I assessed the damage from the previous days Sunday Lunch. 7 people. 7 bottles of wine. 2 half finished bottles of homemade infused vodka. 13 wineglasses, 7 cognac glasses and countless dirty dishes, bowls and spoons. Not too bad. There have been worse. A good hour and some hot soapy water and all traces of spilled wine, stray pickled bits and crusty noodles would be gone. It was a good one, a most enjoyable afternoon filled with stories, laughter, general catching up and good-natured ribbing. Two years ago I vowed to have regular monthly Sunday lunches with a particular group of friends and had fallen behind this year. I missed my friends and was catching up. This was a good one.
As usual, I took on a project. Ramen. Every since I saw the article in a August’s Bon Appétit, I thought “I want to do that.” It was soup so I thought it would be easy. I picked a rather tightly scheduled weekend in a cool fall month and told the crew to save the date. Oh, how naïve I was.
It’s not that the ramen was difficult but it was time consuming and required a trip to a particular Asian market to pick up special ingredients like bonito flakes, kombu and a specific fermented bamboo shoot. I wanted to be authentic. Of course I had to pick up other stuff. The weird pickled things. Funny little sweet things like Pocky Sticks, odd jelly candies, special green tea Kit Kats and strangely chewy mochi rice cakes. Curious savory snacks that included not only the addictive wasabi peas but also the sriracha variety too along with crispy shrimp crackers and spicy seaweed snacks. I do love a good Asian market.
When I told my friend Mark that I was going to make ramen, he replied “Ramen? Ramen Noodles? Like Top Ramen? Yum!” Well, not quite. Though I bought the noodles (and it would not be above me to attempt to make the noodles – maybe next time), I chose a high quality fresh noodle at the Asian market but the broth was from scratch, rather than a little foil packet. I hoped he wouldn’t be overly disappointed.
The broth started with some key ingredients: pork shoulder, water in which the kombu (sea kelp) had been soaked for 12 hours, bonito flakes, ginger, carrots, great piles of scallions, chicken wings and pork ribs. After a couple hours, the mixture was strained, cooled and skimmed to remove that luscious fatty layer that floated to the top. At this point, I was surprised. It was OK. Just OK. After putting all those ingredients into the pot and simmering for hours, I expected some kind of Hallelujah chorus but it was just OK. So I put it aside to deal with later. Right before serving, once it was heated piping hot, a mixture of dry sake, soy and mirin was added. A ha! The heavens opened and the angels began to sing. Wow. This was some amazing broth. It’s remarkable what a little salt can do.
But of course, I couldn’t just leave it at just a slightly involved soup. Oh no. I blew out a full menu of deliciousness. So much for easy.
Sunday Ramen Lunch – The Menu:
- Blue Cheese Savory Crackers with Tomato Chile Jam (not exactly on theme but I had extra dough from another project; based on this recipe)
- Japanese snacks – wasabi peas, sriracha peas, wasabi nori rice snacks, crispy shrimp crackers
- Firecracker Shrimp with Sweet Chile Sauce (from this recipe)
- Crispy Scallion Pancakes with Soy Dipping Sauce (from this recipe)
- Shoyu Ramen with pork, egg, enoki mushrooms, scallions and bamboo shoots (from this recipe)
- Asian pickled things – umeboshi plums (salted preserved plums), daikon salad, kimchi, cucumbers
- Miso Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Apple Cider Slab Pie (based on this recipe) (I’ll write about the pots de crème later – they were fantastic)
- Japanese Sweets – green teas Kit Kats, daifuku (sweet rice cakes), Pocky Sticks, Japanese jelly candies
The umeboshi in particular, were … interesting. They are small plums, preserved in quite a bit of salt. An acquired taste, most say. Having an excess of plums from a friend’s tree, I figured I’d try to make a batch. What the hell, right? I referenced a recipe from this book, covered them in a ton of salt and placed a weight on top of the container. Every few days or so, I’d dutifully stir the mixture and replace the weights. Then I forgot about them. Standing in the Asian market, not knowing if mine were any good, I picked up a small container of commercially produced umeboshi. This is how I found my friends in the midst of a side-by-side umeboshi tasting where it was determined that my homemade plums, while extremely salty – uncomfortably so – were far better than the commercial ones. Good to know, though I have no idea what to do with them now. Something will present itself. I hope.
On another note, I received this interesting book on Ramen last week. I haven’t had time to fully delve into it, but a cursory glance looks good. Unfortunately, it arrived too late to really influence my menu but knowing me, I’ll make something even more complicated one of these days.
Also, I served the ramen in gorgeous porcelain bowls made just for me by my extremely talented friend, potter Amanda Syler. She makes gorgeous things and I have several of her pieces that you’ll see pop up here and there in my posts. She has a two-week show coming up this weekend in Chicago – OMG Studios, 2415 W. Pratt Blvd, Chicago 11/15-30/13. If you need holiday presents, and even if you don’t, check it out. She’s so talented.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SUBLIME. Making somthing this involved, especially in these colder months, is incredibly satisfying. It’s home cooking from the other side of the globe and it’s good. Really good. Cooking for your friends and loved ones is immensely enjoyable as well. I’ve said this numerous times. Sitting around a table sharing a meal, good drink and endless hilarity are my favorite moments. Walking into your dining room to watch your friends play “taste this it’s awful” with extremely salty plums, dissolving into fits of uncontrollable laughter at each others expressions is simply the cherry on top of a sundae of wonderfulness. Good times people, good times. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Oh. This was REALLY good too. Copain. Check them out.
other Sunday Lunch posts: Fried Chicken & Pimento Cheese, Polish Easter & a Classic Lemon Tart, Cassoulet Sunday 2, Sunday Gravy, Sausage Fest & Gingerbread with Bourbon Sauce, Bastille Day BBQ & Figgy BBQ Sauce, Sunday Tapas & Patatas Aioli, Greek Sunday Lunch, Cassoulet Sunday & Chocolate Malt Pots de Creme, Dim Sum Sunday & Homemade Potstickers, Mexican Sunday & Posole Verde
on this blog four years ago: Good Stuff Chicken Salad, Lamb & Ale Stew
on this blog three years ago: Blue Cheese Dressing and a Classic Wedge Salad
on this blog two years ago: Maple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears
on this blog one year ago: Raw Kale and Roasted Squash Salad