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Now reading Momofuku Ramen 2.0

This version of Momofuku’s ramen broth hails from 2010. It has changed since then, but we present it here in the interest of open source broth sharing and an abiding interest in soup! This recipe originally appeared in Issue 1: The Ramen Issue. 

Over the years, the ramen broth at Noodle Bar has changed subtly (like early on we switched from sliced bacon to bacon ends, which saved us money and created a use for nearly all of Allan Benton’s bacon scrap), but it had always been based on a formula of (Benton’s) bacon dashi, lots of chicken meat, and roasted pork-neck bones.

In 2010, though, I got interested in reducing the quantity of meat we were using to make our broth—for environmental and economic reasons—and challenged the guys running Noodle Bar to make it happen. During the time, we found this stuff in a Chinese supermarket that was like MSG but wasn’t MSG, called Sodium-5. It was made partially, or wholly (Chinese ingredient lists leave much to interpretation), from powdered dried mushrooms. Delicious stuff—totally weird, totally new to us—something you could sprinkle into food for an MSG-like boost without having to say, “This has MSG added to it.” That was very appealing.

And it made me think about the gigantic bags of shiitake mushrooms we’d always been forced to make room for in the basement at Noodle Bar. What if we ground them up instead of keeping them whole? We’d have at least one extra free shelf. That’s as good as money—real estate was going to waste.

So Ty Hatfield and Sean Heller, the co-chefs of Noodle Bar at the time, switched to ground mushrooms. The volume of mushrooms they were going to have to buy and store shrunk enormously (on account of the grinding), while increasing the intensity and savoriness added to the broth. (We ­assumed that the increased solubility of ground mushrooms would mean more umami, more guanylates, and tastier soup.)

Ty got to work making a lighter-bodied, meat-based broth than what we’d previously served. He then decided to try broth made with kombu, shiitakes, chicken and different aromatics. He and the guys played around with the amount of shiitakes and found we could use 2/3 less to get the same flavor profile. In the end we decided with just kombu, shiitakes and chicken. They also found that by adding the Benton’s bacon to the tare instead of the broth, they could use less pig and get more flavor. (They also started adding some extra Benton’s bacon fat to the noodles when they were building the bowl to keep the smoky flavor in the foreground.)

So we went from a costly, meat-filled stock (that had a lot of waste) to one made from kombu, shiitake powder, and chicken bones. No ham hocks or pork neck bones. We concentrated and intensified the flavor of our tare by adding bacon ends.

And now we use these revised ingredients for everything on our menu. Anything that contained pork stock before is now made with chicken stock, and anything that has tare now has some Benton’s love in it. We’ve had to alter the seasoning a touch for things made with stock, but the items with tare generally taste better.

I’m really happy with the work the guys did and the broth they arrived at. I think that if we continue to work on our broth, to always try to improve it, we can grow and improve on the soup front, which has not always been a dynamic part of the Noodle Bar menu. So here’s broth #2. It’s good. And I’m looking forward to what comes next. —Dave Chang

Ingredients

Makes 5 1-quart servings of finished soup
  • 1 batch Ramen Broth 2.0
  • 1/4 batch Tare 2.0
  • 5-6 g kosher salt
  • 5 oz warm, rendered ­Benton’s bacon fat (see the Tare 2.0 recipe)

Ramen Broth 2.0

  • 2 oz kombu
  • 1 1/4 gallon water
  • 1 1/2 oz dried shiitakes, ground to a powder
  • 5 lbs chicken backs and necks
  • + the trimmings (roots and whites) of 1 bunch of ­scallions

Tare 2.0

  • 1 chicken back
  • 1/2 C sake
  • 1/2 C mirin
  • 1 C usukuchi soy
  • 1/3 lb Benton’s bacon, or another very smoky substitute

Preparation

Make the Tare

  1. Roast the chicken back in the saucepan you’ll later make the tare in. Start it out in a low oven (250°F), so it renders out some fat to cook in. (Or add a tiny bit of oil to the pan and get it going over a medium-high burner.) Crank the oven up to 400°F after a couple minutes. In 20 minutes or thereabouts, with the occasional prod or flip, you should have a deeply ambered chicken back to work with. If it’s not somewhere in the mahogany spectrum, keep cooking it until you get there.

  2. Remove the chicken back from the pan, briefly, then deglaze the pan with the sake. Scrape the pan to “release the fond,” or, more plainly, to get all the tasty brown bits off the bottom. Return the chicken to the pan, set it over a medium-hot stove, and add the remaining ingredients.

  3. Lower the heat to get the contents of the pot to reach the barest of simmers. Keep it there for an hour and a half. The idea is not reduction, but infusion: you want to get all the bacon and roasted-chicken flavor into the liquid.

  4. Strain the meat and bone out of the tare and discard them; put the tare in the fridge to chill. When the fat solidifies and rises to the top, remove it; it can be used (along with additional, supplemental bacon fat) to finish bowls of soup. The tare is now ready to use.

to finish

  1. Season the broth with tare and salt to taste. Divide the seasoned broth between five warmed bowls.

  2. Spoon a little bit of bacon fat into each bowl. Serve with whatever accompaniments you want. Fresh alkaline noodles and a pile of slow-cooked pork isn’t a bad place to start.

Make the ramen broth

  1. In a large stockpot, heat the water to 150°F. Turn off the heat and steep the kombu in it for 1 hour.

  2. Remove and discard the kombu and add the chicken. Bring to a gentle simmer and skim off the scum that rises to the top during the first 15 minutes of simmering. Add the pulverized shiitakes, adjust the heat so the broth simmers gently—the occasional bubble rising to the top, but nothing violent—and let it go for 5 hours.

  3. Strain the broth and chill. At Momofuku, we skim the stock before it’s strained. You can do that, or strain, chill, and then skim. Or leave it as is—the broth will be cloudier, but not undelicious because of it. We also reduce the finished broth by half, so it’s easier to store and transfer. To serve, we mix 3 parts reduced stock with 7 parts tap water. If you choose not to reduce your stock, add 2 1/2 quarts of water to the broth before serving.