The anatomy of a perfect ramen noodle soup (and how to make one)

Ramen isn’t just a tasty bowl of soup. In Japan, it borders on an obsession. From the vast range of noodles to the intricacies of the toppings, this dish is a complex layering of flavours, particular to whoever has cooked it. But don’t let that daunt you. Japanese soul-food experts, Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, show the beginner how to create a lip-smacking soup base

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In Japan, the type of noodle used in ramen is serious business. Thick or thin, straight or wavy, yellowish or not yellowish (the list goes on) – the noodle itself helps define each particular style of this dish.

It would be sacrilege for, say, a Hakata joint to cook its local ramen with Sapporo-style thick, wavy noodles. But home cooks here, alas, don't have the luxury of choosing exactly the right kind of noodle.

So what to do? Easy. Don't sweat it. Buy whatever ramen noodles you can find. You can usually buy fresh-frozen ramen noodles in Japanese and Asian food shops, as well as dry varieties. Sometimes these noodles come with a soup mix. In this case, throw out the mix and keep the noodles. Also, if there's a Chinatown near you, you can find fresh Cantonese egg noodles. These are great – go with the thin variety.

Anatomy of ramen

Nori: Edible seaweed, rack-dried and shredded

Noodles: Sapporo ramen uses thick, wavy noodles, while Hakata ramen uses thin, straight ones

Spring onions and spinach: Both popular toppings, though they vary between regions

Soy sauce eggs: Cooked, peeled, then marinated in a soy sauce mixture for up to 12 hours

Pork shoulder: Chashu, which can also be chicken, consists of slow-braised slices of meat

Soup: Conjured from pork or chicken bones, kombu and/or dried, shaved bonito, and cooked for hours to tease out flavour

Pickled menma: Lactate-fermented bamboo shoots

Ramen Soup and Chashu (Master Recipe)

Makes 2 litres

A round of applause goes to Tadashi for creating a home cook's version of ramen soup from scratch. This recipe is Tadashi's adaptation of Tokyo's clean, fragrant ramen soup. Note that we cook the pork shoulder for chashu along with the stock ingredients. Chashu is slow-braised meat that's simmered until tender. It's then sliced and laid on top of ramen noodles. The way we cook it, in the soup, is the way real ramen joints do – a one-two punch that adds richness and flavour to both the soup and the tender pork. You can prepare a batch of ramen soup ahead of time, and keep it in the freezer for up to one month. For the chashu, fresh pork belly or pork tenderloin also works great.

900g chicken bones (bones and carcass)
15g ginger, skin left on
2 cloves garlic, peeled
450g boneless pork shoulder (one piece, ask your butcher to tie it, if needed)
3ltrs water
1 spring onion
½ small carrot (about 55g)

Rinse the chicken bones well under cold, running water. Crush the ginger by placing a kitchen knife over the ginger, and press down on the knife with your palm. Repeat for the garlic.

Add all of the ingredients to a large stockpot, and place on a burner over a high heat. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered. Skim off any scum that accumulates on the surface and discard. Simmer for about 2 hours, until the soup reduces to 2 litres.

Remove the pork shoulder and set aside for chashu. (If you're not using it right away, store it in the refrigerator.) Strain the soup through a muslin-lined colander or fine-mesh sieve, discarding the remaining ingredients.

Top with the sliced pork and your favourite toppings (see Anatomy of Ramen, left for our suggestions).

All-Chicken Variation

Substitute 450g of boneless chicken for the pork shoulder (we prefer dark meat, but white meat is fine, too). Use this chicken for chashu.

'Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura and More From the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond' by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat, photography by Todd Coleman, is published in hardback by Jacqui Small LLP, £25

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