An Abbreviated Version of David Chang’s Ramen Broth

from Momofuku, pp. 40-41.

An eight- or nine-hour ramen broth is as likely strike you as excessive and obsessive as it did me when I first read the recipe. But I do love a good ramen broth. This looked promising. Not only did I want to make a bowl of ramen that stood a chance of comparing favorably with broth in a ramen shop, I also recognized that it was a necessary component of David Chang’s absolutely scrumptious Shrimp & Grits recipe (to follow).  This recipe’s essential virtue is umami, which, to the degree that I can describe it, is Japanese for “pretty frickin’ delicious,” as distinct from “salty,” “sweet,” or “sour.” Chang builds the broth in layers of flavor: first the konbu, then the mushrooms, followed by the chicken and then the pork bones. The result is a deep, complex broth whose flavor turned out to be less fragile and more stable than I anticipated it would be. Following Change’s advice, I reduced the final broth by half to save space in my freezer. If you boil it down, you can reconstitute it with an equal amount of water.

However, I’m going to provide here an adulterated version that no doubt you will still find excessive in the amount of time it takes. If you want the complete recipe, buy the book. It’s worth it. Here, you get a second-rate broth that is not such a big production as the full version. Smaller amount and a bit less work may lead you to make it more often. David Chang would probably spit on my efforts, but that’s ok. We need purists like him against which we measure what we do.

So, I’ll begin by cutting the quantities in half:

1 piece of konbu (the thick square seaweed that is the basis of the Japanese broth, dashi)

3 quarts water

1 cup dried shiitakes, rinsed

2 pounds chicken (bone-in breast, leg and thigh, back or rib cage with meat still attached)

3 pounds meaty pork bones

Shadowcook: If you can’t find organic pork bones, try using smoked ham hocks and skip the smoked bacon. It would be a good idea to have a butcher cut the hocks in two or three pieces, depending on their size, since you’ll be roasting them.

1/2 pound smoked bacon

Shadowcook: Towards the end of making the full version, as I tasted the broth and adjusted the seasoning, I thought the smoky flavor dominated the other subtler ingredients. I still do, although the smokiness calmed down by the time I got to straining the broth. So, be aware of how strong the smoky flavor of the bacon is.

3 or 4 scallions

half a medium onion

1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

kosher salt

1. Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and rehydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the pork bones or ham hocks on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and roast for an hour. Turn them over after 30 minutes.

4. Right after putting the pork bones in the oven, remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth. Replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until it does. Then remove it from the pot.

5. Remove the chicken from the pot and add the pork bones or hocks to the broth, along with the bacon (if you’re using pork bones). Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, scoop out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.

Shadowcook: Does it need that long? I’m skeptical. But I went whole hog anyway. When I made the abbreviated version, however, I stopped after four hours. The broth was fine. Follow your tastes buds and please yourself.

6. Add the scallions, onion, and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.

7. Remove the bones and vegetables. Strain the broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. At this point, either use the broth or reduce it by half to freeze. Reconstitute with equal amounts of water.

Shadowcook: At this point, Chang instructs you to finish the sauce with a bit of taré, a concentrate of salt, soy sauce, mirin and the gook that accumulates around roasted chicken backs. Sorry, I own up to not having made this sauce, which is its own recipe. Finding chicken backs — much less organic ones — is tough even in our Asian markets. So, to finish the broth, I seasoned it with the tablespoons of dark soy sauce and mirin and adjusted the salt. I was happy.

Chang concludes this recipe with a sentiment in which I heartily concur: Underseasoned broth is a crime.

Nigel Slater’s Braised Duck with Asian Spices and Sliced Pork Belly (with a little help from David Chang)

Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, pp. 345-47 and David Chang’s Momofuku, p. 49.

If you knew that I had recently bought two Asian cookbooks at full price, you might expect this post to be about something I had cooked from one of them instead of a good ol’ rock-solid stand-by from Nigel Slater’s cookbook. I will indeed make a couple of recipes from Momofuku and Beyond the Great Wall. For the moment, I had to do something with the organic duck I had in the freezer and the new books had nothing that would help. Although Nigel’s recipe appears in the December chapter, the weather at the moment is cool enough to justify making this out of its proper season.

I learned two key point from the meal I prepared.

  • David Chang’s method of roasting a slab of pork belly at 450 degrees for almost an hour and then reducing the temperature to 250 for another hour or hour and a half works better than any other pork belly recipe I’ve tried. The onus is on you to make sure it doesn’t char too much in the first hour.
  • You can never degrease a duck dish too much because there’s always more fat than you think.

A description of how I plated the dish will give you a sense of its virtues. In a shallow pasta bowl, I placed a little mound of blanched kale/swiss chard greens and drizzled over it just a tiny bit of sesame oil. Beside the greens, I put a 1.5-inch by 1.5-inch square of roasted pork belly. A half-cup scoop of sticky rice next to the greens and pork. On top of the rice I placed a portion of duck — a half breast, a leg and thigh — over which I ladled some braising liquid. (I’ll reserve the salads for a subsequent post.) This was enough: a wonderful plate of food. The following recipe will serve four.

So, here’s how I fiddled with Nigel’s basic recipe and David Chang’s pork belly:

2 tablespoons grapeseed or another neutral oil

1 duck, preferably organic, at the very least free range, cut into pieces

2 small or 1 large onion, roughly chopped

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 scant teaspoon high-quality Chinese Five-Spice powder (don’t overdo it)

Shadowcook: Whole Spice in Petaluma, California makes two kinds. Chinese Five-Spice contains cinnamon, fennel, ginger, star anise, and cloves. Chinese Five-Spice North Style has star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan pepper. I used the North Style this time.

