Why It Works
- Using collagen-rich short ribs or oxtails gives the soup flavor and body.
- Simmering the beef until fork-tender in dashi and chicken stock increases the savoriness of the broth.
- Browning the beef and aromatics until nicely charred adds a roasty dark caramel flavor.
- Kimchi juice, gochujang, and fermented Sichuan chile-bean paste add heat, as well as a lactic tang that enlivens the broth.
- Finishing the bowls by crisping the shredded beef in a skillet adds even more flavor and texture.
When I asked you folks for your favorite instant noodle brands on Twitter, I was chuffed to note that a great chunk of you picked my favorite non-Japanese noodle: Shin Cup. Spicy, savory, and intensely garlicky with flavor to spare, it's in a league of its own when it comes to ramen (or ramyun, as it's called in Korea).
Here's something interesting: Japanese instant ramen stemmed from a desire to create a no-fuss, quick and easy version of the real dish. It's a sort of toned-down, fast-food version. Korean instant ramyun, on the other hand, was a derivative of Japanese ramen, made with Korean flavors. That is, it's not an instant version of a "real" Korean dish. Ramyun starts and ends with instant noodles.
Until now, that is. If Japanese ramen can be engineered from a delicious simmer-all-day artisan meal into an instant lunch, why can't we do the reverse for Korean ramyun?
A Savory Broth
The flavor I was aiming for with this dish is based on the standard Shin Ramyun from a packet (check out our taste test of all the Shin Ramyun products here). I started by reviewing the ingredients list. Unsurprisingly, enriched flour and colorings, flavorings, and preservatives of various kinds dominate the ingredients, but a closer look at them can reveal their purpose. Up near the top we've got disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate, two flavor enhancers that are designed to work in conjunction with monosodium glutamate (MSG, in this case cleverly hidden in the hydrolyzed soy protein and yeast extract that appear later in the ingredients list) to up the savoriness of foods.
It's a convenient and inexpensive way to make foods taste meaty without actually being too meaty. At home, I prefer using more natural sources for my glutamates and inosinates, and Japanese-style dashi broth proves to be just the ticket.
Dashi starts by steeping giant sea kelp in hot water. Sea kelp provides a concentrated source of glutamic acid, the amino acid from which commercial MSG is derived.
On top of that, smoked dried bonito flakes (known as katsuobushi in Japanese) add inosinic acid, glutamic acid's partner in crime. You can use either bonito flakes or the tiny dried sardines known as niboshi, though I tend to prefer the former for the subtly smoky aroma it adds. With a good source of glutamates and inosinates at my disposal, I moved on to the rest of the broth.
Namely, the meat and aromatics.
Bring on the Beef
"Beef extract," "beef fat," and "beef stock" are the most prominent of the "real" ingredients in the soup base, along with a slew of aromatics, including black pepper, green onions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, and chile. With these elements as my building blocks, I began building my broth.
I've never liked the flavor of canned beef broth—it tastes tinny and artificial, and judging from the ingredients in most beef broths, it's no wonder: They contain surprisingly little actual beef. Most of the flavor comes from yeast extracts and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins—the very things I'd just made my own dashi broth to avoid. Rather than use beef broth, I decided to combine my dashi with some chicken broth, giving it a rich beef flavor with the addition of some short ribs. With chicken broth, homemade is best, but even store-bought stuff does perfectly well in this recipe. Packaged chicken broth is held to much more stringent standards than beef.
Added bonuses: short ribs are packed with connective tissue, which converts to gelatin as the broth cooks, giving it a nice, rich body. And, after cooking it until tender, I could add the shredded beef back in as a garnish for the soup.
Browning the beef before simmering the broth adds an extra dimension of flavor. I also decided to take a page from my Japanese tonkotsu ramen recipe and brown onions and ginger to increase that roasty aroma and enhance their natural sweetness.
For the remaining aromatics, I added garlic, scallions, and a good dab of gochujang, a Korean fermented chile and soybean paste.
After simmering for four hours—long enough to fully tenderize the beef—I was left with a broth that was tasty enough with plenty of body, but it wasn't quite right. It lacked the punch, brightness, and intensity that I was after.
Kimchi is not listed in the ingredients of Shin Ramyun, but there is plenty of chile, garlic, radishes, and acidity regulators, all of which give it a kimchi-esque aroma*. I tried adding some kimchi juice to the mix. Definitely a step in the right direction, but not quite there yet.
