Noodles: Perfect Recipe to Beat the Winter Blues
The ‘Ultimate Bistro Dish’ Offers Just the Right Combination for Diverse Tastes
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in the Wall Street Journal
Winter’s chilly months are the perfect time for warm, comforting foods—perhaps even soup noodles, which can be easily made at home.
Kenshiro Uki, general manager of Sun Noodle New Jersey, which has supplied noodles to some of the best ramen restaurants in the U.S. such as Momofuku in New York City, says noodle soups may be the ultimate, well-rounded comfort food for cold weather. A soup is a meal comparable to “the ultimate bistro dish,” he says. “In a bistro, you start out with a soup or salad, then you have starches, protein and vegetables—a bowl of ramen is all of that together in a bowl.”
When making noodle soups at home, Mr. Uki focuses on the basics: the broth and the noodle. “In the ideal bowl, the soup and noodle need to complement each other—if you can perfect the soup and noodle harmony, anything that you put on top of it is fine,” says Mr. Uki, who opened Ramen Lab, his first restaurant, in Manhattan in January. “If you have a thicker soup, use a thicker noodle; if you have a lighter soup, use a softer, gentler noodle. You don’t want one to overpower the other.”
Mr. Uki likes to make simple Japanese-style broths flavored with chicken or pork stock or dashi, a stock made from fish and kelp. Sometimes, if he feels “really creative, we will stir-fry green onions and ground beef in a frying pan and put a miso base on top of that, then chicken broth or water—when that really comes together and becomes really thick, pour it over noodles.” Miso also works well with a vegetable stock made from onions, carrots and mushrooms to create a vegetarian broth, he adds.
While fresh noodles are always preferred over dry noodles because of their more silky texture, if Mr. Uki doesn’t have access to fresh versions, dry ramen or “Chinese egg noodles are very popular.” Regardless of type of noodle, “it’s very important that you cook it in unsalted water” as the noodles cook best in pure water, he says.
It is best to not cook too many batches of noodles in the same water. “While you are cooking the noodles, the starch comes off the noodles and into the water,” he says. “If we are not careful at constantly changing the starchy water, it becomes very murky and thus, high density which makes the water weaker to cook the noodles.”
It’s important to cook the noodle thoroughly, Mr. Uki says, regardless of how firm or soft you like it. “Undercooking the noodle doesn’t mean it’s going to be firm—it means the noodle is still starchy,” Mr. Uki says. It’s also important to cook the noodles in water, separate from the broth, as the cooking noodles in the broth will give it a starchy cloudiness.
If you do overcook your noodles, Mr. Uki says, “shock it in cold water to bring that texture right back.”
Use Your Noodle
Five Tips for Perfect Cooking
- Always cook noodles in fresh water, not in the broth
- Don’t undercook noodles—it will make the broth starchy
- Red ginger slivers can help cut intensely rich flavors in meat
- Toppings, such as a soft-boiled egg, can be a way to spice up instant ramen
- Once the ramen bowl is assembled, eat it right away
Once Mr. Uki has settled on his noodles and broth, sometimes he adds in aromatic oils such as chicken fat, green onion oil or black olive oil and mixes that in. Then, he turns his attention to toppings. If he’s doing a traditional shoyu (soy sauce-based) ramen, he usually tops the bowl off with roast pork, bamboo shoots and dried seaweed. (If the meat on the broth is very intensely flavorful, sometimes Mr. Uki likes to cut that richness with slivers of red ginger, which “helps tone it down a little bit.”)
Sometimes, Mr. Uki takes inspiration from specific regions of Asia. In Japan’s Hokkaido region, for example, corn and butter is abundant and those ingredients do appear in noodle soups. If doing a Chinese-style bowl, wontons may be added.
“The important thing is that the toppings can be very much your own,” Mr. Uki says. “We did collaborate with a pizza shop to make a ramen with Italian sausage, tomatoes, oregano and some cheese on top of it. We had the cheese melting onto the Italian sausage in a chicken broth and it worked really, really well.”
For those short on time, toppings can be a way to add flavor to instant ramen packets, Mr. Uki says. “Something I do that’s very, very quick is take some ground beef, saute it in chili oil and then pop it on top of ramen—that just adds so much more flavor,” he says. “Or, add a soft-boiled egg on top of the soup. It makes it a very very different instant ramen.”
When assembling his noodle soups, Mr. Uki likes to first heat the bowl up with splashes of hot water, pour the water out, then add the liquid seasonings, “then ladle in your soup stock, put your noodles in” and finish off by adding aromatic oils and toppings. (Sometimes, if he’s having friends over for a noodle party, he’ll set out the aroma oils and toppings in bowls on the counter, keep the broth bubbling away on the stove, boil noodles to order and have friends put together their own bowls.)
Once the bowls are assembled, Mr. Uki sometimes garnishes the dish with green onions, sesame seeds and a dash of white pepper. Then, he says, comes the truly important part: “Eat it right away.”