Japanese ramen has fans around the globe. Ramen has become a dish with infinite variations, so simple: just noodles, liquid and toppings. Yet its cultural place is complicated: it is not exactly a soup, nor is it only a noodle dish.
For many, it is a quixotic search for the perfect ramen
: a culmination of delight.
Some toppings on this noodles + stock / mystical dish are used frequently. Slices of flavorful fatty pork belly is one such accoutrement. And very delicious it is; but it’s not beautiful to look at. Take a look, my readers at some lovely seasonal flowers before we approach the meat and bones of the matter.
The Korean, Japanese, and pan-Asian food stores in my area almost always have pork belly for sale in their freezers. A couple of my regular grocery stores sometimes have pork belly as well, though they sell it already thawed in their refrigerated sections, but most often they have it sliced like pale pink bacon.
Although the chashu is served as thin slices, one needs to cook it as a chunk of meat. The problem with buying pork belly from the freezer is that you can’t see exactly what you are getting.
Sometimes I have thawed it out to find nipples on the skin side. Other times the flank (as it is sometimes called) is, well, a flank which includes part of a rib bone.
I have also seen references to “side pork” which is (might be used?) sometimes used the same way as pork belly. I am thinking that it is not so rich and stripped with fat.
Never having butchered a pig, I think the best pork belly is a cut between the nipples and the ribs: there should be striations of meat and fat.
For this post, the belly thawed to resemble ribs rather than belly!
Take a look at my earlier post about chashu!
Simmered Pork for Ramen
based on the recipe in
The Japanese Kitchen •250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
- 1 ½ pounds pork flank
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
- 1 ounce ginger, about the size of a ping-pong ball peeled and sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons sake
- ⅔ cup soy sauce
Put the pork into a large shallow pot. The pot should be large enough to fit the pieces without overlapping. Cover with water. Add garlic, ginger, salt, sake, and shoyu. Bring the mixture to a boil, and skim the foam. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover with a drop lid and simmer gently for 40 minutes. I actually simmered the meat for an hour: my simmer was too gentle.
Remove the pork from the heat, and let the pork stand in its cooking liquid for 15 minutes.
Remove the pork from the pot, and let the broth cool to room temperature. Reserve the broth for making menma and shoyu ramen.
The pork in its broth will keep for a week in the refrigerator, or can be frozen.
To serve the chashu, slice it thinly and put it on top of a bowl of ramen.
Chicken noodle soup also has a followers around the world, and in some cultures it has mystical powers to heal illness.