When I was a kid, ramen was an after-school snack or something that I would eat when I didn’t know what else to have. At that point, the only ramen I knew of was the little packets that you could buy at the grocery store. Back in those days, you could get ten for a dollar, and it seemed like a great deal. Sometimes I would spruce it up a bit. When I was 19, I was looking through the kitchen and found a packet of soy sauce, some taco bell hot sauce and a packet of ketchup. I mixed them all together with the ramen and was amazed at what I had created.
Shortly after, I was sent to Japan with the Navy and was in for a surprise. What I had made didn’t even come close to resembling the real thing. For the better part of two years, while I was stationed in Japan, I lived on giant bowls of ramen and the occasional chicken karaage.
After my Navy time was up, I came back home to Minnesota—a ramen desert. There weren’t any great ramen shops here, and going back to ramen with taco bell hot sauce and ketchup just felt wrong. The years went by and I forgot about it, but then all of a sudden, it seemed like ramen was all the rage. Everybody was cooking it, and little restaurants all over were serving up bowls of delicious ramen.
After eating ramen at a few different restaurants, I finally decided to make a version with mostly wild ingredients. For about ten years now I have been working on this recipe. Many of my attempts were good, but there was always something missing. I still hadn’t tackled ramen noodles. I would always buy fresh ramen noodles from a store in Minneapolis, and they work really well, but I wanted to try making my own.
I have been making noodles with wild ingredients for a while but had never made an alkaline noodle of any sort before. Alkalinity comes from kansui powder and improves texture and flavor. This helps the noodles stay firm and not get mushy in the broth of the ramen. I finally got around to trying it and came up with a stinging nettle ramen noodle. It was exactly what I had been waiting for. Not only were the noodles spot on in texture, they also had a great earthy flavor that only nettles can provide. On top of that, they are visually stunning.
This whole recipe may seem like it’s a lot of work for a bowl of soup, but I guarantee that it is totally worth it. Enjoy!
Follow these five steps to make four bowls of wild duck ramen:
Prepare a broth
Combine the tare
Select your extras
Cook the noodles
Build your ramen
Wild Duck Ramen
For the broth, start with a duck stock. Stock is relatively easy to make, and I store mine in quart containers in the freezer, so I always have it on hand. If you don’t make your own stock, you can use chicken or turkey stock. You are going to need to flavor that stock to get your broth.
2 quarts of duck stock
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger
1 head of garlic
10 knots of kombu
Simmer all the ingredients together and reduce the stock down to about 1½ quarts. When the stock is finished, it will have a very pleasant flavor of duck and ginger with a hint of garlic and some earthiness from the kombu.
The next step is to make the tare. The tare is where you are going to get that umami flavor in your ramen.
1 cup soy sauce
5 grams of bonito flakes
1/4 cup sake
1 tablespoon of mirin
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger
½ head of garlic
2 green onions (roughly chopped)
Step 1. Bring all of this to a boil and then let sit until it cools to room temperature.
Step 2: Pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth to get all the little flakes out. This is what you will put in the bowl first to flavor the broth. You add two tablespoons for every eight ounces of broth.
A good bowl of ramen has many components that all work together. A bowl of broth and noodles would be good, but to push it over the top you’ll need to add some extras. An egg is a great thing to add, either soft boiled or poached; or if you’re adventurous, use a hard-boiled duck egg that has been cured in mirin and dark soy sauce.
½ cup mirin
½ cup dark soy sauce
1 duck egg
Step 1: Hard boil the duck egg.
Step 2: Stir the ingredients together, and then peel and soak the hard boiled-egg for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.
Step 3: Mushrooms are a great way to add umami flavor to any dish, and this is no exception. Toss about a pound of mushrooms in sunflower oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and then roast them in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Fat is an essential component, and I like to use a flavored fat. In this case, I combined duck fat with garlic and salt.
1/4 cup duck fat
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mince the garlic and salt together to make a paste, and then stir it together with the fat.
Step 5: Prepare the duck breasts chashu style. Place the raw duck breasts in a shallow pan with ½ cup of the tare, then add water to cover the duck. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer and cook covered for 45 minutes.
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The stinging nettle ramen noodles are my favorite part of this dish. For texture, it’s important to add kansui powder. To make this at home, put baking soda in a tray, and bake in the oven at 275 degrees for one hour.
¼ cup buckwheat flour
2 cups high gluten bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 grams kansui powder
1/3 cup nettle puree
¾ cup water
2 teaspoon salt
Step 1: Whisk together the different flours and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer rigged with a dough hook. (You can do this by hand if you don’t have a mixer, but the mixer makes it easier)
Step 2: Dissolve the kansui powder and salt in the water.
Step 3: Add the nettle puree to the flour, and turn on the mixer. Then add the water, and mix until it forms a ball. If the dough is too crumbly, add one tablespoon of water until you get a firm dough ball.
Step 4: After you have the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it stand in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
Step 5: Using a pasta roller, make sheets of pasta, then use the noodle cutter to make your ramen noodles. When you are ready to cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles in batches. The ramen will cook quickly in about three to four minutes.
Build Your Ramen
At this point, all of your components should be ready, and it’s time to build your wild ramen.
Step 1: Add 2 tablespoons of the tare to each bowl along with a heaping tablespoon of the fat.
Step 2: Add the ramen noodles to each bowl and pour over the piping hot broth. Garnish each bowl with duck breast, mushrooms, ramps, eggs and a couple pieces of nori paper.
There you have it, four magnificent bowls of ramen.