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Making Ramen Noodles from Spaghetti


(serves 3, scalable to however many)
You can change Spaghetti into Ramen noodles. This faux Ramen derived from pasta has got the bouncy texture of and a similar taste / aftertaste to real Ramen noodles. The special ingredient for making Ramen noodles is Kansui, an alkaline mineral water.  What we are going to do here is use Bicarbonate of Soda to duplicate the alkaline effect. Boiling the pasta in alkaline water allows it to absorb more water than usual without getting soggy. Granted the result is not as perfect as fresh Ramen, but it’s close enough if you can’t buy authentic raw ramen near where you live. 

Ingredients

  1. Spaghetti (250g)
  2. Bicarbonate of Soda
  3. Vinegar (white)

Please prepare the soup, meat, toppings etc. ahead of time and have them ready before your begin making your Ramen.

Preparation 

  1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Separately boil some additional water in a kettle for later use.
  2. Add 2 flat t of Bicarbonate of Soda to the pot. This will increase the pH of the water to the necessary alkalinity.
  3. Boil the spaghetti in the pot as per normal. After a while you will notice a few things that are different from when you normally cook pasta:
  4. Firstly the water will really foam up as the Bicarbonate reacts with the starch in the pasta. I included a photo of the reaction so you won’t be shocked when it happens. Anyway, this is why you need a larger pot than usual.
  5. Secondly, the water will become a bit slimy or gooey. This is normal, the same thing happens when you are boiling fresh raw ramen.
  6. Finally, as the pasta cooks it will turn into a deeper shade of yellow than usual, to the colour of ramen.
  7. When the noodles are done they will be a bit thicker than you’d normally expect of pasta because more water has been absorbed. For your first time it’s better to test the noodles by bite rather than relying on sight. You want the noodles to be just fully cooked, not al dente.
  8. When the noodles are cooked, immediately add 6T of a white type of vinegar, like rice or malt vinegar, into the water. Lemon juice should work too. Give the pot a good stir, you will get a second round of foaming as the bicarbonate is neutralized. This will get rid of the bitter taste.
  9. Pour the contents of the pot into a strainer and then give the ramen a good rinse with some very hot water from the kettle.
  10. Your Ramen is now ready for consumption.

Notes

  • I wish I came up with this great idea but the credit belongs elsewhere. I came across it in a Japanese website.
  • If you have a choice, buy the smallest guage spaghetti that you can find, i.e. the one with the smaller n number. This will maximize the surface area to volume ratio. In fact Spaghettini might be even better, but I hardly ever see any in supermarkets. I’ve also tried capelli (angel hair), but I found it to be too thin.
  • There is no need to add oil to the pot as the bicarbonate reaction stops the pasta from sticking together. Besides, you don’t want oil to coat the pasta and inhibit the alkali from getting into the pasta..
  • There is no need to add salt to the pot as sodium bicarbonate when neutralized becomes a type of salt.
  • What about the rest of the Ramen? Not to worry, my site now has recipes for all the components of Ramen.
    1. try the Soup Recipe from here
    2. try the Chashu Pork Recipe from here
    3. try the Ajitama Egg Recipe from here
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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Ingredients, Japanese, Pasta, Recipe

 

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Types of Bottled Truffle Produce


I love truffles, they enhance the pleasure of eating for so many different dishes. Unfortunately, it is impractical to keep fresh truffles around at home just so you can shave some onto your food whenever the need arises. That’s not to say truffles can’t be used in home cooking. Bottled or Jarred Truffle Produce can be kept in the fridge for a long time, they capture the aroma and flavor of truffles nicely and there is a variety of such products to choose from, including Truffle Paste, Truffle Sauce, Truffle Cream and Truffle Mustard.     

Rudimentary Naming Conventions for TrufflesTruffle 1000

  1. White Truffle is the more expensive variety, as they can only be found in the wild using specially trained pigs or dogs. The best White Truffles come from Piedmont in Italy. These are also called Summer or Alba Truffles.
  2. Black Truffles are less, but still expensive. They cost less as they can be cultivated, albeit with some effort. It’s debatable if they are really inferior to the White Truffle. Maybe they cost less simply because they are more common. The best Black Truffles come from Perigord in France, so Black Truffles are sometimes called Perigord Truffles, and also Winter Truffles.
  3. Both Black and White Truffles can be found beyond the borders of Italy and France, but these are generally considered to be inferior cousins to the Alba and Perigord.
  4. ‘Tartufo’ is Italian for truffle, ‘Tartufi’ the plural and ‘Tartufata’ is Italian for truffle product. If you see any of these on the bottle, it is a product of Italy. ‘Truffe’ is French for truffles. If you see this on the label, this means the bottle is from France.
  5. The truffle percentage content is an indicator of quality, and it varies greatly from product to product. Always determine the country of origin and check the truffle percentage content before buying any bottled truffle produce.

Basic Guidelines for Cooking with Truffles

  1. Heat dissipates the aromatics of truffles and since truffles are 80% aroma and 20% taste, cooking truffles is tantamount to not having truffles in the first place. Thus one only adds the truffles after  the cooking is done.
  2. Truffles go with savoury foods. Macaroni and cheese for example tastes great with truffles. Pasta in a consommé reduction is another viable pairing with truffles. Sour and sweet foods are the opposite. So truffles don’t work with tomato based sauces, vinegar, red wine reductions or anything with fresh or preserved fruits.
  3. Don’t use fragrant ingredients that compete with the truffles for the centre stage. Garlic, raw celery and onions, sardines, smoked meats, blue cheese, BBQ sauce are all foods to avoid with truffles. Mild foods on the other hand serve as the perfect medium for truffles. Some examples are scrambled, steamed or poached eggs, butter, brioche, mushrooms, potatoes and cream soups.

