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.
The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!