Why is it so difficult to write about something you enjoy and so easy to write about something that was not enjoyable, dispiriting or simply a let down? Sometimes I wonder if the English language wasn’t created by and for critics who seek to be “underwhelmed”, using their own terminology and my least favorite word in our language. How often is it that you read a positive review of something, anything, and say to yourself “That was well written?” Chances are not very often. It’s easy to destroy, to tear down, to trash and be original, even witty. Conversely, it’s hard to write originally, cleverly and without cliché when praising something (not to mention that you’re really putting yourself out there to ridiculed or embarrassed). For me it’s one of the hardest things to do, which is why I don’t do it very often. So here goes. . .
Just about a month ago Erin gave me a surprise gift in the middle of the week: David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. I’m serious when I say it may be the most influential cookbook I’ve looked at in 5 years when it comes to how I cook and how I want to cook; it’s to my cooking what reading Joyce’s Ulysses has been to my fiction writing, which is to say, at the least, liberating. Is that to say Chang is the best chef or cook on the planet? Not at all, just as I don’t think Joyce is the greatest writer to have ever written in the English language. But like Joyce, Chang isn’t chained to tradition or authenticity. The most important thing is that end product tastes good, which is why you see him suggesting Benton’s bacon in the recipe for the ramen broth. Authentic? Not at all. Tasty as fuck and original? Quite.
When I started flipping through the pages cookbook I was blown away by his approach to cooking. Some might say he’s irreverent, but to me that would imply that he doesn’t treat the ingredients with the respect that they deserve. And when I had finished cooking the pork belly after it had cured in sugar and salt, and I tasted it, my head was spinning. I’ve cooked pork belly before and some of it has been damn good. But none has been like this. The simple cure of equal parts sugar and salt truly respect and enhance the porkiness of the belly (and shoulder), as did the cooking technique. Let me say, if you don’t like pork, this is not the recipe for you.
At every step in the process of producing Chang’s ramen recipe at home I was impressed by the technique and the final product. From the taré used to season the broth, to the meats, to the broth itself, everything came out better than I had anticipated. Sure, I could have been done a week or so ago, but I chose to cure and smoke my own bacon for the broth rather than purchasing Benton’s. But the whole process was more than worth it.
Here’s the end result from my own kitchen, garnished with pork belly, pork shoulder, narutomaki, nori, English peas and bamboo shoots:
Needless to say my ramen adventure has just begun. To say that I’m an enormous fan of noodle soups from Asia would be an understatement (so much so that I’m considering starting up a food truck that would sell a small variety of noodle soups and pickles from Asia). And to see Nate, nearly 3, gobble that shit up with as much enthusiasm as I did last night was pretty cool.
Unlike Chang it may not end at ramen for me as I tend to prefer pho, but I get the ramen fascination and could easily be taken up by it. And based on this introduction to making ramen, I’m sure I’ll be having it for lunch and dinner many more times in the future.