My sheltering life has been busier than ever with the Millie Lottie MASK project. The need to provide facial protection for clients and to support the medical community has me working feverishly. I am so grateful for this opportunity to stay employed and to provide regular paychecks for my seamstresses. For the first few weeks of quarantine, I was working 7 days a week, lacking a bit of balance. Things are slowing down, which makes me a tad nervous, however, I welcomed the weekend cooking project with my daughter.
We decided to make ramen after I caught Eva checking to see if Orenchi, Beyond Ramen was open, to no avail (NOTE: they are now delivering on Caviar!!). I knew my dear friend Pat made a Chicken Paitan Ramen for her anniversary recently and the moment I reached out, she became my coach. The recipe was 7 pages including the broth, schmaltz, seasoning and meatballs. (This link take you to lots of casual ramen-process videos in my Instagram stories @millielottietotes)
Pat as a member of my cookbook club and friend knows that I am happy to leave-out or substitute ingredients when cooking. I think we fall in to two camps, and Pat falls in to the other. Her cooking is impeccable and inspirational. She was clear I should not skip a step and follow the recipe. My local, AMAZING store had the organic chicken feet, backs and pieces, the dried mushrooms to make into powder, bonito flakes and more. We are texting while I was in line waiting Friday afternoon to enter the store, Pat hinting to get things on the list, and my casualness upped her questioning. I was texting her when they were out of fresh ramen noodles and surprised she said yes to the fresh spaghetti noodles. What I could not find my dear Pat dropped off a care package for me on Saturday of white pepper corns, green pepper corns, and some leftover prepared seasoning. My daughter Eva is such a sweet girl, when she I told her I could not find ramen noodle... she offered that this was the best part, but knew all the effort I was making and did not want to complain. but I saw and felt her disappointment. I would attempt to make but I truly did not have time nor the ingredients.
If you have made ramen before you know, but I didn't realize all that went in to the broth. One step I will incorporate in to my life. I have been making bone broth for over 10 years and always just scraped the scum that forms on the top, discarding the impurities. What we did here was to throw that water away, completely wash every chicken part and then put back for a boil. Saturday early afternoon, we started the first boil for 3 hours. The bones become soft so you cut them up and then begin pureeing them with an immersion blender. I shared the joy and Eva helped me pulvorize the bones. Alone in the darken kitchen she stood over the bones tending. We laughed that it was bit like a witch tending her brew. The sound was something to behold, just like you'd think grinding bones would sound. The sludge smelled good but was less-than-appealing to the eyes. At 9:00 pm we finished and let it cool for 2 hours before putting it in the refrigerator.
I woke up ready to hunt down ramen. The 30 minute COVID line was worth it, I found locally made Nonna Lim noddles! I was surprised as the texture of the soup base at this stage was thick like a mouse, you could slice it. After coming to room temperature, it boiled again for 3 hours. This time I could not stay far from the vigorous, active boil. When you go to a ramen house and see the huge vats, they are rumbling and spitting. The key is to keep the liquid level steady, so I'd add water every 15 minutes or so. Even at the end of this step, we felt a bit defeated as it still looked so unappetizing.
Next we strained the broth. We set a colander over another pot and lined with a tea towel, as I am out of, nor could I find cheesecloth. At the end of this process, Eva came in and we checked to our delight, the broth was milky and had a golden hue! Whew.
The rest of the afternoon I was busy making all of the PARTS; home-ground chicken for the meat balls; frying the chicken skin to make crackling to become schmaltz; and finally the sodium layer, the ramen seasoning of fish, soy sauce, lots of salt, and spices (mushroom powder, bonito flakes, pepper), much of it discarded, leaving a tasty brew. (read on for a twist...)
We set the table and then assembly took place. I have one ramen bowl, so I used serving bowls as well. I placed the bowls in the oven to heat them, the crackling and some of the seasoning. While the broth boiled down a bit, the noodles were precooked and the meatballs re-heated and the jammy eggs prepared. The assembly was satisfying. My children made fun of me as we carried one bowl in to the living room with the best light for a photo, but my son promptly asked if he should hold the chopsticks...to which I answered the affirmative.
The dinner was yummy, the conversation often less than elevated but lively. We shared some of the process with Branch, as he was not here and we wanted to make sure he appreciated it, like only a mom and sister can do.
The end of the meal had a bit of a sibling disagreement that took place over the compost bin, which I did not realize was left open for a bit. Later in the evening, Amos was panting, his heart was racing and he drank TONS of water, subsequently sending him outside a a bunch. Turns out, the top of the compost held the discard of the sodium flavoring. This ramen was the gift that kept on giving all night as I nursed my little guy. He is fine by the way.
The children left for their father's the next day. I reheated some ramen for dinner, adding a bunch of steamed peppers. I will definitely make this again. It was a process that is steeped in tradition, the smells filling kitchens across the world from me. I am grateful for quarantine to spark this effort, and I will HUG my ramen chef when allowed to see them again.
This project was not so much about the ramen but taking the time to do an ambitious project, spending time with my girl and having lots of stories to share in the end.
I can not finish this post without saying that on Saturday night I was so busy cooking, I could not make us dinner....does that sound familiar? The doorbell rang and I informed the delivery driver that I had not ordered take-out (which sounded like a good idea by this time.) He said, no this was mine. My friend Divo ordered me a dinner as part of our school fundraiser that was taking place instead of our normal amazing Spring Night event. We paused in our preparation and sat down to this glorious meal. This life is no short of miracles....glad to be witness to and recipient of many.