Truffle Paste (Pate)Truffle Pate

This is bottled truffle produce of the highest quality and needless to say it is also the most expensive. According to the label at the back of the jar, it is 70% truffles by weight with the remainder being mostly olive oil and truffle juice. Truffle Paste has the most intense aroma, and luxurious taste and texture.

As you might expect something this expensive would be from France and will usually contain the phrase ‘Pâte de Truffe’ on the jar. Actually it is not really a paste, but more a suspension of truffle bits in oil. Do not get misled by the term pâte, pâte does not need to contain foie gras or liver; this is pâte made from truffles.

Use this when the truffle is meant to be a topping, akin to caviar, say like when served on a blini. In other words your intention is to taste the truffle directly in a concentrated dose, as opposed to mixing it into some food. Of course if cost is of no concern to you, then use it all the time by all means.

Truffle Sauce (Salsa)Truffle Salsa

Truffle Sauce is a less concentrated version of bottled truffle more suitable for every day use and gram for gram it is perhaps only a tenth of the price of Truffle Paste. It is more common in Italy, and the label will usually say “Salsa Tartufata” or “Salsa di Tartufo”, but not always. Sometimes it is also ‘mislabelled’ as a pate (see the top picture, a truffle pate from Italy is actually a sauce). Typically the truffle content of Truffle Sauce is somewhere in the 3-5% region, with most of the rest of the solids in the bottle being minced mushrooms. Don’t look down on Truffle Sauce, it still packs a punch with its truffle aroma.

If you are stirring truffle into your scrambled eggs, pasta or a cream of mushroom soup, this is probably the type of truffle product you’d use. I also use for truffle mayonnaise. Truffle Sauce is also an ideal gift to bring to a casual home dinner, instead of that boring bottle of wine.

Truffle CreamTruffle Cream

Truffle Cream is in the same quality category as Truffle Sauce and also tends to be an Italian product. The truffle content will be around the same, that is to say 3-5%, but it is typically (but not always) light coloured and has a more creamy texture. In Italian the label is similar to Truffle Sauce except the word ‘Salsa’ is replaced with ‘Sapor’ or ‘Crema’. ‘Sapor’ means flavour or taste. You are also more likely to see labels in plain English as it is produced in various Commonwealth countries too. Unlike Truffle Paste and Sauce, Truffle Cream contains more than just truffles, mushrooms and oil. If you have a look at the nutrition information you’ll see additional ingredients like vegetable extracts, herbs, spices and emulsifiers.

One of the best ways to use Truffle Cream is to mix it into a cream sauce like hollandaise or béarnaise. Another is mashed potatoes. In general, the time to use Truffle Cream is with light coloured food. This way you get the taste and aroma of truffles but not dark flecks of truffle, and your guests will be pleasantly surprised.

Truffle MustardTruffle Mustard

The truffle content of Truffle Mustard is usually not stated but I can’t imagine it to be much given its price. Its even cheaper than Truffle Sauce and Cream. It tends to be French in origin and the label might say something like ‘Moutarde a la Truffe’.

This type of truffle product is best just as a condiment with steak, roast pork and game birds. Not so much with lamb or chicken. Basically it as a really expensive mustard, so use it as such.

Truffle Oil

Truffle Oil is the least desirable kind of truffle product and I really don’t recommend it, which is why I don’t have any on hand to take a photo of. I suppose you could use it for salads. It contains very little truffle and is not value for money. If you insist on buying Truffle Oil look for bottles with a few flakes of truffle in them for many actually contain no truffle at all and are purely artificially flavoured. Alternatively, get a bottle of truffle pate, divide it into 20 bottles and top them off with olive oil.

Whole and Sliced Truffle

The other type of bottled truffle I am not too keen on is whole or sliced truffle in oil. The solids are 100% truffle and this makes it very expensive. When it comes to truffles texture is secondary to aroma and flavour. In my opinion the effect of having large pieces of truffle on your food compared to small bits is really not that much.

Please note I am not endorsing any of the brands featured here. These bottles are just what I happened to have in the fridge at the time.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in French, Ingredients, Italian

 

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Pressed Tofu (Tau Kwa)


Pressed TofuWhy you do it
Pressed Tofu is a sturdy form of tofu used in situations where normal tofu would fall apart and disintegrate, such as in salads or in stir-fried dishes. Commercial tofu already comes in different levels of firmness and manufacturers control tofu’s hardness by varying the amount of water they press out of it. What you are simply doing is squeezing more of the water out of your tofu to increase its firmness even more. The hard part is how you can squeeze tofu without smashing it.

Pressed tofu is actually quite common in East Asia outside of Japan. In Southeast Asia it is called Tau Kwa. There is a style of Haka cuisine from China called Yong Tau Foo where minced fish is stuffed into Tofu. Obviously if the tofu is not firmed up beforehand, there would be no way to stuff anything into it.  In Teochew cuisine, also from China, pressed tofu is stewed in soya sauce together with goose. Often pressed tofu is deep fried. Fried pressed tofu is an essential ingredient in Pad Thai, a common type of fried noodles from Thailand found worldwide. It is also used in a dish called Mee Siam, which is a ‘Thai’ style vermicelli dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia (but paradoxically not in Thailand/Siam).

