A new cookbook from Bath resident Chris Toy. Photo courtesy of Rockridge Press

Chris Toy has a new cookbook out, “Ramen Made Simple” (Rockridge Press, March, 2021, $13.99), and it might not exist if not for his parents, a Chinese-American couple who adopted Toy from Hong Kong in 1958.

When he was a child, Toy and his father, Alfred, stayed up late on Saturday nights to watch “Twilight Zone.” Too “creeped out” to go to sleep after the show, father and son stayed up to make instant ramen, and counted slurps instead of sheep until it was time for bed. And his mother? In middle school, Grace Toy took her son into the kitchen “and advised that if I didn’t learn to cook for myself, I would get married for the wrong reason,” Chris Toy recalled.

Chef Chris Toy of Bath thinks more Mainers will be making homemade ramen in 2021. Photo courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School

Today Toy, 66, who lives on the shores of Merrymeeting Bay in Bath with his wife, Joan, is a retired teacher and principal who has taught Asian cooking for 30 years, in venues that have included a kitchen store in Portland, adult education classes in Bath, and the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School in York. He has traveled to countries such as Japan (where he ate a lot of ramen) and the Philippines, as an education consultant for Apple. Toy is also a Registered Maine Guide who includes a cooking lesson in every outdoor excursion he leads, and a volunteer cook who makes stir fries and fried rice for 150 at his local soup kitchen.

As Toy grew up, he learned to “doctor” those instant ramen noodles he’d loved as a boy. When his parents came to visit him at Bowdoin College, they brought along cases of instant ramen and 25-pound bags of rice. Eating the noodles by themselves got old fast, he said, so “I would run down to the grocery store and get some vegetables and meat, whatever I could afford.”

By 2005, the year YouTube debuted, Toy was ramen proficient. He set up his own cooking channel, and the first video he posted was a lesson in making egg drop ramen soup. It now has 1.2 million views. Toy has since posted many more ramen-related videos, many of which have thousands, or tens of thousands, of views.

Ramen is having a moment, and more Americans seem to be interested in making it at home. Toy’s new book is a primer on both the history and the building blocks of the dish – broth, tare, noodles and toppings – as well as a source of recipes for both classic (miso, shio, tonkotsu, shoyu) ramens and less common bowls such as lemon ramen, a signature dish at Rinsuzu Shokudo in Tokyo.

Using the 15 “master recipes” for the building blocks of ramen, the reader can mix and match to make a variety of ramen bowls. Toy has never eaten takeout ramen, which he considers an oxymoron. Some restaurants are selling ramen kits during the pandemic, which are assembled at home in an effort to preserve the quality of the dish, “but it’s still not going to be as good as coming right out of the kitchen to your table,” he said.

Toy’s favorite ramen bowl, he said, would consist of traditional ingredients such as dried mushrooms which have a meatier texture and stronger umami flavor than fresh; ajitama eggs – marinated eggs with soft, creamy centers; fresh shrimp; tonkotsu broth; scallions; kombu (a type of seaweed) for added umami; miso tare; and spicy sesame oil.

Let the slurping begin.

Homemade ramen noodles take a little time and effort but are well worth trying, Chris Toy says. Photo by Elysa Weitala

HOMEMADE RAMEN NOODLES

Excerpted from “Ramen Made Simple,” by Chris Toy, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2021 by Callisto Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Kansui, or alkaline water, gives ramen noodles their firm, chewy texture and yellow color. Find it online or at Asian markets.

Makes enough for four bowls

1/4 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon kansui

In a food processor, combine the water, flour, salt and kansui and pulse until the mixture forms small pellets of dough similar to uncooked couscous. The pellets should not stick together until a pinch of the dough is pressed between your thumb and forefinger. This will take about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a food processor, mix the ingredients in a medium bowl and knead until it is smooth and does not stick to your hands, about 20 minutes.

Place the dough in a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic. Let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Divide the dough into two balls. Flatten one with the palm of your hand. Use a pasta machine to roll and cut the dough to your desired thickness and width. Start with the thickest setting and run the dough through twice at each setting, folding the dough in half each time. Rolling and folding the dough with the machine kneads the dough much faster because the rollers exert much more force than your hands when working the dough. The dough will break up at first but will smooth out as you continue reducing the thickness and folding. If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can knead and roll by hand, but it’s harder, as the dough is very dense. You can make the dough a little softer by increasing the water a bit. Flouring the board as you roll the softer dough will help firm it up as the dough gets thinner.

To cook, heat a large stockpot full of water over high heat and boil the noodles for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and serve immediately.

Prep tip: The longer you let the dough rest the easier it will be to roll out due to the gluten formation. Warm, rested dough is easier to work than cold dough. If your dough is too dry and doesn’t pinch together, add 1 teaspoon of water and process until the moisture is incorporated into the dough. If the dough forms a ball in the processor or sticks to your hands, add 1 teaspoon of flour and process until the flour is incorporated into the dough. Add water or flour in teaspoon or smaller increments as needed.

Mix it up: You can flavor the noodles by processing spices and aromatics in with the dry ingredients before adding water. Pepper, ginger, and garlic are good options.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: