Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pork Belly Ramen

We ate out a lot when I was growing up, and restaurant food is still one of my great pleasures in life. It's also become one of my biggest contradictions. I devote a lot of time to growing my own food, after all, and living frugally is something I aspire to, so why would I go out to dine on expensive food that was probably factory farmed thousands of miles from here?

It's definitely nice to have someone else clean up the cooking mess, that's part of it. And some restaurant dishes are so complicated that you really can't whip it up on a weeknight at home. In my quest for a more homegrown, frugal existence, learning to prepare my favorite restaurant dishes at home has been an important piece of the puzzle. And a puzzle it definitely is. There's the recipe research, the reverse-engineering, figuring out how to cook things that require equipment we don't have in our home kitchen. When all of that effort pays off, and we get to sit down to a restaurant-quality meal we grew and made ourselves, oh man. It's the best feeling. 

Ramen is one of those dishes that it takes time to prepare, and even more time to master. There are so many elements to a good bowl of ramen, each of them requiring special care. There's the bone broth, cooked slowly over 8-24 hours until it develops the perfect fatty richness and umami flavors. The noodles (which I have yet to make myself), chewy and flavorful, which Peter Meehan describes as "a tougher sparring partner than any flour dough you’ve ever tried to make." Then of course there's the myriad of toppings you can include in your final dish--all manner of pickled vegetables, perfectly soft-boiled eggs, lovingly cured and slow-cooked pork belly...

Is making ramen at home a lot of work? Absolutely. But the great thing about it is that it actually comes together pretty quickly once you've made all the pieces. I made the broth a month or two ago and froze it. The pork belly can be easily frozen as well, and pickled veggies will keep for quite awhile in the fridge. So I make the components here and there when I have time, and then I can whip up a killer meal in 20 minutes or less.

I made this bowl of ramen with pork bones and belly from a local hog, eggs, peas and scallions from the yard, and home-pickled shiitakes from a local mushroom farm.  Everything came from within a 50 mile radius, except for the noodles (next time!) and soy sauce. The total cost of the ingredients per serving has got to be under $5.

Do you like to cook your favorite restaurant meals at home? What dishes have you perfected, and what do you want to try next?

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