How you do it
Pressing TofuPlace a block of tofu onto a flat bottomed tray or dish after draining away the water it comes in. I usually use the tray from my toaster oven. It should be of the firm type, sometimes labelled as ‘stone’ tofu. In any case, be very careful not to damage the tofu in anyway as any localized weakness in structural integrity will cause the tofu to crack when it is pressed.

Wrap some cling film tightly around the side of the tofu, twice. Don’t wrap the bottom because that’s where the water escapes from and cut away most of the extra cling film protruding at the top. You are only interested in constraining or reinforcing the side walls so the tofu doesn’t bulge sideways and burst. Some people use towels but I find that cling film is the best way of preventing the tofu block from crumbling under pressure.

Place a stiff cutting board over the tofu, making sure the tofu is exactly at its centre. Place a can of food on the cutting board to start off with and gradually increase this to 6 cans over the course of an hour. When you notice the cutting board tilting to any particular side, adjust the position of the cans to bring it level again. Wait another hour after you reach six cans and you are done. Your tofu should be sitting in a pool of water about half as high as it was when you started, but twice as firm.

One example of a recipe that uses pressed Tofu is my Chinese Pork Rib Curry recipe.

 

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in cooking, Ingredients, Oriental, Salad

 

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The Dried Mushrooms Page


Dried Mushrooms are considered to be delicacies around the world. They are one of the few classes of food that actually taste better after preservation. It’s very easy to bring dried mushrooms back to life, you simply have to soak them in water. Originally mushrooms were only dried as a means of preserving them but today dried mushrooms have become a culinary class in their own right. They are indispensable in certain recipes where fresh mushrooms simply can’t do the job. In this post I will cover the gourmet dried mushroom varieties, namely: Morel, Porcini and Shiitake.

There are three reasons why dried mushrooms are prized in the kitchen. Firstly, the dessication process somehow transforms the slightly bitter taste of mushrooms into a nice umami flavour, that fifth taste which tricks the brain into thinking there is meat present. The taste and aroma of the mushrooms is also intensified. This makes dried mushrooms great for vegetarian dishes. Secondly, a by-product of using dried mushrooms is the tasty soaking liquid which can be used to flavour soup, rice, batter, pasta or anything else that requires water. Thirdly, specific taste can also be infused directly into dried mushrooms by adding herbs, sugar, soya sauce, mirin or whatever else you fancy to the water the mushrooms are soaked in.

Once the packaging is opened, extend the life of your dried mushrooms almost indefinitely by keeping them in the fridge. While they won’t spoil in the fridge, it is still important to store them in air-tight containers as otherwise they will lose their aroma over time.

Hydrating the dried mushrooms properly is important. Give your mushrooms a quick rinse under the tap before soaking. Always soak your dried mushrooms in cool water to make the rehydration process as gentle as possible. Hot water may work faster, but it makes the mushroom flesh tougher than it needs to be. It goes without saying; never just throw dried mushrooms into a boiling pot. Twenty minutes of soaking time should do for most varieties. Don’t use too much water or the soaking liquid will get too diluted; if your mushrooms go up to the 1/2 cup mark, add water to the 3/4 cup level.  After the mushrooms have become thoroughly soaked and supple, you can use most of the soaking liquid for cooking but discard the last bit at the bottom of the bowl that contains the sediments. 

Dried Morel Dried Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms are the undisputed King of Dried Mushrooms. This fact is reflected in their price; they tend to cost anywhere from 4 to 6 times more than other types of premium dried mushrooms. There is no such thing as cheap morel. Because they are expensive, you should beware of fakes. Some growers appear to offer cheaper produce but only because they purposely leave on too much of the stem to increase the gross weight. The bottom of the stem is leafy and must be trimmed off. Charlatans will even sometimes try to substitute morels with similar shaped mushrooms. The real McCoy has a honeycomb type lattice laced all over a yellowish brown cone shaped cap. The fakes are easily recognized once you see their skin is wrinkled and not honeycombed.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Morel mushrooms as nutty, meaty and slightly sweet. Darker morels are more valuable as they have a stronger taste and fragrance. Morel mushrooms are a kind of sponge mushrooms and after they are soaked, it is important to squeeze them dry. This spongy quality also allows them to absorb a generous amount of whatever sauce they are cooked in, which is later released with every bite.

Morels go extremely well with butter and one of the best ways to cook them is to sauté them in butter with a pinch of salt. You would normally serve them with roasted or pan-fried chicken, pork or veal dishes, pretty much anything that goes with white wine. Stronger meats may overwhelm its delicate taste. I will sometimes add sautéed morel to my mushroom soup in lieu of truffle. As morels have a crispier meatier texture than most mushrooms, they also go well with certain pureed foods like Cauliflower Puree. Morels are most often used in French cooking and morel sauce is one of the key sauces in any French kitchen. The sauce is made by blending butter sautéed mushrooms with their soaking liquid, white wine and cream followed by simmering.

Dried Porcini Dried Porcini Mushrooms
If there is a King of Dried Mushrooms, then there should be a Queen and this would be the Porcini mushroom. Unlike Morels, Porcini are always dried in slices but you can get a pretty good idea of what a whole mushroom is like by looking at the nice cross section of the Porcini on the left side of the photo. One distinct feature of Porcini mushrooms is they have no gills. They also have a long fleshy stem which is as edible as the large brown cap.

I would describe the taste of rehydrated Porcini as slightly salty, smoky and meaty. They exude an intense heavenly aroma like no other mushroom. After your first whiff, you’ll easily recognize its signature smell. One nice thing about Porcini is it remains nice and soft after rehydration.

