Ramen is a variable Japanese dish that involves noodles in a flavoursome broth, accompanied by meat and vegetables. Often in the UK we call them ‘noodle soups’. This chicken ramen recipe makes a fantastic comfort food, something to warm you on the coldest of days.
‘Ramen’ is the name given to any kind of chinese style noodle. Ramen noodles can vary a lot in size and texture, from the thick and sticky udon to the flat, thin whole wheat soba. There are thousands of ramen shops, restaurants that specialise in ramen, in every city throughout Japan. Each one specialises in its own ramen dishes, and a small proportion are ‘artisan’ ramen shops, meaning that they make their own stocks, broths and noodles from scratch.
The type of broth used in ramen is also extremely variable; lighter broths tend to go with heavier noodles, and vice versa. Many broths are made out of boiled down bones, to give them a rich flavour that’s packed full of nutrition. Broths are categorised into four main types: shoyu (soy broth), shio (pale, salty broth), miso (fermented bean paste broth) and tonkotsu (pork bone broth). The stock or dashi that makes up the broth is also very particular. The one I used below is a Westernised version of the traditional soy broth, it’s a little more like a regular french stock. I found the base for this ramen recipe in a traditional Japanese cookbook, but it uses completely impossible-to-find ingredients such as bonito (a tuna that has been dried and aged for 6 months) and kombu (Japanese sea kelp)!
If you’re familiar with Japanese people and traditions, then you’ll know that they have an extremely precise culture that’s based on refinement and perfectionism. The art of creating typical Japanese delicacies, such as sushi, is perfected over an entire lifetime, with methods passed down through families from generation to generation.
Ramen is such an incongruous addition to the Japanese culinary canon, because it doesn’t stick to the rules. It’s a very new dish that came about in the first half of the 20th century. For a dish to be considered ramen, it must contain noodles in a kind of soup or broth. Beyond that, the variations are almost infinite. The original name for ramen in Japanese was shina soba, or ‘chinese noodles’, but after the 1950s this was changed to ‘ramen’ because the word shina carries negative connotations in the Japanese language.
Ramen was originally made and sold as a street food, by Chinese street food vendors, who would offer it alongside dumplings. By the 1900s, it had started to appear in Chinese restaurants, and by the 1950s it had entered mainstream Japanese culture, becoming one of the most popular Japanese dishes ever. In 1958 it was turned into an instant version (the precursor to our own Pot Noodles!) and by the 1980s ramen was known worldwide as an iconic Japanese meal.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal and organic/free range ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and high welfare farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
100g cooked soba (buckwheat) noodles
2 free range chicken thighs, deboned with the skin on
1 pak choi, split into leaves
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
2cm ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
50g sliced mushrooms, chestnut or shiitake
2tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the broth:
500ml homemade stock
3 tbsp mirin (japanese rice wine)
3tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
For the stock:
A chicken carcass or chicken wings (optional)
1 white onion, peeled and halved
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
- Make the stock by putting all the stock ingredients into a pan with cold water and bringing it to boil, then simmering for 20 mins. You can omit the chicken, but bones give ramen its traditional flavour, so some of the depth will be lost by using a vegetable stock.
- In a large saucepan mix in your mirin, soy sauces and sugar, stir to combine until the sugar melts into the liquid. Pour in your stock, add the mushrooms, garlic, chilli and ginger and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
- In a small frying pan, heat the vegetable oil with some salt and pepper on a high heat. When the oil is very hot, with the salt spitting a little, place the chicken skin side down into the pan, laying it away from you so that the oil doesn’t splash. The salt and pepper will stick to the skin, seasoning it instantly. Continue to fry the chicken on that side for 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Watch up the side of the chicken pieces to see how far it’s cooking. When it’s just over halfway, flip the chicken over and cook the other side for the same amount of time.
- Just before the chicken is finished, add the pak choi and spring onion to the simmering broth. Assemble everything in a deep bowl: noodles first, spoon the broth over, arrange the vegetables and chicken on top. Serve immediately!
LF – this dish is naturally lactose free
GF – buckwheat noodles are gluten free
V – make a vegetable stock and use fried tofu instead of the chicken
Ve – make a vegetable stock and use fried tofu instead of the chicken