One of my favorite quotes from Jamie Oliver is that flavor has to be earned. I heard him mention it while I was watching him cook one afternoon, and it just really resonated with me. Like most things in this world, great flavor comes from dedication, hard work, and a pinch of patience. But as in life and the kitchen, the very best things are always worth waiting for.
And if you want to taste something worth waiting for, then braised pork belly atop a bowl of steaming ramen is a good place to start. I’ve actually gone with a condensed recipe, as traditional ramen prepared in Japan can often take days to complete. It’s a labor of love, and the Japanese are experts at coaxing unbelievable flavor out of simple ingredients.
Ramen is slow food at it’s best. Every extra effort to draw out the flavor of the quality ingredients involved will repay you, as the eater, ten fold. The industrial food system realizes that as humans, we are drawn to certain tastes. But rather than using time and quality ingredients, chemical additives are used in an effort to highjack our taste buds and convince us that we should in fact be eating more of what they are selling us.
But once you’ve put in the work to develop great flavor on your own, you will be able to spot the imitators a mile away.
While I’m all for preserving tradition in the kitchen, I also can’t resist adding my own twist to a classic. The broth might veer from classic ramen recipes slightly, but it is delicious and nourishing and completely slurp worthy. But the most obvious swap out I’ve made is using golden beet noodles. I love it when veggies and noodles are one and the same, and I try to make that happen as often as I can. (I do it with this amazing kitchen gadget)
Plus, the beets have a sweet, earthy flavor that finds itself right at home in a bowl of broth bursting with umami.
I definitely wanted baby bok choy to play a part in my ramen rendition, although, I’ll be honest… I was really hoping for some smaller baby bok choy. These guys look more like teenagers to me. Still delicious, if slightly less cute.
I think bok choy is amazing, so delicate to be such a hearty, winter grower. Like kale, they actually do their best growing after a frost. And they look so elegant, especially next to a perfect, runny-yolk soft boiled egg. As you slurp, some of that yolk mingles its way in with the broth and it is like nothing else in this world.
Embrace the runny yolk, just do it.
And to add some contrast to that soft egg, I threw in some fried garlic chips. Like little, flavor bursting soup croutons. Totally worth the few extra minutes of your time. Just be careful not to let them go too long in the hot oil, as overcooked garlic loses its sweet, mellow notes and turns bitter.
This might not be your week night staple, I-just-had-a-crazy-day-and-need-to-eat-in-the-next-five-minutes, kind of dinner. But when you do have an extra few minutes to catch your breath, try treating yourself to a meal full of carefully crafted,well earned flavor.
You’re worth the extra time it might take.
And you know what’s even more than rewarding than turning your hard earned efforts into something delicious? Being able to share those efforts with a few of your favorite humans.
- 1.5 lbs pork belly, pasture raised or antibiotic free
- juice of one orange
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- tbs coconut aminos
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tsp salt
- 9 cups water
- several carrots
- several stalks celery
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed with skin left on
- 1 onion sliced in half, with skin left on
- chicken bones, and any accompanying scraps: neck, feet
- pork spare rib bones
- 2 inches ginger
- 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 3 tbs coconut aminos
- 2 tbs fish sauce or 1 tbs bonito flakes
- 2 star anise
- 4 large golden beets
- 2 baby bok choy
- 4 eggs
- 8 cloves garlic
- sesame oil
- shredded red cabbage
- black sesame seeds
- chili paste
- In a shallow glass dish, combine orange juice, garlic, ginger, coconut aminos, water, and salt. With a sharp knife, score fat of pork belly, without cutting through to the meat. Submerge pork belly, leaving fat above the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. Remove from refrigerator 45 minutes before you begin cooking.
- Preheat oven to 400. Arrange chicken and pork bones and necks and feet (if using) on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes (this step can be skipped, but results in a more flavorful broth)
- While bones are roasting, add carrots, celery, onion, ginger, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and star anise to a stock pot filled with 9 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and add roasted bones. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 2.5 hours.
- Once bones are done roasting, reduce oven heat to 300. Heat an oven proof pan (I used cast iron) and sear pork belly on both sides, fat side first. Pour marinade over meat, cover pan with foil, and place into oven for 2.5 hours.
- While broth and meat cook, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 4 eggs, reduce heat slightly, and cook for 6-7 minutes (depending on your preference for a runny or solid yolk). Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of ice water for 3 minutes to halt cooking. Remove eggs and reserve.
- Peel beets and add to the pot of boiling water, cooking for about 5 minutes. Remove and add to bowl of ice water or under cold running water to halt cooking. Spiralize the beets and reserve.
- Heat a few tablespoons of sesame oil in a small frying pan. Peel 8 cloves of garlic and slice thinly. Add to hot oil (it is helpful to tilt pan to one side). Stir garlic with a fork while it fries to ensure even frying, and remove before garlic just as they start to get a golden brown. Letting garlic fry too long will produce an unpleasant, bitter taste. Remove garlic from oil using a fork and allow to crisp on a paper towel.
- After the meat has been cooking for 2.5 hours, remove from oven and spoon marinade over the top. Return to oven, uncovered, for an additional hour.
- At this point, add 1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms to broth.
- After pork has cooked an additional hour, set oven to broil and crisp the top of the pork belly for 5-10 minutes, watching closely not to burn. Remove from pan, and let rest before slicing into thin slices.
- While pork rests, remove broth from heat and strain, returning to pot and bringing back to a boil.
- Slice bock choy in half, and add to boiling broth, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add spiralized beets if you prefer softer noodles.
- Divide noodles, bok choy, and broth between 4 bowls. Top with sliced pork belly, boiled egg, scallions, and cabbage. Serve with fried garlic chips and chili paste.
*coconut aminos can be replaced with organic low sodium soy sauce *if using non-organic vegetables in the broth, remove peels *I par boil the beets before spiralizing because they are rather hard. If you prefer, you can skip this step. *sesame oil used to fry garlic can be reserved and drizzled over bok choy *I like to keep the tops of my bok choy crunchy, so when boiling, I prop them upright like a flower in a vase of water.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.