Porcini is common in Italian cuisine and it is the key ingredient in some Porcini-based risottos. Generally the soaking liquid is used in place of wine when simmering the risotto and its concentration by boiling off most of the water results in a very distinct porcini taste. They are also used to flavour polenta for the same reason. Because of their concentrated flavour, you’d normally serve Porcini with beef, lamb and wild game, anything that goes with red wine. They are often used in ragout, sauces and gravies. Slices of porcini also go well with salads, especially if you add some soaking liquid to the dressing. 

Dried Shiitake Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
The Shiitake (pronounced She-E-Tah-Kay) is the predominant gourmet dried mushroom in the Far East. It is the most popular mushroom in Japan where its Western name is derived. In China it is called the winter mushroom, a reference to the past when fresh mushrooms were not available in winter. It is always dried whole and if you see any sliced shiitake at the store, these are of an inferior grade.

As Shiitake are bulkier, they will take a longer time (I’d say 45 min) to get thoroughly soaked. You would normally quarter, slice or even dice Shiitake after they have been soaked. The stem of the Shiitake is quite woody and is always removed. As they are very hard, you cannot remove the stem before soaking. But you don’t want to wait til after soaking because then the part of the cap attached to the stem will still be hard. Snip them off completely with scissors when the mushrooms are partially soaked. If don’t like to waste, use the stems when boiling stock.

Shiitake have a less distinctive taste and fragrance than its Western counterparts above. I’d describe its taste and aroma simply as a very interesting earthy mushroom flavour. It is a common practice to put soya sauce, sugar or other similar seasoning items into the soaking liquid, so the shiitake gets additional layers of taste. The rehydrated Shiitake mushrooms have a firmer, I would even describe it as plump consistency compared to their limply fresh cousins and they are prized as much for their texture as their taste. They stay that way even if you cook them for a long time.

While Morel and Porcini are wild mushrooms, Shiitake are cultivated. This means they are readily available in both fresh and dried forms, which introduces the complication of when the fresh ones should be used and when the dried ones are more appropriate. For example, dried Shiitake would be used in rice-meat combination dishes (Chinese Claypot Rice and Japanese Oyakodon) while fresh Shiitake would be battered and deep fried (like Western stuffed mushrooms). It’s too complicated to get into the details here, just apply common sense. In Western style dishes, you can use them when braising meat, in terrines etc.

Dried Chanterelle Dried Chanterelle Mushrooms
Including Chanterelle in this post was an afterthought. I’m not really a big fan of this type of dried mushroom but I just happened to have some in the fridge.

Chanterelle is one of those dried mushrooms which I find have a milder flavour. It is light coloured and is sometimes called Golden or Yellow Chanterelle. You can recognize them by their small size and trumpet shape. Its aroma has been described as fruity and its taste as peppery but I don’t really discern too much beyond the ordinary mushroom taste and smell. I’m one of those that believe dried mushrooms have to be dark coloured to give an interesting flavour; if not it might be better to leave them fresh.

The main reason I don’t use dried Chanterelle much is they have a tendency to be fibrous and chewy so I use them mostly in situations where I cook them to death, like in stews and pie fillings. There is a school of thought that you should cook them lightly instead (like steak) but if that works, I haven’t experienced it. Maybe those guys were referring to fresh Chanterelle? One day I’m going to try soaking my dired Chanterelle in chicken stock to see if they end up tasting like shredded chicken breast.

Notes Porcini Stock Cubes

  • If you really want something convenient, you can try the Porcini stock cubes by Knorr. They contain little flakes of Porcini and are great as the stock cube for cream of mushroom soup or risotto.
  • Porcini is also sold in powder form, which is simply dried Porcini ground into powder. Use Porcini powder if you want to enhance flavour (its not a bad substitute for MSG) without imparting a Porcini-specific taste.
 
 

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What is Mirin?


This is the everything you wanted to know about Mirin page. It answers: Where did Mirin come from? How is Mirin made? How does Mirin improve food? When should Mirin be used? What are the types of Mirin? What is the difference between Hon-Mirin and Aji-Mirin? Why is some Mirin light and others dark?  What can I substitute with Mirin?

History of Mirin
Mirin started out as a popular sweet liqueur for women in medieval Japan. During the Edo period, the first sugar cane plantations were still 2 centuries away. Nipponese cooks from the era found Mirin to be an excellet form of sweetness and incorporated it into many of their recipes. With the Meiji Restoration, Mirin as a drink went out of vogue like the samurai, but Mirin as a flavouring agent went from strength to strength. Today Mirin has become an essential part of culinary Japan and at least one bottle of it can be found in every Japanese kitchen. So if you have ever wondered why the miso soup you made at home doesn’t taste as good as the ones from the restaurant – the missing secret ingredient is probably Mirin.

Brewing Mirin
Mirin was, and sometimes still is, made by introducing Sochu to the vat halfway through a quasi-sake brewing process. The Sochu(a vodka-like spirit) kills all the fermenting Koji(a fungus) which would otherwise metabolize all the sugars. This is not dissimilar to the procedure where Brandy is added to half-fermented wine to give us Port. Although Mirin and Sake are made from different types of rice, the similar initial brewing process imparts to Mirin some of the tastes reminiscent of Sake but that is where their similarities end. The alcohol content in Mirin is lower at somewhere between 12-14%. Because Sochu is added, complex sugars and proteins form as Mirin is left to mature, giving it its distinctive sweet taste and golden colour.

