Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York’s best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we’ll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint
By Ivan Orkin, 224 pages, Ten Speed Press, $34.95
Sometimes, if you get one thing right, that’s enough, provided that one thing is desirable or significant or both. Ivan Orkin may have nailed a few things in life, but he built a small empire on shio ramen — a singular, brothy, noodley, schmaltzy dish that garnered, as he puts it, an “unlikely” following in Japan and is now eking out a foothold in America. Orkin recently returned in New York and opened up Ivan Ramen in Gotham West Market (600 11th Avenue, 212-582-7942), and he’s finishing up a spot on Lower East Side that should open sometime late this winter, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, Orkin published a cookbook — part cooking instructional, part memoir, that delineates the steps to preparing a perfect bowl of shio ramen, which forms the bulk of the book. And in this cold, we can’t think of a better way to spend the day than in a warm kitchen, plucking away at a long process that will eventually yield the ultimate cold-weather comfort: piping-hot soup.
Shio ramen is a process (you have to make each bit — fat, broth, meat, noodles — yourself), but throughout the book and in a recent chat, Orkin insists it’s worth the trouble. And the memoir bit, which spins the story behind the soup from his ho-hum Long Island upbringing and undergrad years in Colorado to his post-grad years trying to fit in in Tokyo to the sudden and crushing death of his first wife and return to Japan. That return ultimately fed a growing obsession with noodle soup that would form the basis of his career. It’s easy, sublimely human reading that uses food as a springboard to talk about everything else, and it’s a page turner.
And if you have the time and are so inclined, Orkin will tell you how to make a killer bowl of soup. We chatted with the chef about putting it all on paper, half-cooked eggs, and where to find the best Japanese ingredients in New York.
What is the oldest recipe in your book, and where did you come from?
The shio ramen recipe, for me, it’s the recipe I opened my restaurant with; it’s the recipe that really put me on the culinary map. It got me voted rookie of the year for ramen in Japan, and I got a lot of accolades from it. I’ve been doing it that way since 2007. That’s been the tradition of Ivan Ramen in Tokyo. The real significance of the recipe is that there’s no book anywhere in the world that maps out a real, slow-cooked ramen recipe in print, anywhere. And I’ve done a lot of research. When I went to open Ivan Ramen, there was just nothing to read about how to make a bowl of ramen. That was sort of the idea with the book: I wanted to share my experience and share this recipe.
If you could give one piece of cooking advice to home cooks, what would it be?
You shouldn’t be intimidated by the number of steps and the amount of time. The way I wrote the recipe — you do have to source some ingredients, which isn’t as daunting as it seems — you just need to see it in terms of each component. And each component can be seen singularly, and if you look at it, you’ll see that some of the things can be frozen, and some of the things can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or more. Obviously, someone casually interested in ramen may not want to go through the time to put together the whole bowl, but for someone who’s passionate about ramen, or for someone who’s always wondered what it’s like to make a bowl, it’s totally doable, and it’s really really fun. It doesn’t have to be done in a day. It can be done in a week or more.
Or, how do you recommend using this book to home-cooking ramen aficionados who can’t invest the time to go through the whole process?
First of all, you can make the shio ramen recipe while getting some of the components from somewhere else. You can buy fresh noodles in Chinatown instead of making your own noodles. You can buy pork belly from Chinatown, so you don’t have to make all that stuff yourself. There are also some really simple recipes in the book for chicken teriyaki, or dashi maki tamago, which is a rice omelet perfumed with fish stock. I’ve also had quite the adventure, which I spent half the book sharing with people, so if you’re curious about what it might be like to move to another country and try to ‘live as the Romans do,’ it’s also an appealing book.
Os there one essential component that is also versatile and doable for home cooks?
The egg — the half-cooked egg — it’s just a perfectly cooked egg with a runny yolk, and you could put that on top of anything or in a salad; it’s really delicious. That’s quite simple. Or the omu raisu is one of my go-to comfort dishes that I make myself at home a lot.
