Classic techniques yield cultural expansions into the world of entrée soups.
In French cuisine, the ability to make soup from a rich and flavorful broth is the test and mark of a top chef. Traditional techniques develop layers of flavor while patience helps the simmer process along. Soups are the obvious answer for using leftover ingredients, and today’s hearty soups, particularly Asian ramen and new takes on Mexican classics, are becoming the go-to choice for American comfort food. These ethnic soups are also the vehicles for some pretty creative combinations of flavor and texture.
Far removed from the salty and cheap instant ramen associated with life as a college student, chefs are revisiting the classic, broth-based comfort food with their own twists and add-ins.
Chef Bill Kim, owner of Urbanbelly, Belly Shack, and BellyQ in Chicago, adds extra acidic profiles in the form of lime juice or cane vinegar to balance and brighten up his rich pork belly ramen. Though ramen originated in China, it is popular in Korea and Japan as well. While regional interpretations of ramen take different forms, they all share one important component: a flavorful broth.
Sticking to this traditional definition, Chef Kim develops his recipe with a rich stock made by simmering the pork belly in a special sea salt water bath machine for 14 temperature-controlled hours, until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. Leftover stock is made from the 10 braised pork bellies the restaurant goes through each day and makes for a gelatinous, extra-concentrated flavor intensifier in the final dish. Chef Kim also adds a dashi made using kombu, bonito, and miso, along with ginger, nubs of hot chili peppers, mushrooms, a touch of fish sauce, and lime juice for a silky, umami-driven broth with a little spice and heat.
For the other important ramen ingredient, Chef Kim cooks ramen noodles—made with eggs, alkaline, and flour—in a separate pot until just al dente enough to retain the shape and bite. The Urbanbelly ramen is topped off with the pork belly, soft-boiled egg, and chopped cilantro to finish.
Chef Kim also serves a take on classic Vietnamese pho, an aromatic rice-noodle soup, by enhancing a chicken stock with star anise, allspice, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel seed, plus cinnamon for a little sweetness. For a vegan-friendly version, he makes an earthy mushroom broth as the base for the noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, jalapeño, and Thai basil.
At two of his Chicago restaurants, Takashi and Slurping Turtle, Japanese Chef/owner Takashi Yagihashi puts his signature stamp on ramen with a 24-hour broth made by simmering pork and chicken bones for a full day and adding bonito flakes, kombu, and dried sardines. Slurping Turtle’s popular Tonkatsu ramen showcases chunks of breaded pork and chewy, thin noodles.