Look! I do book reviews too!
I’ve been hearing about this place for just about ever. Every time I go back home, I often feel overwhelmed at the choices of new trend-setting restaurants that define the New York scene – such that, my desire to go to Momofuku Ko was outdated. Since 2008, this place was plastered in every food magazine, website, and television show for “best of” – but by the end of 2012, the chatter mostly petered out to be replaced by the-next-best-thing (and oh, there are so many…). But I didn’t forget (and thanks to a college friend who came to visit us in Sacramento to remind us about this place).
Christmas rolled around and we were desperately searching the webosphere for an amazing restaurant that wouldn’t break the bank and be a one-of-a-kind experience. So I remembered – and quickly learned that getting a reservation at Momofuku Ko was not possible within 5 days, maybe not within 5 months (the place only seats 12). But, luckily enough, the original incarnation, the Noodle Bar, didn’t take reservations, just some perseverance and an ability to stand outside without giving up (something I was afraid my husband wouldn’t do after we waited 2 hours in the rain outside of Hot Doug’s in Chicago). But a famous restaurant, and only 2 $$? Oh, but ramen was the specialty. Ramen, seriously? What is all the fuss? Well, you have to trust David Chang. (And now that I’m in the know, I see ramen on the rise as a major force in trendy dining).
I’m not going to review the restaurant - if you want that, just google a real reviewer. What I will say is that this ramen changed my life. It elevated the purpose of sriracha to a new plane (in fact, the ramen was so good, I DID NOT USE SRIRACHA!). I immediately looked online for more information, and saw the Momofuku cookbook. SOLD.
This is more than a cookbook. It’s the story of how noodle bar started, and how the empire that David Chang unintentionally (as his supposed modesty would like you to believe) changed the way we think about Asian fusion. I dare say he wouldn’t call it that, but alas, in blending of classic French technique and a love for goose liver, modern gastronomic chemistry (he has been known to use a substance called “meat glue” to fuse chicken parts together), all things Korean/Japanese sweet/spicy/fat/salt, and a righteous obsession with pickling, what else could you call it? The fact that this is really a story, with the added bonus of some earth shattering recipes strewn along the way, is something to be shared.
I won’t ruin the story for you, but I what I will tell you is that anyone who has struggled to enact a vision can relate. He pissed off a lot of people (and continued to do so) early on but refused to give up even when some of his ideas didn’t quite work out. It took them getting things wrong many times before they would get it right – and getting it right was often stumbled upon by mistake. Only perfection was acceptable. Even the alkali noodles used in the ramen took painstaking research and refusal to allow for inferior short cuts. Noodle bar paved the way for bigger things as the Asian fushion progressed to challenging, inventive, and game-changing cuisine.
But his badass persona isn’t always a good thing (besides getting him press) – I do think he’s really not as modest as he’d let you believe. I’ll end this by saying that this man is a complete asshole, but I’m a huge fan. I’ll also say that I’m an amateur and have really only mastered (ok, only had the guts to take on) the ramen and pork buns – the rest, I’ll have to finally get that reservation as Ssam Bar or Ko one of these days…
Here is my shortened/modified recipe for ramen. This takes way less time that David Chang’s, and tastes pretty damn good. Before you riot on me, I merely print this so that you’ll make it, busy people - but check this out for a copy of the full thing.
Tare (seasoning for the broth)
1 cup sake
1 cup mirin
2 cups light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chicken demi-glace
2 cups dried shitake
1 small whole chicken
3 slices very smoky bacon
¼ lb pork hock or other fatty pork product
1 tsp smoked salt
Pre-made fresh lo mein noodles (I say lo mein because I just cannot find good pre-made ramen noodles that aren’t the 12 cent pack, but if you find ramen, go for it). You can also make it yourself.
Fish cakes, sliced
Pickled mushrooms (see recipe here, I use mushrooms from the broth) or other pickled product – don’t use pickled cucumbers though
Slow poached eggs (see recipe here)
To make the tare, place everything in a skillet, bowl, and the simmer for 1 hour (you can do this while you make the broth, or while you drink a beer, whatever).
To make the broth: Place konbu in a pot with 6 cups of water. This will be like those little sink sponges, and will become HUGE. Leave in for 30 minutes, and then add shitakes. When your pot is full of expanded konbu, freak out your friends and pull the full leaf out of the pot, you'll feel like you're at the beach. Leave the mushrooms in for another 30 minutes, then strain (save for later, to make mushroom pickles for your ramen). Then add all of the meat products, and simmer for 4 hours.
Pull out the chicken, and shred. Discard the bones and non-edibles. Strain broth to get rid of all other heavy particulates.
Season with tare to taste (I usually end up using the whole thing anyway).
Place noodles (cooked to package directions) in a bowl with all of the other accessories. Add broth to desired level.