Chicken Dinners: Chicken Ramen

Pork free. Yvonne Ruperti

With all the Japanese ramen shops in Singapore, I've become seriously addicted to ramen—the chewy noodles, the soy marinated eggs, the rich and salty stock. Though I always seem to lean toward the in-your-face porky boldness of a tonkotsu-style ramen, a new shop opened up near me that specializes in a chicken-based broth. I had to try it.

The chicken ramen at Tori King.

This ramen shop, Tori King (tori means bird), is all about the chicken. It even serves the ramen with a roasted chicken leg. But unlike what I've read about chicken broth ramen being lighter more delicate, the one served here seemed just as bold and flavorful as some of the pork-based ramen that I've tasted. It was extremely salty (I don't mind that in ramen), thick with collagen (the thickest chicken broth I've ever slurped up) and tasted like the most amazing chicken broth I've ever had. I had to try to make this thick, flavorful chicken-based ramen at home. But how?

Dried kombu adds the subtle flavor of the sea.

Back in the kitchen I thought about how I'd get my broth to not only be thick, but how to make sure it didn't just taste like your average chicken soup broth. This would pose a challenge. Not only does chicken not produce a stock that's as thick and creamy as pork bone broth, it's also much milder. Instead of adding gelatin to the soup, I decided to see what I could do from scratch. A little bit of sniffing around the internet led me on the right path. First off, in order to get a real full-bodied texture, the broth would have to be made with collagen-rich parts: chicken wings and feet. The skin and cartilage of these pieces make them ideal to boil down into a super intense stock. For flavor, I'd add a melange of ginger, leeks, scallions, onion, shiitake mushrooms...and dried kombu (kelp), a common ingredient in Japanese broths.

For help with my stock, I looked to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's tonkatsu ramen broth recipe. For his stock, he recommends straining and washing all of the bones after just coming to a boil, and then proceeding to make the stock. The reason for this extra step? To get whiter stock by eliminating red blood cells from the liquid, which oxidize and turn brown.

The stock from rinsed chicken parts.

When testing with chicken, however, I found that the stock water didn't turn pink as it came to a boil, as it does with pork. Perhaps chicken feet and wings don't release enough red blood into the water to affect the color? To test this, I made two batches of stock: one rinsed, the other not. There was only a negligible difference in color of the final chilled stocks, but I decided rinsing the chicken parts was worth it because it pretty much eliminated any need to skim the impurities while the stock simmered.

As for how long you should simmer the stock for, there aren't any quickies here. To reap as much body and flavor as you can from the chicken, you have to simmer the stock until the collagen breaks down and the bones can be easily snapped by hand (a tip from Alton Brown). That means simmering at a low roll for about 6 to 8 hours. Concentration of the stock is also key here, because the soup broth is the highly concentrated stock—you want to taste the thickness in every slurp. For mine, I started with a ratio of five pounds chicken parts to four quarts water. My final yield of stock was about 10 cups of the thickest, most chicken-y broth I've ever tasted. A generous amount of salt (not soy sauce) was all it needed, allowing the chicken flavor to shine.

Or was it? As chicken-y and delicious as it was, my broth didn't taste like Tori King's broth, nor did it have the inviting chicken-y yellow hue. It's been rumored that the chicken ramen shop uses MSG (a common seasoning in these parts), so just for kicks I dissolved in a cube of chicken bouillon. Bullseye! That said, this chicken ramen broth is absolutely wonderful on its own (but if you're itching to kick it up a notch, you know what to do).

Serve the ramen broth with a handful of just cooked ramen noodles (fresh preferred) and your choice of toppings, which can include crispy fried shallots, fresh ground sesame seeds, wasabi paste, sliced green onion, and the traditional Japanese marinated egg.