10 Essential Tools and Tips for Making Excellent Ramen at Home
A warm, steaming bowl of ramen is a comfort for all kinds of ailments. We’re not talking the microwaveable cup o’noodles of your dorm room days, but traditional Japanese ramen. What began as the harmonious fusion of plump Chinese noodles and complex Japanese broths, this soothing soup now has its own devoted following. When making ramen, it can be broken down into five components: tare (the rich sauce that flavors your soup), broth, noodles, toppings and oil/fat. For a crash course on what you’ll need to make it at home, we asked Amy Kimoto-Kahn, ramen pro and author of Simply Ramen: A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home, to walk us through her essential tools. From how to get the silkiest broth to making your own noodles, this is the equipment you’ll need to get the job done.
The 5 Components of Ramen
First, a (very) simple breakdown of the components of ramen. “Making ramen from scratch can be quite time intensive, but the more things you can make yourself, the better your final soup will be,” says Kimoto-Kahn. “Fortunately, many of these components can be made in advance, so the actual time it takes to assemble your bowl is relatively quick.”
Ramen broth does not have any salt in it - you need to season it. In most recipes, this is where tare (pronounced tah-reh) comes in. This can come in the form of miso, shoyu and shio (salt). It is added to the bottom of the bowl before the broth is poured in. (There are exceptions to this step, but we will save that for lesson two!)
The soup base of your ramen can be broken down into two general categories: Chintan and Paitan. Chintan is a light, clear broth (such as classic shoyu – Japanese soy sauce - ramen), while paitan is a rich, creamy soup with an opaque color (Tonkatsu, a pork bone broth, falls in this category). Occasionally, these two broths will be combined to form a more complex soup.
These days you can find ramen with rice noodles, sweet potato noodles and (gasp) even spiralized vegetable noodles, but true ramen purists believe that the noodles must be made from wheat. They also have a defining ingredient called kansui, which is a combination of alkaline salts that give the noodles their springy texture. Ramen noodles can vary from thin and curly, to flat and fat, and the color can range from pale white to a buttery yellow - it all depends on the flour to alkaline ratio. If you want to try making your own ramen noodles at home, check out our step-by-step guide here.
This is where ramen gets to have some fun and gives you the flexibility to make it your own. Some common toppings are ajitsuke tamago (marinated and soft-boiled egg), chashu (braised pork), menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), negi (green onion), and a nori (seaweed) square.
Most ramen is finished off with an aromatic fat, often in the form of chili, garlic or ginger oil, creating pools of slippery, flavorful oil on the top of the soup.
Tools and Equipment
1. Pressure Cooker
A pressure cooker can be an intimidating (and expensive) piece of equipment, but it’s necessary when making a paitan broth (Remember? The rich, creamy one!). Whether you’re using pork, chicken, or beef bones, the pressure helps push the bones down and release all of that unctuous fat and marrow into your soup. This is what gives the broth it’s complexity. If you don’t have the space (or the budget), you can also use a multi-cooker like an Instant Pot. A 23-quart pressure cooker will make enough broth for about 8 people, while an 8-quart pressure cooker should make enough broth for 3 to 4 people, says Kimoto-Kahn.
Presto 23 Qt. Aluminum Pressure Canner and Cooker, $80 (originally $111) at wayfair.com
2. Different Sized Pots
Depending on how much broth you are making or how many people you are cooking for, you will want a large and a medium pot. Kimoto-Kahn likes to use a large pot to warm her broth and a medium pot for cooking the ramen noodles.
3. Immersion Blender
When making a creamy paitan broth, you’re looking for the milk-white color that happens when the fat and gelatin from the bones emulsify. The quickest way to achieve this is with an immersion blender. Strain out the bones and solids and then stick the blender stick right into the pot to thicken the soup base.
4. Fine Mesh Strainer
A fine mesh strainer is helpful for straining out any solids or impurities from the soup base.
7-Inch Stainless Steel Strainer, $52 from williams-sonoma.com
5. Stand Mixer
When making ramen noodles at home, Kimoto-Kahn likes the ease of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer fitted with the dough hook. “You can use a food processor, but you risk overmixing your dough,” she says. “The dough should look dry, with little pea-sized pieces that bind together when you squeeze it. If your dough is too wet, then your noodles will be too soft.”
6. Pasta Machine
While you can use a pasta attachment that hooks on to your stand mixer, Kimoto-Kahn suggests a pasta machine you can use on your counter. “I prefer a separate pasta machine because I find the dough is easier to handle when it’s closer to the table versus elevated above the bowl of a stand mixer.”
Marcato Atlast Pasta Machine, $90 from surlatable.com
Kimoto-Kahn recommends two types of chopsticks when making ramen: A longer and thickerChinese-style chopstick for lifting and arranging the noodles nicely in your bowl, plus a slimmer and shorter Japanese chopstick for eating. “I like to let my guests choose from a big container of chopsticks so they can find one that suits their own personality and style,” says Kimoto-Kahn.
To best slurp down your broth or pick up the soft-boiled egg floating in your ramen, you’ll want a renge (the large soup spoon that you find at most ramen shops). “I prefer the stoneware spoons versus the plastic ones,” says Kimoto-Kahn. “It elevates the bowl to have a nice heavy spoon with a good mouthfeel.”
Black Dumpling Spoon, $10 from williams-sonoma.com
9. Shallow Serving Bowls
For serving, Kimoto-Kahn likes a large ceramic or clay bowl with straight, short sides. “A shallower bowl lifts the noodles up so they don’t sink to the bottom,” she says.
Hawkins Ceramic Pasta Bowls (set of 4), $104 from food52.com
10. Multiple Ladles
Kimoto-Kahn always keeps two different-sized ladles on hand: A smaller ladle for the tare (your soup’s seasoning) and a larger ladle for broth. “It’s important to measure out the amount of tare and stock you are adding so that there is consistency between each bowl,” she says. “Ladles make that job much easier when you’re trying to assemble your ramen quickly and efficiently.”