why I need to turn that into ice first), I drop it into my Sous Vide Supreme water bath and cook for 30 hours at 63.5C. Yes, that’s over a day – and trust me, you do need that kind of time to tenderize the meat in that temperature.

Once it’s done, you can slice and eat it immediately, or keep that in the refrigerator for a few days. To re-heat, either drop that in the broth for a few minutes, or use a blow-torch to char the surface at the same time.

Well, cooking the pork might be time-consuming, but making the half-boiled eggs is the most challenging part. Ask anyone or do a search on google, you will get dozens of so-called tips on how to cook the perfect half-boiled eggs (Ni-Tamago) – those with whites almost completely set while the yolks are still runny. I am still struggling to make this with consistency, so I am just going to leave you with what my friend CSY has advised: Boil the eggs for 2 minutes to set the white firm then cook at 63-64C to bring the yolk to creamy texture. I must confess I did try a few times (and a few failed, undercooked eggs) before I get one (barely) good enough for the picture. And by the way, if you want a perfectly halved egg, don’t use a knife – that will smear the yolk as you slice through – use a fishing line like a pro.

So here you are, my 30-hour “instant” ramen, which I had for lunch last week. Well, you may wonder - “Does it worth all the effort and time, for a bowl of instant ramen?” – hell yeah.

Just for the sake of comparison, let me show you a picture of the original version that I had last year at Ippudo Honten at Fukuoka. Close enough, huh?


Unknown said...

can i check where do you buy the instant ramen? japan? amd ippudo itself or other shops?

gary s said...

I picked up mine at the airport duty free shop at Narita. I think their noodle shops carry that as well.