Don't worry, this isn't that stuff you used to eat as a poor sophomore in college. You know, the stuff that shot your heart rate through the roof and had you puckering like a fish. No, this is my approximation of actual Ramen soup. I even made a special trip out for the Kombu.
I created this recipe simply because I love soup. A deeply flavored, hearty soup from any nation is enough to cleanse the soul and make you feel right at home. This soup lends itself to many topping options and, while it may not be the healthiest thing I can present, it's really not that bad since you can control the sodium and fat content yourself. It's most definitely healthier than the quick-cook and canned selections we have available at the grocery store.
When I began this project, I looked at soup recipes from all over. Some were quick and dirty while others took hours upon hours to make. I settled on creating something that landed me in the middle time-wise. In this way, I retained some of the authenticity without letting it take up real estate in the kitchen all day. Also, it wasn't so quick as to make the flavors thin and salty. The name of the game I was playing was 'Efficient but Flavorful'. To this end, I kept the four basics of the soup in tact (broth, tare, noodles, toppings). How I made each, however, I felt was up for interpretation. The biggest change I made from tradition was in the broth. While the recipe starts with par-cooking the chicken, which leads one to think I could just leave it in and make a broth, I chose not to have it sit on the stove for hours on end. Instead, I opted for plain, ready-made broth and flavored that as I saw fit.
As with the last recipe, I have no nutrition info for you as the toppings can really change it up. Plus, if I'm being honest, I'm feeling lazy today. What follows sounds like a lot and if you're not much of a cook to begin with, then it is a lot. But if you stick with it, it's most definitely worth the trip. Basically, you'll be going back and forth between a pan and a pot most of the time. While one is cooking, you'll be playing with the other.
While I can spend hours on a meal that usually tastes good or even great, sometimes it's just not worth all the trouble. This was worth the trouble to me. All told, this took about 2.5 hours and I was making it up as I went along using some basic info from various sources as my guide. I fed a family of 5 on this and still had several cups of broth left over for another day.
Toppings I used:
In a large pot (I used enameled cast iron) start by par-cooking the thighs in 5 quarts of water, 1/3 Cup of mirin, and 1/3 cup of soy sauce. After about 15 minutes, remove the thighs and pat them dry with a paper towel. You're mostly removing excess water so the oil doesn't splatter on you. Dump the water mixture out (or save it if you have other broth plans for it) and return the pot to the stove.
While the chicken is par-cooking, heat the sesame and grape seed oils in a pan (that has a lid) on medium-high heat. After the chicken is patted dry, transfer it skin side down onto the hot oil and cover. Flip the chicken a few times until it is cooked through. The skin should render its fat into the pan and the cover should keep any moisture created from evaporating. You need this liquid and fat for the Tare (basically, it's a liquid seasoning that you'll add to the broth to give it deep, concentrated flavor). Lightly salt the chicken on each side before the last two flips.
While the chicken is cooking in the pan, boil 4 Cups of water, 4 Cups of chicken stock, and 2 Cups of beef stock in the large pot you returned to the stove. When it comes to a boil, drop in the Kombu (you can rinse and pat it dry beforehand but most are cleaned well before packaging. If you do clean it, just be careful not to rub off the white powder. That's Umami (glutamates) and it holds major flavor). Reduce the heat to just under a boil and let the Kombu steep for 30-60 minutes depending on how strong you like it (just like tea).
Once the chicken is done cooking, remove it to a plate (while the Tare cooks, you can remove the skin and bones and cut up the chicken as a topping) and add the smashed garlic to the pan. Cover the pan again so as not to lose the liquid at this point. We will reduce it in a bit. Brown the garlic on all sides and then add the remaining 1/3 Cup of mirin, 1/3 cup of soy sauce, and a few drops of liquid smoke. This liquid will deglaze the pan and help you break up and dissolve any fond (tasty, brown bits in the pan). Add the chopped scallions.
Leaving the pan uncovered, reduce the liquid by half adding the sesame seeds in the last minute. If you're really good at smoking meat, you could smoke the chicken instead and leave the liquid smoke out of this recipe.
Remove the Kombu from the broth and pour in the Tare you just made. At this point, you should taste the broth for seasoning. The soy sauce may have added enough salt by now, but if not, you can add a bit more salt at this stage. Just do it little by little and taste it each time as you don't want to over-salt. Keep in mind, if you have salty toppings in store for plating, you probably shouldn't add any more salt at this time.
Now, as the broth stays warm on the stove, you can prepare the toppings and boil the Ramen noodles. If you have fresh noodles, you can leave the heat a bit higher on the broth and cook them in there. I found the easiest way to plate this is to put the drained noodles right in the center of the bowl, arrange the toppings around the noodles, then spoon the broth over the center. The broth will continue to fill the bowl as the scallions pile up on top of the center of the noodles.
And, that's it. Soup's on! Enjoy!
Here's another version of toppings. The chicken thigh was seared in a pan with in rice wine vinegar and soy sauce with the skin on. The pan was covered and I flipped it every now and again. Near the end, I uncovered it to reduce the liquid and took the skin off so that the reduction would adhere to the meat. The veggies are bok choy, baby corn, bamboo shoots, and scallions.