Varieties of MirinMirin 800
Mirin comes in three qualities. First there is the quality stuff that is brewed as described above. No artificial additives or preservatives are added. This type of Mirin can be drunk like Port or Madeira and it takes perhaps 2 years before the Mirin can be bottled. The bottle on the right is my quality mirin. It comes in a nice glass bottle and is brewed by Mitoku Macrobiotic. On the side of the bottle the manufacturer states that its Mirin is made only in the traditional way and koji is given as one of its ingredients. It is from Mikawa province which is where they all make the good stuff and also, there is no better quality assurance than a glass bottle.

Then there is the mediocre factory stuff, a synthetic Mirin, manufactured using enzymes on rice in a high temperature / pressure process. A batch of this type of mirin takes only about 3 months to make. The plastic bottle in the middle is my mediocre Mirin, made by Kikoman. It is of a sub-type called Hon-Mirin, which ironically translates as real-mirin. Its ingredients are given as corn syrup, glucose syrup, rice, alcohol and water. You can always judge Mirin quality by checking the ingredients at the back; factory Mirin invariably contains corn syrup. There is another sub-type called Aji-Mirin, which means tastes-like-mirin. Many people think that Aji-Mirin is inferior to Hon-Ririn but they are exactly the same thing except a little salt has been added to Aji-Mirin so it is not subject to alcohol tax. The ingredients for Kikoman’s Aji-Mirin are the same as their Hon-Mirin except glucose syrup has been replaced by salt. Since you are cooking with it, a little salt won’t matter, so don’t get hung up about whether it is Hon or Aji; both are equally mediocre.

Mirin slowly darkens from a golden colour to a deep amber colour after a bottle is openned. Amber-coloured Mirin has an additional caramelized flavour from the slow oxidation process so don’t think that its going bad. It looks black in the photo because you are looking through 2 inches of the amber Mirin, if you pour it out onto a spoon you’ll see its true colour. I added a third unopened bottle of Hon-Mirin on the left just to show you what virgin Mirin looks like. Keep your Mirin refrigerated after it is openned as the cap tends to get moldy after some time in a hot humid climate.

Finally there is the terrible stuff, something called Shin-Mirin which translates as new-Mirin. This is basically a mirin-flavoured sauce with almost no alcohol content, another even cheaper way to get around the alcohol tax. I’m sorry I don’t have a bottle handy to photograph. Do not bother with Shin-Mirin unless you have a phobia thing about alcohol. You know once you heat Mirin, most of the alcohol will evaporate anyway.

Cooking with Mirin
In Japanese cuisine, Mirin is commonly used in simmered (e.g. Oyakodon) and stewed (e.g. Chashu) dishes. It is basically used each time you want to balance out soya sauce or miso based dishes. You can pretty much make teriyaki sauce by mixing Mirin with sugar and soya sauce.  Mirin is also added to vinegared sushi rice and sesame salad dressing.

When do I use my quality Mirin and when do I use factory Mirin? If the Mirin is to be consumed directly, say like in a salad dressing, I will use my good stuff. Likewise if the recipe calls for small amount of Mirin, like a tablespoon that is added to soup. If the recipe calls for Mirin by the cupful, for example when I are stewing pork, then I will use my mediocre Mirin.

What about using Mirin when it is not specifically mentioned in the recipe? Whenever your recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar, try using a tablespoon of Mirin instead. Sugar does nothing but make your food sweet but Mirin will help to accentuate the milder flavours. The key is to only use it in limited quantities since it has quite a strong distinct flavour. Mirin is known for its glazing characteristics so you can paint it on seafood prior to grilling. Speaking of seafood, Mirin is also prized for its ability to counteract fishy and gamey smells, so you can often add a tablespoon to your marinades. Finally whenever your recipe calls for a dash of Port or Sherry, try substituting Mirin instead. I sometimes add a dash to my tomato or cheese based pasta sauces/risottos.

Substituting Mirin
In an emergency, in place of Mirin you can use a Sake plus honey substitute. Mix 5 parts of Sake with 1 part of honey, then heat the mixture until it is reduced in volume by half.

Additional Information
Some sites of Mirin manufacturers with detailed information

If you liked this post on Mirin, you may also be interested in my post on its savoury complimentary, Chinese Cooking Wine.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Ingredients, Japanese, Oriental

 

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Types of Ramen, Styles of Ramen


Types of Ramen: The Perfect RamenRamen is a noodle in soup dish which originally made its way from China into Japan when the country reopened its borders during the Meiji Restoration. The dish was refined and improved to such an extent over the past century that it has all but overshadowed its original Chinese cousins on the world stage. The world of Ramen is pretty complicated and this post will systematically categorize the different styles of Ramen that are common in Japan along with their various soup flavours, broth types, accompanying meats and toppings. It doesn’t teach you how to cook Ramen, but you’ll know how to order different types of Ramen at a restaurant or recognize the various types at the supermarket.

The word ‘Ra’ means pulled (into) while ‘Men’ means noodles. That’s how the noodles were made in the old days, a single lump of dough was manually stretched and folded in half dozens of times til it formed a bunch of thin noodles. The noodles are machine made today but the dough is still made from the same basic ingredients: flour, salt, normal water and an alkaline mineral water called kansui. It is the kansui which give Ramen noodles their unique bounce and taste and it also makes them yellow even though they contain no egg. As raw ramen noodles are alkaline and have some flour dusted on them, they have to be boiled separately. The noodles come in different thicknesses and lengths but essentially there is relatively little to differentiate one type of good noodle from another. If you really want to be scientific about it, thin noodles have a larger surface area to volume ratio are supposed to be eaten with the more subtle soups. Just remember, thick noodles go with thick soup, thin noodles go with thin soup. There is a tradition in some shops to allow you to add extra noodles halfway while eating (called kaedama) but I recommend against this as the soup is not really hot enough by this time. Some others allow you to add rice to the left over soup, this is fine.  If you would like to try making your own ramen noodles from spaghetti I have a recipe here.

