“Simply Ramen: A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home” by Amy Kimoto-Kahn. Race Point Publishing, $22.99.

Don’t be deceived by the title. There is nothing simple about “Simply Ramen.”

This is a cookbook for the ramen purist, someone willing to devote days to prep in their home kitchen to make steaming hot bowls of the rich, fatty broth and noodles in the Japanese tradition.

The book, by Amy Kimoto-Kahn, is not for the rainy day enthusiast. It’s not for the casual umbrella shaker, stepping off a wet Portland street into Pai Men Miyake hoping to sip beer while gazing through steamy windows for five minutes before a nap-inducing bowl arrives with chop sticks and spoon.

Scott Dolan/Staff Writer

Scott Dolan/Staff Writer Scott Dolan/Staff Reporter

In short, this is not a book for me. But it was a lot of fun figuring that out.

For the uninitiated, let me start by saying that the ramen in Kimoto-Kahn’s beautifully laid-out primer has nothing to do with the four-for-a-dollar cellophane packets of instant noodles in the grocery store.

Each complete ramen meal recipe in Kimoto-Kahn’s book is built on several other base recipes, many that require being made a day or more in advance. Each base recipe calls for dozens of ingredients, some obscure, to yield a complex mix of textures and flavors, from rich meat broth to crispy greens with a mix of savory-sweet toppings and elastic noodles just firm enough to keep from getting soggy in soup.

The book’s cover photo, Oven-Broiled Karaage Curry Ramen, caught my attention from the start. I always like to make cookbook cover recipes. In the photo, the dish looks simple and delicious: a deep, mint-green bowl of golden broth is filled high with noodles, tender-looking chicken, garlic chips and a perfectly halved soft-boiled egg. Arugula leaves and green sheets of nori stick out over the bowl’s edge.

But by the time my girlfriend and I finished shopping for the ingredients, with our bill already over $100, I began to lose heart. Between us, we had assembled all but one of the ingredients, Golden Curry, a boxed curry mix that my editor later informed me is a staple of Japanese instant home cooking.

Walking home one evening from work downtown, I stopped in Sun Oriental Market on Congress Street and quickly located the missing ingredient.

The photo on the box of Golden Curry looked nothing like the beautiful cover photo of Simply Ramen. The “food” shown on the Golden Curry box looked like gelatinous slop, a glistening brown mucous-like liquid I might expect on the lowest grade of wet dog foods.

While at the store, I sent my girlfriend a picture from my phone of the Golden Curry. Here’s an excerpt of our actual text message exchange:

Me: “It has MSG”

Her: “Ugh”

Me: “What should I do?”

Her: “God, it looks disgusting”

Me: “It’s revolting”

Needless to say, I walked out of the store empty-handed. My girlfriend ended up making her own curry powder from an online recipe that looked infinitely more palatable.

The Oven-Broiled Karaage Curry Ramen recipe is actually five recipes, two required and three optional. (Each of the soup recipes in the book requires making one of four soup bases.) Our recipe required a miso base, which we made on the first night. Kimoto-Kahn says it takes 45 minutes, but it took us more than two hours to make and even more time to clean up. The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of bacon fat. We didn’t have enough (who would?), so we made up the remainder with coconut oil, which “Simply Ramen” suggests as an alternative. When we finally tasted the soup, the coconut oil was overpowering.

We skipped three other steps because we ran out of time: making the ramen noodles (an estimated three-hour task), marinating half-cooked eggs (1 1/2 hours plus two days in the refrigerator) and making batches of garlic chips (under 10 minutes, in theory).

Both my girlfriend and I have full-time jobs that often require us to work late. By the time we finished cooking on the second night and set two bowls of finished ramen on the table, it was nearly midnight.

At first bite, we were both delighted. We were beyond hungry, and it seemed so good. By the third and fourth bite, we found the dish overpoweringly salty and far too rich. Neither of us finished our bowls, and days later, we threw out the leftover miso base. We knew it was wasteful, but neither of us could face more of it.

The karaage, which is the broiled chicken, was the star of the dish. I would make that alone again and again.

But we were baffled by the overall ramen recipe. Why would a writer who outlined each step so meticulously and required so many expensive ingredients then just throw in an instant curry mix? It makes no sense.

In the future, when the rainy day hankering hits, we agreed we’ll save ourselves the effort and the money. We’ll just head to Pai Men Miyake in Longfellow Square.

Our experience, through, cooking from “Simply Ramen” for two intense nights was worth the one-time effort and even the disappointment. If not great soup, at least we came away with a great story.