8 rounds of sliced, peeled ginger, sliced into matchsticks

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine

2 cups chicken stock

4-6 green onions, cut into 1-inch long pieces

For the roast pork belly:

1 lb pork belly, with or without rind

1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder (see above note)

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Shadowcook: I made the duck the day before my little dinner party.

Set the oven at 350. On the stovetop, warm the oil in a heavy, oven-proof casserole with a lid, then lightly brown the duck pieces in it. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Lift the browned duck out on to a plate. Add the onions to the pan, turn the heat down a little and let them cook, with only the occasional stir, until they are soft and sweet.

Peel the garlic and slice each clove thinly, then stir it into the onion as it cooks. Cut the ginger into matchsticks, stir them in, then cut the spring onions into short lengths and add them to the pot. Leave everything to soften for a few minutes, then stir in the sugar, 1 scant teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder, chicken stock, and rice wine. Season with black pepper and salt and bring to the boil. Let the mixture boil for a good minute, then return the meat to the pot, together with any juices that may have escaped. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven, setting the timer for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Check the duck for tenderness. It should be soft but far from fall off the bone. Season the stew with a little salt. Scoop off as much of the liquid fat from the top as you can — there will be lots — then either lift the pieces of duck on to shallow bowls of rice and spoon over the juices, or let everything cool, then refrigerate overnight. If you take the latter option, the next day scrape off the white fat that has settled on top, reheat the stew and serve with rice.

Shadowcook: I separated the duck pieces from the braising liquid. After both duck and liquid cooled completely, I stored them in plastic containers and put them in the fridge. Next day, about 2 hours before I served the meal, I roasted the pork belly according to David Chang’s simple directions.

Several hours before dinner, combine the teaspoon of Chinese Five-Spice powder with the brown sugar and salt. Score the fat or rind surface of the pork belly. Rub the mixture on the pork, making sure it reaches the crevices of the surface scoring. Put the pork belly a container and marinate for a few hours at room temperature (or overnight in the refrigerator). Two hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 450. David Chang recommends putting the pork belly in a snug roasting pan. Stick the pan in the oven and roast the pork for 40 minutes. From that point on, keep an eye on it. The surface of the meat should be caramelized but should not be charred black. Let it roast at this temperature as long as possible. Then reduce the heat to 250. Roast for another hour or hour and a half, depending on how big a piece of pork belly you have.

While the pork is roasting, about 45 minutes before eating, I scraped off the thick layer of fat from the cold braising liquid and saved it in another container. It will make a good base for sauteing.  Then I put the degreased liquid in a braising pan, brought it to a simmer over medium heat, and let it reduce by almost half. I added the duck pieces, reduced the heat, and warmed the duck pieces. Transfer the duck pieces to a platter. Before you serve, I’ll bet you any amount of money you’ll see another thick film of duck fat on the surface of the braising. I used a metal spoon to skim the fat off and added it to the copious amount of fat I  removed the day before and stored in the fridge.

Assemble the plates as I describe at the beginning of this post. Slice or cut into a squares the pork belly with a very sharp knife (so that it doesn’t fall apart). My guests relished the unctuous combination of pork and duck — but they would not have if I hadn’t take care to remove as much fat as possible.

Pasta with Duck Sausage and Carrots Risotto-Style

Partially inspired by an old Saveur recipe.

Patricia Wells’s recipe for Penne ‘Risotto’ taught me how to make a rich pasta sauce with little effort by treating the dried pasta like arborio rice. It’s a trick well worth adding to your bag of techniques. Last night, I surveyed the contents of my fridge: half a duck-and-cherry sausage, some homemade chicken broth, and carrots. I put them all together as if I were making risotto.

Et voilà…

around 2 cups chicken broth (you may have some left over)

a little bit of olive oil or a teaspoon or two of duck fat

2 1/2 – 3 oz duck sausage (failing that, use Italian sausage), casing removed

1/2 small onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

3 1/2 oz gemelli pasta

kosher salt

Parmesano reggiano, grated

Warm a pasta bowl in the oven while you prepare the pasta. Bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the oil or fat in a small or medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, one in which you might make a small amount of risotto. When the oil is hot, break up the sausage as you put the pieces in the fat. Sauté until it starts to brown. Add the onion and stirring to prevent sticking to the bottom. If you see there is more than a tablespoon or so fat, pour off excess fat and return to the burner. Add the uncooked pasta and the diced carrots, stirring to coat them in the fat. Sauté until the color of the pasta has deepened as if it has been toasted, 3-4 minutes over a medium-low flame.

When the pasta has thoroughly absorbed the fat, pour in a half cup of the broth, reduce the heat to a simmer, and stir occasionally until the liquid has mostly evaoporated. Think of each additional half cup of broth as adding a layer of flavor. Wwait until each  layer has been absorbed into the pasta before adding more broth. You will probably add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of broth, depending on how quickly the broth evaporates. It will take a bit longer for the pasta to soften than it would if you were boiling it furiously in water. Cook until the sauce is reduced to the consistency you prefer.

When the pasta is nearly ready — firm to the bite, without crunch — add salt and pepper. If you need more moisture, add broth very sparingly. Take your warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the pasta into it. Grate the parmesan and go eat.

Next time:

  • I’ll try it with Italian sausage.
  • I’ll pour in some white wine when I’ve added the pasta and carrots, although it’s liable to slow down the cooking process, but that’s ok. The additional flavor would be worth it.
  • And chopped parsley.