Broths Ramen
Basic ramen broth does not have too many ingredients. It is usually made from pork bones, chicken bones or a combination of the two. In certain recipes dashi, which is a consommé made from Bonito(dried salted tuna) flakes or Niboshi(dried salted anchovy) is simmered with Konbu(a kind of kelp) and blended into the meat broth to create a purer clear broth. Fresh seafood may be used occasionally in certain regional varieties, but usually not beef and probably never mutton.

Flavour Types
For Ramen, broth and flavour are distinct and separate. This is one of the unique things about Ramen. Think of it as: broth + flavouring = soup.  A Ramen is usually defined by its flavour which affects its final taste. There are 4 primary types of Ramen soup flavours: Shio, Shoyu, Miso and Tonkotsu.

  • Shio (She-Oh)
    means salt and this is traditionally the way Ramen soup is flavoured. All Western broths would be considered of the Shio type. The salt doesn’t affect the appearance of the broth and therefore Shio soup tends to light coloured and clear. Shio flavoured soup will tend to be a tad saltier than the other types.
  • Shoyu (Show-You)
    means soy sauce and this is next oldest flavour type. Instead of salt, a sauce made by fermenting soya beans is used to make the broth salty. This sauce is not your regular table soya sauce, but typically a special sauce with additional ingredients made according to a secret recipe. The broth for Shoyu is the only type that tends not to contain pork. Shoyu soup is also usually clear, but is dark coloured and sweeter than Shio soup.
  • Miso (Me-So)
    In more recent times, Miso paste has also been used to give Ramen broth its savoury taste. If Miso is used, it is immediately obvious as the soup will be opaque. Shio or Shoyu  flavoured soups merely accent the flavour of underlying broth, while miso leaves a fuller complex taste in the mouth since it also has a strong taste of its own.
  • Tonkotsu (Tong-Coats-Zoo)
    is technically not a true flavour since it is contains either salt or soy sauce. It is made from boiling ground up pork bones (ton=pig, kotsu = bones) for 12-15 hours till all the collagen has dissolved into the stock as gelatine (details here). The result is a rich whitish soup that is distinct enough to consider Tonkotsu as a separate fourth flavour of Ramen. To be clear, the use of pork bones does not automatically mean the soup is of the Tonkotsu type. If the pork bones are boiled whole for a relatively shorter period, the result is just regular pork broth.

Meat IngredientsRamen Components
The most common type of meat served in Ramen is Chashu which is another type of food borrowed from China and subsequently modified over decades. It is basically a pork belly tied into a cylinder, braised and then served in slices. What the pork is braised in differs from recipe to recipe but general ingredients include soya sauce, sake, mirin and sugar. In my humble opinion, the Chashu is the hardest part to get right in a Ramen. Chashu often goes hand in hand with Shoyu Ramen since the braising liquid can form part of the ‘shoyu’. Sometimes the pork belly is braised in its original shape but also sliced. You can refer to my own oven braised Chashu recipe here.

Another item that one finds in their Ramen more often than not is Ajitama, a soya sauce seasoned boiled egg with its yolk still runny. The Chashu braising liquid also comes in handy when seasoning these eggs. Ramen can also be served with fresh seafood, Kamaboko(a bouncy fish cake with a characteristic pink swirl) or with no meat at all. Unlike for soba or udon soup noodles, slices of beef are rarely served with Ramen, although new age Wagyu Ramen has been making an appearance lately.

Toppings and Condiments
Whilst the number of possible ingredients used for Ramen broth is quite limited, a large variety of ingredients are used as toppings to differentiate one Ramen from another. The more common toppings include Nori (a type of seaweed paper), Wakame (a type of rehydrated seaweed), Menma (preserved bamboo shoots), Negi (scallion), Kikurage (black fungus), juliened leek, sesame seeds, fried garlic and pickled plum/ginger.  A lot of Ramen shops will also top off with a proprietary spicy sauce or a ball of spicy miso to give a kick to the soup. This way customers can chose how spicy they have their Ramen is.

Regional Styles
The way Ramen is cooked has more or less evolved over the past century along geographical lines. Tonkotsu is the primary flavour of Kyushu Island in the South while Miso is generally associated with Hokkaido Island in the North. The central island of Honshu is home to the Shoyu flavour. Even within these demarcations, local variations have sprung up and are known by their city or prefecture of origin. Many of these variations feature local produce that is famous nationally. The following is a list of the main varieties (that I have come across anyway) of Ramen.

