The first time I tried ramen I was hooked and, in my own inimitable style, immediately started figuring out how I would make it myself. I’ve made it a few different ways with different ingredients and played around with what I wanted to add in, and how fancy I wanted it to look. This version, using a salmon fillet, is pretty casual, tastes great and I think is pretty authentic.
Ramen is a great balance of flavours and textures; the soup is refreshing, the noodles are soft and flavourful, the veg is fresh and clean tasting, the seaweed is salty and the salmon has a crisp, spicy outer coating that gives way to soft, sweet fish. You can add as much or as little of the hot paste as you like to give a completely different set of flavours again, and the paste also gives a creamy quality to the soup without adding any dairy.
I’d like to share a few different ideas for making variations on this tasty and nutritious one bowl meal. I’ll start with the salmon ramen (it rhymes!) in the picture above. This will make more than enough for one and enough for two if you’re not very hungry.
- boiling water
- one large garlic clove
- one thumb sized piece of ginger
- light soy
- one spring onion
- one salmon fillet
- sweet chili sauce (cheating again!)
- a pack of instant noodles
- dried seaweed
The first step is to make a dashi – soup stock. For the salmon soup, put the water in a pot over a low, simmering heat. Add the garlic, not peeled or anything, just smash it by lying the flat of a broad bladed knife on top of the clove and hitting it firmly with the heel of your hand. You’ll be taking the garlic back out again so you don’t want it to break into lots of bits that will be difficult to fish out. Do the same with the ginger – no need to peel, just smash it, like the Hulk would. Maybe less than the Hulk would, and there’s no need to put on purple shorts and paint yourself green. Add a drop of soy sauce – really just a little bit to add salt, not enough to strongly colour the water. Allow this all to simmer for twenty minutes. This gives a really delicately flavoured stock to start adding to.
Add in the salmon fillet to the pot and poach for ten minutes. Remove from the pot, and in its place add the spring onion chopped into little rounds – just one is usually enough per person as they have a strong flavour. I prefer to use the thinnest spring onions I can find, I like the look of the little rounds better than the bigger ones, but it’s just an aesthetic choice. Turn the heat up under the pot to bring it to a boil. Open the noodles – probably best to get prawn flavoured for this dish in case you want to add the flavour sachet later – and have them ready to go into the soup, but don’t add them yet. Take the salmon, coat it in sweet chili sauce and put into a dry frying pan over a high heat. The aim is to make a thick, crunchy glaze on the salmon. It is easy to let it go past caramelised and into burned so keep a careful eye on it. As one side of he salmon glazes, spoon any escaping chili sauce over the top. After a few minutes, turn it to glaze the other side. The chili sauce will thicken and go very sticky, be careful not to get any on your skin. Once you have turned the salmon over, scoop out the garlic and ginger and discard, then put the noodles into the soup. After three minutes the salmon should be nicely glazed and the noodles cooked. Tear some dried seaweed into the soup and stir it through to mix it in and to break up the noodles, then taste. Add any combination of soy, salt, pepper (black, white or Szechuan) and sesame oil to taste, or for a stronger flavour add half a fish stock cube or some of the flavour sachet from the instant noodles packet. Use a spaghetti spoon or chopsticks to lift out a portion of noodles and put it in a deep bowl. Ladle soup over the top, then place the salmon on top again. That’s it!
If you want to add more flavour and heat, you can make this hot sauce to add in. Mix together a tablespoon of tomato puree, a teaspoon of wasabi paste or half a teaspoon of powder, a teaspoon of chili oil, a teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of teriyaki or soy sauce. Have a careful taste – it will be powerful. You should get the flavour of the tomato but not too much bitterness, plus the two different heats from the chili and the wasabi, and the saltiness of the soy/teriyaki. It should have a smooth texture and drop or slowly run from your spoon. Mess around with the flavours till you get something you like, then have it alongside your soup bowl to add as you feel necessary.
You can vary the recipe in loads of ways. You can substitute chicken breast for the salmon, in which case poach for fifteen minutes or longer if the chicken breast is thick, and slice the chicken after glazing with the chili sauce and before serving on top of the soup. You can substitute thin cut sirloin steak instead, in which case I would omit the sweet chili sauce and just season the meat with salt and pepper, then fry for a couple of minutes on each side so that the middle of the meat is still pink and tender. Slice before adding to the soup. For steak, I like a mushroom dashi as you don’t get the meat flavour in the soup from poaching. To make this, add a stage to the above recipe by slicing – or quartering if they’re small – and cooking some mushrooms with very little water and soy – as though you were frying them in the water/soy mix. Cook them through over a medium heat and they will start to release their own juices – be quite patient, adding a little more water as necessary and stirring frequently until they are really tender and have released a lot of flavour. Then proceed with the recipe above, leaving the mushrooms in.
Or you could serve it up with some sushi shaped like an angry monkey’s face:
You can also add in extra veg like beansprouts, cabbage, bamboo shoots – to be honest I’ll quite often pick up a cheap stir fry mix and use that to add more crunch, and vitamins, to a soup. If you’re doing this then add the veg along with the noodles so as not to over cook it. Always taste the soup before serving up, as adding different ingredients will alter the flavour balance and might need more or less seasoning.
If you’re making the dish for more than just yourself and you want to present it in a more attractive way, you can keep the spring onions and seaweed separate and serve the dish with noodles in the bottom of the bowl, soup ladled over then the meat or fish in one little group on top, spring onions in another little group and seaweed in a third. It is more time consuming – I once did it this way by cooking the spring onions in a tall mug placed inside the pot with stock in it, making sure that the soup didn’t reach to the top of the mug. The spring onions then cook in the mug without mixing with the rest of the soup. Before serving, I drained the stock from the mug – which was now strongly spring onion flavoured – into the soup, mixed, then placed the onions on top of the soup once served. It’s a fancier way of doing it but to be honest the extra work doesn’t make it taste any better, and one of the things I like about ramen is that it’s so easy to make and uses just one pot.
I usually serve the soup up with chopsticks – you use the chopsticks to pick up the noodles and meat or fish, and drink the soup straight out of the bowl. Pretty messy and all part of the fun as far as I’m concerned, although not really a first date kind of meal. Another thing you can add is shichimi togarashi, a seasoning mix including orange peel, onion seeds and chili. It’s strong so you only need a little and it gives a flavour different to any seasonings I’ve tried in any other cuisines.
Tunes: For me, there is only one song about soup worth knowing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lxj4SIVqL24
Movie: Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. I think it’s good to try world films as well as world food, but I’m pretty bad at living up to that. Spirited Away happened to be on the TV when I made the ramen in the picture, so that’s what I sat down to watch. It’s certainly not a typical Disney picture with clear cut narrative and cute talking animals but it is engaging and stretches the old brain more than a lot of animated features. And OK, it does have some cute little coal dust ball critters. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBAehiGThz4&feature=related