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I chose Ivan Ramen thinking, “I have never made real ramen, so here’s a chance for a good read and a learning experience in one.” I had no idea what I was getting into.
The first half of the book is a memoir, with recipes to follow. I chose to read them simultaneously -- I'd read a bit of Ivan’s story, look at a recipe, decide what to make, and then head back to the story. What I quickly discovered is that, in order to create a bowl of ramen, you do not cook a single recipe. You cook eight. And those eight have sub-recipes. So in the end, there are eleven separate components to a single bowl of ramen. For each of the components, you need to gather ingredients that require a drive across town to the Asian market, the farmers market, and a standard grocery. Then you need to start cooking a week ahead of time, because many of the components are multi-hour or even two-day processes. That’s when the anxiety dreams started. I was never going to get it done.
I will pause here to say that I very much enjoyed the memoir portion of this book. It’s always interesting to read how a chef became a chef, where they learned their craft, and where life took them. Ivan writes his story in a no-nonsense, no-BS, engaging manner.
More: Looking for a noodle soup that won't take a week? We've got you.
I decided to scrap the dream of making a bowl of ramen from scratch. My new approach? To cook two or three of the components and a couple of the “after ramen” recipes.
The first thing I made was -- of course -- dessert, but we found the Salted Lemon Sherbet too salty for our taste (I would cut the amount of salt from two teaspoons to a half teaspoon). The next thing I made was sofrito, a slow-cooked oil-and-aromatics component that can be used as a base for other dishes like fried rice. I started chopping and chopping (and chopping) the vegetables, and I began to think, “Wow, these must really shrink during cooking.” They don't. The directions say to spread the vegetables in a pan that will accommodate them in a half-inch layer. Don’t bother trying your 9-by-13 or your Dutch oven -- there are enough vegetables that you'll need your turkey roaster.
Once the sofrito was cooked and cooled, I used it to make the Ome Raisu, or rice omelet. I chose this because it contained three things: sofrito, egg, and ketchup (and he had me at ketchup). It's easy to make, and certainly qualifies as comfort food. The caramelized vegetables in the sofrito add a richness to the fried rice that you wouldn't get from frying it in plain oil. If you are not a ketchup lover, though, steer clear.
Next up: Pork Belly Chasu. The ingredients are easily obtained, and you end up with two wonderful things: a nicely cooked pork belly ready for use in any number of recipes (Ivan’s version of a Cuban sandwich is on my to-do list) plus the poaching liquid, which you should save. It can be used for the half-cooked eggs in the book, or you can simply soft-boil some eggs, peel them, and soak them in it while you prepare the rest of dinner.
Making a complete bowl of ramen is a daunting task, even for a project-loving cook. I may still opt for a ramen shop over doing it at home, but even still, Ivan Ramen has things to teach.