This dish was born at the local yaoya, or greengrocer. It was a classic cook’s moment, where the ingredients created the dish. Not to sound too hippie, but I was standing at the market, transfixed by a basket of perfect eggplants. I love eggplant, and had seen some places garnish a cold ramen dish with a slice of grilled or pickled eggplant, but I hadn’t ever thought to include it in my own ramen. Before I could reason myself out of it, I gathered up the eggplants and headed back to my kitchen.
I decided to toy around with my basic sofrito and replace the garlic, ginger, and apple with onions, eggplant, tomatoes, and chipotle chiles. The resulting sofrito is super creamy with incredible depth of flavor. With a little shoyu tare and the house soup, it became something really unique in Tokyo, and further evidence that letting Mother Nature dictate your menu is good practice.
Once again, please forgive the laundry list of items that you need to produce this dish. I generally find cookbooks that require a lot of special pantry items incredibly annoying, but the resulting dish is worth it, and you can always use components of this ramen in other dishes. Remember to take the chile sofrito out of the fridge in advance; you want it to come to room temperature since you’ll be serving it as a topping.
- 400 milliliters (1 1/2 cups) Double Soup (page 113), simmering
- 40 milliliters (3 tablespoons) Chicken Fat (page 104)
- 120 milliliters (1/2 cup) Shoyu-Sofrito Tare (recipe follows)
- 520 grams (18 ounces) Toasted Rye Noodles (page 119) or store-bought ramen noodles
- 400 milliliters (11/2 cups) Double Soup (page 113), simmering
- 320 grams (1 1/4 cups) room-temperature Chile Sofrito (recipe follows)
- 4 (13-millimeter/1/2-inch) slices Pork Belly Chashu (page 127), warmed in its cooking liquid or in the noodle water as it comes to a simmer
- 2 green onions, cut on the bias
- chipotle powder, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil for the noodles.
- Set out 4 ramen bowls, and divide the chicken fat and shoyu-sofrito tare evenly among them.
- Drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook until they are al dente, about 50 seconds.
- About 10 seconds before the noodles are done, ladle the hot soup into the bowls, dividing it evenly. Drain the cooked noodles well, shaking them thoroughly to get rid of as much water as you can, and divide among the expectant bowls. Use a pair of chopsticks to mix the noodles with the soup and tare.
- Divide the chile sofrito among the noodle mounds and lay a piece of chashu on top. Add a heap of green onions and sprinkle chipotle powder over the whole thing. Be sure to mix thoroughly as you eat.
Use a good quality soy sauce here, or a 50/50 blend of light and dark soy sauces. If you’ve got a bunch of Ivan Ramen Sofrito (page 108) lying around, this is where that hard work pays off.
Makes 1 liter (1 quart)
- 125 milliliters (1/2 cup) sake
- 125 milliliters (1/2 cup) mirin
- 350 milliliters (11/2 cups) good-quality soy sauce
- 140 grams (3/4 cup) Sofrito (page 108)
- Combine the sake and mirin in a small saucepan, bring it up to a simmer over medium heat, and let the alcohol cook off for 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce and bring back to a simmer, then stir in the sofrito.
- Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
I love this recipe because it shows how we create new dishes at the restaurant while staying within the same basic structure. Just like the sofrito in our shio ramen, this chile sofrito forms a base upon which other flavors can be layered. This sofrito is very savory and a little bit spicy. It speaks to the way we should all cook — letting what’s available locally dictate what we make, rather than coming up with an idea and then going out of our way to make it happen.
Makes about 1 liter (1 quart)
- 500 milliliters (2 cups) vegetable oil
- 350 grams (12 ounces) onions, diced small
- 150 grams (5 ounces) eggplant, diced small
- 250 grams (9 ounces) tomatoes, diced small
- 9 grams (2 1/2 teaspoons) chipotle powder
- Combine the oil, onions, and eggplant in a large saucepan set over the lowest possible heat; if you have a heat diffuser, use it. Cook for 4 hours, stirring regularly. The oil should bubble lightly, not simmer; you want the vegetables to soften and melt but not really brown. After 4 hours, add the tomatoes and continue to cook for 1 more hour. Finally, add the chipotle powder and cook for 1 more hour. The oil will take on a deep-red hue, and the vegetables should be soft, almost to the point of falling apart.
- Cool to room temperature and store, sealed, in the refrigerator. The sofrito should last at least a week, likely two.
(Reprinted with permission from Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.)