*I wish more things in life had a kimchi-esque aroma, or rather, that some things that smell like kimchi smelled less of it, and other things that don't smell of kimchi smelled more of it. I long for a different kimchi-esque aroma distribution in my life.
What's missing? A touch of soy sauce brought it closer, as did a good sprinkle of kochukaru, but it was still missing that intense garlic and chile hit. The solution? Doubanjiang, a Chinese fermented chile-bean paste. It's not a traditional part of Korean cuisine by any means, but it was exactly what my broth needed to complete its flavor profile. Bright and fresh with an intense heat that builds as you sip it, supported by a complex, savory backbone from the beef, sea kelp, chicken broth, and smoked bonito. This is a broth with some real complexity. If you made your broth right, it should have so much body that it gels into a solid block when you refrigerate it overnight.
Now that's what rich broth should look like!
Dressing It Up
Last step: adding the garnishes. Instant ramyun comes with packets of dehydrated garnishes including chile pepper, scallions, mushrooms, and thin flakes of beef. We can do better than that. For the mushroom and beef element, I decided to sauté hon-shimeji mushrooms in hot oil until well-browned before adding my shredded short rib meat. The fatty meat crisps up in the skillet just like good Mexican taco meat, adding both flavor and texture to the finished bowl.
I already had the kimchi drained and ready, so that went on top as well, along with the requisite shower of thinly sliced scallions. Finally, add an egg—soft-boiled so that I can stir the yolk into the broth—and we've got a meal worth waking up early for.
Just so we're clear, I've got absolutely nothing against instant Shin Ramyun. Indeed, I ate one for lunch just last week.
But just so we're clear on another point, we've just gone from this:
That's an upgrade I can choose to abide by every once in a while.
1 (6-inch) piece kombu (sea kelp, see notes)
2 ounces niboshi or shaved katsuobushi (see notes)
12 scallions, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 pounds beef short ribs or oxtails
1 medium onion, split in half
1 (3-inch) knob ginger, cut into 3 slices
8 cloves garlic, divided
2 tablespoons gochujang (see notes), plus more to taste
1 tablespoon doubanjiang (see notes)
1 1/2 quarts homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon gochugaru, plus more to taste (see notes)
1 (8-ounce) jar cabbage kimchi, with its juices
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces hon-shimeji or sliced shiitake mushrooms
4 to 6 servings ramen-style noodles
4 to 6 soft boiled eggs
Cover kombu with 1 quart cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce heat to low and add niboshi or katsuobushi. Let steep for 15 minutes, then drain broth and discard solids. Set aside. While broth simmers, roughly chop 8 scallions and set aside. Finely slice remaining 4 scallions and refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot over high heat until lightly smoking. Add as many short ribs as fit in a single layer and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat until short ribs are all browned.
Add onion (cut side down) and ginger to pot and cook until well browned, about 5 minutes. Add 6 cloves garlic and roughly chopped scallions and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Return short ribs to pot along with gochujang and doubanjiang. Stir to coat vegetables and beef in spice mixture, then add strained kombu broth and chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover with the lid slightly cracked, and cook until beef easily separates from the bones, about 4 hours. For best results, allow to cool and transfer to refrigerator overnight.
When ready to proceed, strain soup through a fine-mesh strainer (if refrigerated overnight, you'll have to reheat it slightly until it liquefies). Transfer liquid to a medium pot and skim off any excess fat. Pick out short ribs and transfer to a bowl. Discard remaining solids. When cool enough to handle, pick meat off of short rib bones and transfer to a cutting board. Discard bones. Roughly chop meat and set aside.
Add gochugaru to broth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over the pot and strain kimchi juice into the broth. Finely mince remaining garlic with a garlic press or a microplane and stir into broth. Add soy sauce. Season broth to taste with salt, pepper, and extra gochugaru and gochujang if a spicier flavor is desired. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add chopped short rib and cook, tossing occasionally, until crisped in spots and well browned, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook ramen noodles according to package instructions. Divide into individual pre-heated serving bowls. Top with broth, followed by crisped beef and mushrooms, sliced scallions, kimchi, and a soft boiled egg split in half. Serve immediately.
All Asian ingredients can be found in Asian specialty markets or ordered onilne. Kombu is dried sea kelp. Katsuobushi is dried, smoked bonito. Niboshi are dried anchovies. Gochujang is a Korean chile bean paste. Doubanjiang is a Chinese chile-bean sauce. Gochugaru is Korean red pepper flakes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 47g||60%|
|Saturated Fat 18g||90%|
|Total Carbohydrate 30g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||11%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 11mg||54%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|