How do you adapt Japanese cooking, or food generally, from a vastly different climate and place to keep in line with locally-sourced/seasonal produce of North America, and what concessions do you make?
Even when you go to Japanese restaurants in New York, they still don’t quite come close to what they do in Tokyo because of the incredible seasonality of the produce there. But having said that, things really changed and there are Japanese markets everywhere, especially if you live in the big city. In New York, there’s Sunrise Mart [locations in Soho, East Village and Midtown], and Mitsuwa Market [595 River Road, Edgewater, NJ, 201-941-9113], which is totally worth a day trip and is quite fun. It’s a giant Japanese market, and they have tons of ingredients and a food court. There’s a free shuttle bus from Port Authority. So you can really locate a lot of these ingredients to make a fabulous Japanese meal. Whether it’s ramen or any of the recipes in my book or sashimi appetizers or what. It’s really really worth a trip.
What is your favorite winter seasonal ingredient and one recipe you like to use it in?
A lot of the ramen in the winter, here in New York, I’m doing mostly just straight up ramen that’s not necessarily seasonal. When the winter goes away and things start to warm up, I’ll probably start doing a lot of seasonal things. I do a lot of different twists on tomatoes — the tomatoes are better in Japan, they’re really good year-round, and they’re not good year-round here — so I haven’t played with them as much. I’ve done a lot of salady kind of mazemen dishes, and cold noodles as well.
Makes six eggs
Orkin says: I really obsessed over the eggs. For a long time, eggs weren’t a traditional ramen topping; they were offered hardboiled and unpeeled in a basket for customers to pluck out and eat while they waited, or to add to their soup. As ramen became more refined and les junk-foody, cooks started to treat the eggs with more care. The eggs they sell in Japan are beyond delicious, and to me, they’re an indispensable part of a bowl of ramen. We serve hanjuku tamago, half-cooked eggs that have a firm but soft white and a mostly liquid yolk.
“My search for perfect eggs took me to innumerable egg farms. After an extensive search, I found one that tasted great, had the most brilliant orange yolks, and peeled easily. (Believe me, when you have to peel two hundred eggs a day, that’s an important criterion.) Then I spent almost as much time figuring out how to cook the eggs properly as I did perfecting the noodles. But I’ve got it now: punch a pinhole in the bottom, boil for six minutes and 10 seconds, stirring gently for the first two minutes, then ice immediately. Once they’re cool, the eggs are peeled and soaked in a light shoyu tare (or, preferably, reserved chashu cooking liquid). Sliced in half and served at room temperature atop the ramen, the eggs are a perfect supporting cast member for the soup and noodles, adding an extra touch of color and unctuousness to the bowl.
3 ½ T sake
3 ½ T mirin
1 ¾ c + 1 T soy sauce
2 T sugar
3 T garlic, chopped coursely
2 ½ oz fresh ginger, chopped coarsely
6 room-temperature fresh large eggs
1 quart water
Simmer the sake and mirin in a saucepan over medium-high heat to cook off a bit of the alcohol. Reduce the heat to low, then add the soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger and simmer and stir for 10 minutes. Let come to room temperature; you can store the mxture in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. You want a big pot so that when the eggs go in, the temperature won’t drop too drastically, and the water will quickly come back to a boil.
Poke a small hole in the bottom (larger end) of each egg with a pushpin.
Gently slide the eggs into the boiling water. Start your timer. Stir for the first two minutes. Prepare a large bowl of ice water to shock the eggs.
The total cooking time for a large egg in Tokyo is six minutes and 10 seconds. You might decide to adjust that time depending on the size of your eggs, how many you’re cooking, or what the chickens were thinking about when they laid them.
Remove the eggs after six minutes and 10 seconds, and immediately place them in the ice bath. Stir until there are no pockets of hot water.
In a large bowl, combine the shoyu tare with the liter of water. When the eggs are cooled completely, after about 15 minutes, peel and soak them in the seasoning liquid for two hours in the refrigerator. The eggs will hold in the soak for three days.
When it comes time to slice the eggs and add them to the ramen, a taut fishing line gets the job done without losing any of the precious yolk.