Tokyo Ramen

Tokyo style Shoyu Ramen

  • Tokyo style Ramen
    Tokyo style Ramen is the archetypical Shoyu flavoured Ramen. Many Ramen stalls originally served soba in a dashi soup and when the use of Shoyu was introduced, the practice of using dashi was retained. Today chicken stock and shoyu is mixed with dashi to produce the unique Tokyo style Ramen. Tokyo Ramen is usually served with Chashu, Kamaboko, half an Egg, and is topped with chopped leek and preserved bamboo shoots. In Yokohama, the port of Tokyo, pork is used instead of chicken for the broth resulting in the iekei sub-variation.
  • Asahikawa style Ramen
    This is a less well know shoyu type ramen that is distinguished by its combination of seafood and pork into an oily stock. Like all ramen from Hokkaido, it is designed with cold weather in mind. Asahikawa ramen uses roughly the same toppings as shoyu ramen from Tokyo (see above).
  • Hakodate style Ramen
    As all ramen was originally Shio flavoured, Shio ramen wasn’t invented in any particular place. However, when one mentions Shio ramen, a bowl of Hakodate style Ramen comes to mind immediately. Hakodate is where the tradition of making ramen soup flavoured with salt has remained unchanged even as new flavours and styles were introduced all over Japan. Hakodate style ramen is usually made with chicken broth resulting in a golden coloured soup. Very often Hakodate Ramen comes with chicken meatballs.
  • Hakata style Rame
    Tonkotsu type ramen originated on the warmer Southern island of Kyushu where most of Japan’s pig farming is done. Hakata is a district in Fukuoka City, the biggest city on Kyushu and the style of ramen from there is universally recognized as the standard version of tonkotsu. Hakata Ramen is usually topped with Chashu, egg, scallion, sesame seeds and pickled ginger.

    Hakata Ramen

    Hakata Style Tonkotsu Ramen

  • Kurume style Ramen
    A close cousin of Hakata Ramen is Kurume(Koo-Roo-Mare) Ramen. This is thought of as the original way Tonkotsu was made before it was modernized into the Hakata style. Its soup is similar but even richer in pork taste (from adding pig’s head, trotters etc. to the broth). The noodles of this variety come topped with fried pig lard bits and dried seaweed.
  • Kumamoto style Ramen
    Kumamoto prefecture is in the middle of Kyushu and its style of ramen is yet another variation of the Tonkotsu type. It is served with stewed pork belly, and a generous amount of fried garlic together with the oil the garlic was fried in. Toppings include pickled ginger and julienned leek.
  • Kagoshima style Ramen
    Kagoshima is a port at the Southern tip of Kyush. Here the soup is lighter as it is made from a mixture of pork tonkotsu and clear chicken broth. Kagoshima is home to Kurobuta pork, which makes their chashu all the more delicious. Other types of noodles, similar to those from ‘nearby’ Okinawa or Taiwan are sometimes served in place of regular ramen noodles.
  • Kitakata style Ramen
    This style of Ramen has a unique shoyu flavoured soup made from pork broth mixed with dashi made from dried anchovies. It hails from the city of Kitakata in Northern Honshu which purportedly has the highest concentration of Ramen shops in the world. Kitakata style Ramen features flat noodles and is typically served with sliced pork belly, leek and fish cake.

    Four Seas Building

    Nagasaki Shikairo, home of Champon

  • Nagasaki Champon
    Champon is a specialty of Nagasaki which was invented by a Chinese cook as a Meiji era equivalent of affordable fast food, for the Chinese students who were studying there. It is the most Chinois of all Ramen and today Champon is served at every restaurant in Nagasaki’s Chinatown. It is practically the only ramen from Kyushu which does not use a Tonkotsu soup. Unlike all other ramen, Champon uses special noodles that are cooked in the soup itself. This ramen is served with a stir fried mix of pork, seafood and cabbage.
  • Sapporo style Ramen
    The city of Sapporo is in the Northern Island of Hokkaido and it is the bastion of Miso flavoured Ramen. The first use of miso in Ramen soup was by chef Omiya in Sapporo in the 1950s. Chicken or pork bones are used for the broth and when combined with red Miso paste makes for a rich soup, perfect for the cold weather up North. Hokkaido is home to the big vegetable and dairy farms of Japan as well as several fishing ports. Today the inclusion of the top natural produce of Hokkaido in the toppings (butter, corn, leek, roasted scallops) and soup (seafood) in Sapporo style ramen has become common practice.

    Wakayama Ramen

    Wakayama Ramen with Pork Ribs

  • Tokushima / Wakayama style Ramen
    Tokushima style Ramen is the most popular style of Ramen on Shikoku Island, the smallest of the 4 main islands. It uses a combination tonkutsu-shoyu soup which is deep brown in colour. This ramen is served with a raw egg instead of an almost-cooked one. The other special thing is it is served with baraniku, a kind of stewed pork rib. A sub-variation of the Tokushima style is Wakayama style Ramen. Wakayama is on the main island of Honshu, just across the inland sea from Tokushima which is probably why Wakayama Ramen can be described as a Tokyo style Ramen served in Tokushima soup. For instance it will be served with a boiled runny-yolk egg instead of a raw one.
tsukemen-1200

Tsukemen with Pork Neck

Tsukemen
This is a form of ramen where the noodles comes dry in a plate. The stock is concentrated into a thick soup and is served separately. The idea is to bathe each mouthful of noodles in the sauce before immediately eating them, which is why Tsukemen is usually translated as Dipping Ramen. There is no traditional flavour to the soup, and this just depends on what soup the ramen shop specializes in. The are two reason certain people prefer tsukemen; firstly the flavour is quite intense (but not more salty) compared to normal ramen and secondly the noodles are sort of lukewarm instead of piping hot when you eat them, so you can eat this really fast.

Ebi Ramen

Prawn Ramen

Special Ramen Styles
This last category of Ramen covers those noodles served in non-traditional soups and thus don’t fall under any of the regional styles above. One popular variety is the Ebi Ramen, where a meat stock is fortified with prawn heads, giving it it’s characteristic reddish hue. This prawn soup is unlike any other kind of ramen soup you have ever tasted. Besides the standard condiments Ebi Ramen is also topped off with some unusual ones like deep-fried shallots and sakura shrimp. One famous shop known for this type of Ramen is EbiKin; it is located just outside the (old, not sure if the market has moved yet) Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. If you would like to try making this style of ramen, I have a recipe here.

