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Ramen, with all the fixin’s

  • Chicago Tribune

    Shiitake mushroom caps and soy-wasabi hard-cooked eggs are favorite elements to add to a bowl of ramen noodles.

  • CHICAGO TRIBUNE

    Shichimi togarashi, a Japanese chili pepper spice blend, is sprinkled on chicken thighs before grilling.

  • CHICAGO TRIBUNE

    Grilled shichimi togarashi-flavored chicken and soy-wasabi hard-cooked eggs bolster homemade ramen.

Ramen’s convoluted history encompasses Chinese noodles and Japanese tastes. The story goes that Chinese cooks in Japan seasoned egg noodles in meat broth with soy sauce for a savory snack. The dish gained popularity in the 1950s for its low price and simplicity. Ever since, cooks happily tailor the combo into gourmet bowls with international influences. Thousands of combinations are all captured by the name “ramen.”

BEST NOODLES
Look for dry egg noodles in the Asian section of grocery stores. Some are sold in nest shapes. Plan on about 2 ounces uncooked noodles per serving.

The best bowl of ramen is only as good as the broth. My favorite way to make a well-seasoned broth is in the slow cooker. I can leave it unattended while I’m working and come home to a house that smells good. The slow cooker proves especially welcome in warm weather because it doesn’t heat up the house like a stockpot bubbling on the stove.

Chicken wings make terrific broth — they add flavor and body and just enough fat for satisfaction. Ditto for pork neck bones. The combination yields great flavor for little money. You could stop there; simply roast the bones, add water and simmer away. Alternatively, for a seafood-based broth, use fish bones (not roasted) and shrimp shells and reduce the cooking time by half.

I add dried shiitake mushrooms for their umami quality along with green onion for sweetness and rice wine for interest. I also like to add a piece of seaweed, simmering a small piece in water for a few minutes and letting it steep while the bones roast.

Broth freezes beautifully. I package it in 16 ounce containers for easy thawing. Reheat and season it highly with soy and/or miso paste before using. The following broth recipes are so good, you can drink them from a mug to help stave off hunger. For spicy ramen bowls, dissolve a tablespoon or two of Korean kochujang chili paste in the hot broth. It’ll make you perspire on a warm day — trust me, it’s worth it.

I like to add grilled chicken thighs and soy-wasabi cooked eggs to my bowl of broth and noodles. I also squirrel away bits of roasted meat and vegetables to tuck into ramen bowls. Armed with egg noodles and delicious broth, a custom bowl of ramen is at your ready. At home, anytime.

Grilled Chicken Ramen Bowls

  • 4 cups slow-cooker roasted bone broth or shortcut broth (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons shiro miso (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons chili paste or Korean kochujang (optional)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps
  • 3 medium egg noodle nests, about 5 ounces total
  • 2 grilled shichimi chicken thighs, thinly sliced (recipe follows)
  • 1 soy wasabi hard-cooked egg, halved (recipe follows)
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots
  • 2 green onions, charred in a skillet or chopped
  • Small handful fresh bean sprouts
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Shichimi togarashi (Japanese pepper)

Heat broth in small saucepan. Season to taste with miso, soy sauce and chili paste. Add mushrooms and simmer over low heat.

Fill 2 deep soup bowls with very hot water to heat the bowls.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Drop in noodles; cook, stirring until al dente, about 3 minutes.

Dump hot water from soup bowls. Divide hot noodles between heated bowls. Top each with half the sliced chicken, egg, radish, bamboo shoots, green onions and bean sprouts. Gently ladle hot broth over all. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve right away. Pass pepper blend at table. Serves 2.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 768 calories, 26 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 360 mg cholesterol, 74 g carbohydrate, 13 g sugar, 55 g protein, 1,409 mg sodium, 11 g fiber

Grilled Shichimi Chicken

  • 4 to 6 medium boneless chicken thighs
  • Japanese shichimi togarashi
  • Sesame seeds
  • Finely sliced green onions
  • Heat a gas grill or prepare a charcoal grill to medium heat. (Or heat a broiler to medium high.)
  • Meanwhile, generously sprinkle chicken thighs on all sides with shichimi.

Grill chicken directly over the heat source (or on a pan set 8 inches from the broiler), turning once, until almost firm when pressed with your finger or a spatula, usually 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from grill. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and green onions. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 314 calories, 20 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 180 mg cholesterol, no carbohydrates or sugar, 31 g protein, 138 mg sodium, no fiber

Slow-Cooker Roasted Broth

  • 1-1/2 pounds chicken wings, separated at their joints
  • 1-1/2 pounds pork neck bones
  • 1/4 to 1/2-ounce piece kombu (kelp) (optional)
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, broken in pieces
  • 1/4 cup sake or Chinese rice wine

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put wings and bones on large baking sheet in uncrowded layer. Roast, turning once or twice, until golden brown on all sides, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, if using kombu, heat 10 cups water and kombu to boil in large saucepan. Simmer about 10 minutes, then turn off heat and let steep while the bones finish browning. Use tongs to remove and discard kombu.

Transfer bones and pan drippings to a 4-quart slow cooker. Add kombu water or 10 cups fresh water if not using kombu and remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low 8 hours.

Strain broth into container. Refrigerate covered up to 1 week. Freeze up to several months. Makes about 8 cups.

>> No slow cooker? Simmer bones with kombu water and remaining ingredients in large pot, stirring often, partially covered, 3 to 4 hours.

>> Shortcut broth: Simmer 1 quart store-bought chicken, vegetable or seafood broth with 2 tablespoons mirin or dry vermouth, 1 or 2 tablespoons miso paste, 1 or 2 thin slices fresh ginger and 1 or 2 teaspoons soy sauce in saucepan for 10 minutes. Strain.

Soy-Wasabi Egg

Mix 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon wasabi paste in small dish. Add 2 peeled hard-cooked eggs. Let soak, turning eggs often, 10 to 20 minutes until eggs are golden in color. Remove from soy bath.

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