— Scott Dolan

Photo courtesy of Race Point Publishing

Photo courtesy of Race Point Publishing Photo courtesy of Race Point Publishing

OVEN-BROILED KARAAGE CURRY RAMEN

I found the Golden Curry at Sun Oriental Market in Portland.

Serves 6

Preparation time: 1 hour, plus time to make Ramen Soup Base, Ramen Noodles (optional), Marinated Half-Cooked Egg (optional) and Garlic Chips (optional)

1 cup (235 ml) shoyu (soy sauce)

1 cup (200g) sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

¼ cup (60 ml) mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

1 pound (455 g) chicken thighs

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup (32 g) cornstarch

1 box Golden Curry (Japanese instant curry)

ADDITIONAL TOPPINGS

1½ lemons, quartered

Roasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1 bunch arugula (or Japanese mizuna lettuce)

3 sheets nori (seaweed), quartered (2 squares per serving)

1. Add shoyu, sugar, garlic and ginger to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, remove from heat and add mirin. Let the mixture cool at room temperature.

2. Rinse and pat dry chicken thighs and cut into bite-size pieces.

3. Add chicken to medium-sized bowl and cover with marinade. Refrigerate and let marinate for at least 1 hour.

4. Heat sesame oil in medium-sized skillet one medium-high heat. Add red onion and sauté until charred around edges. Set aside.

5. Set oven rack at top of the oven and preheat the broiler.

6. Drain excess marinade from bowl of chicken and sprinkle chicken with cornstarch until all the pieces are liberally coated.

7. Place the chicken on a parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure that no pieces are touching.

8. Broil for about 6 minutes, then flip and broil for an additional 5 minutes or until they are crispy and brown. Watch closely so they do not burn, as ovens will vary.

9. Set aside chicken on a wire rack to cool.

10. Boil a pot of water for the noodles. In a separate saucepan, combine 2 1/4 cups (530 ml) Miso Base (see recipe), 12 cups (2.8 L) of chicken or vegetable stock and 6 Golden Curry bouillons squares to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer until it’s ready to serve. Note: It’s 3 tablespoons base to every 1 cup (235 ml) chicken or vegetable stock. Use about 2 cups (475 ml) soup per serving. Right before serving, crank it back up to boil.

11. Boil the noodles – if fresh, boil for about one minute; if packaged, boil for about two minutes. As soon as they’re done, drain well and separate into serving bowls.

12. Pour 2 cups (475 ml) soup over each bowl of noodles. Top with pieces of chicken karaage, sautéed red onions, arugula, marinated half-cooked egg and garlic chips. Sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds and slip two nori sheets into the broth. Squeeze lemon juice over the top just before serving.

986806_834490 broth.jpg

MISO BASE

Serves up to 12

Preparation time: 45 minutes

1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and cut into large dice

½ onion, peeled and cut into large dice

½ apple, cored, peeled and cut into large dice

1 celery stalk, cut into large dice

3 garlic cloves

½ cup (120 ml) bacon fat (recommended), ghee or coconut oil

2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided

1½ cups (340 g) ground pork

2 teaspoons fresh ground ginger

1 teaspoon sriracha

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon kelp granules (optional but not recommended)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground sesame seed paste or tahini

¾ cup (175 ml) shiro miso (white miso, which is lighter and sweeter)

¾ cup (175 ml) akamiso (red miso, which is darker and saltier)

Low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock – 2 cups (475 ml) per serving based on the number of servings

1. Add the carrot, onion, apple, celery and garlic to a food processor. Pulse into a fine chop. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop these ingredients by hand.

2. Add the bacon fat and 1 tablespoon sesame oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the finely chopped fruit and vegetables and cook until the onions are translucent and the apple is tender, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes. When done, turn heat down to medium-low.

3. Add the ground pork to the cooked vegetable mixture. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the ginger, sriracha, soy sauce, kelp granules, apple cider vinegar and salt. Incorporate well.

4. Return the entire mixture to the food processor and pulse until pork is finely ground. If you don’t have a food processor, then use a potato masher or wooden spoon to break the mixture into very small pieces in the skillet.

5. Add the sesame seed paste and the miso to the ground pork mixture and mix well. It should have the consistency of a thick paste. Your base is done.

6. Bring the Miso Base and chicken or vegetable stock to a boil (depending on the number of people you are serving, use the ratio of 3 tablespoons Miso Base to 1 cup (235 ml) chicken or vegetable stock). Lower heat and let simmer until it’s ready to serve. Use about 2 cups (475 ml) soup per serving. Lower heat and let simmer until it’s ready to serve. Right before serving, crank up the heat to boil the soup.

7. Pour 2 cups soup (475 ml) over each bowl of noodles. Top each bowl with desired toppings.