Chicken Ramen

Torikotsu Ramen

The other type of nouveau ramen I really like is Torikotsu Ramen. The stock of this type of ramen is made in a way similar to Tonkotsu but using chicken instead. After a long boiling time the resulting soup is similarly milky, heavy with gelatine and strong in meat flavour. This distinguishes it from the Hakodate style soup which is also made from chicken, but is clear. Torikotsu is typically topped with things like fried shallots, cabbage, scallion and perhaps a wedge of lemon. In some cases even the accompanying Chashu can be made from chicken as well. To try this type of less-common ramen, may I suggest a small Ramen chain in the Yokohama area called Matsuichiya. If you would like to try making this style of ramen, I have a recipe here.

 

Quality Ramen

Quality Ramen Pack

Supermarket bought Ramen
In this final section I am going to discuss home-cooked Ramen. Quality ramen from the supermarket normally comes in rectangular 2 serving packs. If they are available, they will be found in the refrigerated (not frozen) section. The packing will generally indicate the style (e.g. tonkotsu on the yellow pack) of the ramen. If its a really good product, there will be a picture of a famous Ramen chef whose recipe the product is based on. The noodles are soft, sealed seperately within and the instructions will tell you to cook them separately from the soup. The soup will come in the form of a large pouch containing a condensed soup paste. You’ll need to procure all the meat ingredients and condiments yourself separately, resulting in an authentic ramen. If you don’t have any chashu lying around the house, try pan-fried luncheon meat (please do not quote me on this) and perhaps some seasoned runny yolk boiled eggs made according to my recipe. The easiest condiments to use are perhaps Japanese dehydrated kelp, dried seaweed sheets and sesame seeds. You can pre-combine some as described here.

Soba stick ‘Ramen’

A second type of noodles is the off-the-shelf ramen-style soba stick noodles. Technically buckwheat soba noodles means this is not a true ramen but the soup pack that comes with with them is a concentrated form of a recognized ramen soup. These stick noodles also come in dual servings. The packaging will be flat and long, and typically indicate the regional style (Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Nagasaki from left to right in photo) of the soup, often with a map even. It’s not as good as the quality ramen above but on the plus side, they keep for a long time and don’t need to be refrigerated.

If your pack of noodles is the type where you just boil a hard cake of noodles in water or fill a paper cup with boiling water and add some soup powder after the fact, this isn’t ramen at all; its only regular instant noodles. Besides being hard to the touch, the other tell-tale difference is these inferior noodles are always made with 1 serving. These instant noodles are dried by deep frying them in oil and the soup powder contains a heavy dose of MSG so this type of noodles are not too healthy. The packaging will neither give a ramen flavour nor style, but will be described by the meat (e.g. chicken, seafood) used to manufacture the soup powder.

 

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What is Kaya?


 

         1. Hainanese Kaya        2. Nonya Kaya(Home)      3. Nonya Kaya(Store)        4. Hybrid Kaya

Kaya is a custard made with coconut milk that is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Like regular jam, it is most often used as a bread spread (its technically not a jam since it is not made from fruit) at breakfast and afternoon tea. Because of its sweet taste, Kaya is also used as an ingredient is various local desserts in Southeast Asia from Thailand to Indonesian. If you are from outside the region, think of it as something like creme brulee in a bottle. 

The recipe for making kaya varies from household to household but typically involves cooking a mixture of 10 eggs, 500g of sugar and 500 ml of coconut milk over a double boiler, stirring frequently. Its pretty much the same as making a sabayon or custard, except you stand there cooking and stirring for a very, very long time.

There are two main types of Kaya. The more original variety is Hainanese Kaya (bottle No.1), Hainan being a large island of China. Many Hainanese ventured into Southeast Asia during the hey day of the British Empire. A lot of them worked as cooks (and tailors) in commonwealth cities and aboard British merchant ships where they encounted a thing called jam on toast. Over time, they invented their own ‘jam’, which became Kaya. That’s the reason you won’t find Kaya (or Hainanese Chicken Rice or Hainanese Pork Chop to name a few more examples) anywhere in Hainan today, they were invented by overseas Hainanese. The term Kaya was probably coined by the Malays, who refer to it as Seri Kaya. Hainanese Kaya is made with brown sugar which results in its distinct orangy colour. Some modern commercial formulations use honey instead.

There is another version of Kaya that is green; this is called Nonya Kaya (bottle No.2). How did this originate? Its another complicated story, also related to the Chinese migrants. When early Chinese migrants inter-married with the locals in Malaysia, they formed a sub-community called the Nonya. The Nonya add pandan leaves to a lot of their cuisine and when they learnt to make Kaya, they also added pandan to that. Their varierty of Kaya uses white sugar, but compensates for the loss of the caramelized taste by adding the juice from pandan leaves. This gives Nonya Kaya its unique flavour and fragrance. Commercially, food dye is added to Nonya Kaya (bottle No.3) to give it a darker green colour. Nowadays you can also get a hybrid Kaya (bottle No.4) that is made with both brown sugar and pandan leaves.

Besides spreading it on toast, how else can Kaya be used? Being very sweet, Kaya goes very well with salted butter and you can use it in place of syrup or icing sugar on pancakes, waffles and french toast. Kaya also works well as a filling in a Danish type pastry (for example you could replace the sesame paste of my Sesame Swirl Puffs with Kaya). Finally you can experiment with Kaya in those savoury dishes that require a touch of sweetness, such as in pan fried foie gras.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Desserts, Ingredients, Oriental

 

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