Seasons change. You wait longer at the bus stop than expected and arrive home chilled, the thin summer coat you chose in this morning’s sunshine no longer fitting the brief in the early autumn dusk. With the nights starting to draw in, it’s the time of year for something warm and comforting for dinner, and there’s nothing more comforting than ramen. Rich, savoury and steaming hot, a bowlful of ramen does the same thing as boosting the central heating for an hour. And while you might be most familiar with eating it in a restaurant setting, it’s actually surprisingly doable as a homemade midweek meal too.
Well, some types of ramen are. And some aren’t. Some require the maker to take the whole process very seriously; to hand roll the noodles and hunch over a viciously boiling pot of gelatinous, curtain-scenting pork bones for hours on end, conducting multiple sievings and taking care to serve it at exactly the right moment, before the noodles get soggy and the maker, in a huff, withdraws the offer of ramen.
If you let it be, ramen can be a very tricky, slippery, esoteric concept. It can be classified by its seasoning – shoyu (soy), miso, shio (sea salt) and by its broth type – kotteri broths are rich, thick, sticky and opaque from bones that have been boiled for a long time while assari style broths are lighter, clearer, thinner broths usually flavoured by fish, veg or just lightly cooked bones. Then there’s the classification of what ingredient has been used to make it, with tonkotsu, a cloudy, rich pork based broth, being one of the most popular in ramen circles at the moment.
Then there’s the additions: a slick of oil (sesame, liquid pork fat, what have you); the type of noodles (that deserves a whole separate blog post; seriously, I’m not going to even start); the toppings (different types of cooked pork; seafood; soft boiled eggs; chopped scallion; shredded cabbage; enoki mushrooms). If you want to learn more, Serious Eats has an excellent guide to the genre which is a good jumping off point and does much more justice to the complex world of ramen making and eating than I can.
But if you strip back all the talk of technique and regional specialism, which makes ramen both an interesting foodie concept and a little too intimidating to try at home, you have a dish which is, in essence, soupy noodles in a savoury broth – a much more approachable concept.
So while this portobello mushroom version has the flavours and the comfort factor of traditional ramen dishes – roasting the mushrooms with a generous smear of miso butter beforehand gives the broth a rich, lubricious savouriness that all ramen needs – I am in no way billing it as authentic. It’s just a delicious option for a midweek meal that only takes about 30 minutes to make, is beautifully savoury and comforting and can be meat-free if you so choose.
QUICK PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM RAMEN
Serves 2 especially hungry or greedy individuals
2 sheets of egg noodles (not authentic but nice)
3 or 4 large Portobello mushrooms, cleaned
25g butter, softened
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon of miso
15g fresh ginger, peeled and diced
4 or 5 scallions, trimmed & chopped
A handful of fresh coriander, chopped
1.5 litres good quality, rich stock – either vegetable, chicken or beef; homemade would be great, but if you don’t have it, then go for a good quality pre-made stock, or a pre-packaged stock pot or gravy pot, but not stock cubes. Never stock cubes.
Small dash of alcohol of some sort (optional) – rum, whiskey or mirin
Salt & pepper
To serve: soft boiled eggs, more coriander, chopped scallions, cabbage, kale, seafood – whatever you fancy
Preheat your oven to 180°c. Blend the butter with the miso, ginger and garlic and spread over the mushrooms. Place in a baking dish, sprinkle with a little salt and some chopped scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil. Roast for 10 minutes then remove from the oven and add 150ml water and a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil and whatever alcohol you like if you’re using it. Cover the dish with tin foil then continue to bake for another 10 minutes, or until tender and slightly collapsed.
Meanwhile, place the stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil with a tablespoon of soy sauce. When the mushrooms are ready, tip their cooking liquid into the saucepan and cut up the mushrooms. Add them to the saucepan along with the noodles and boil rapidly for a couple of minutes, or until the noodles are cooked. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as required. If it needs more liquid add a bit more water and taste again to ensure it hasn’t become too weak. Add the coriander, the remaining scallions and a dash of sesame oil and serve steaming hot with whatever toppings you fancy. Preferably in front of the TV with a blanket over you.