People, it is so many things.
But before we get there, here’s a little story. I was driving home one day a couple years ago, listening to NPR, and David Chang was on promoting his book Momofuku. The interview was going well, standard stuff, and then the reporter said something about being astonished at how complicated the Ramen Broth recipe was. Chang countered that certainly there were a lot of ingredients, but it wasn’t hard. All you had to do was boil the stuff. The reporter said, incredulous, “but it takes fourteen hours to make it” and Chang replied, “Sure, but that’s not all active time.”
At that point I decided that I had to see that recipe, so I got Momofuku. Now, if you fall pretty squarely on the Bittman side of the Keller – Bittman continuum (as I do), there’s still a recipe or two for you in Momofuku. You can make Octovin. Actually, that may be the only truly dead simple recipe, but Octovin alone is worth the price of admission. That stuff will change your life.
What kept me away from the Ramen Broth wasn’t so much the fourteen hours (though truly that is plenty enough reason to stay away), but the first ingredient – 5 lbs of meaty pork neck bones. When your usual meat-buying MO is a quick dash to the Whole Foods over lunch, you don’t tend to get into detailed conversations with the butchers about the relative availability of various types of meaty pork bones, or really, inquire whether they are available at all. And taking extra time out of my day to procure neck bones for a truly long (if not complex) stock recipe was just not going to happen.
But then we got a pig! And I had meaty neck bones! And I was almost even pretty sure I knew which ones they were! It was now or never for Momofuku Ramen Broth.
I assembled my ingredients in a couple trips to Whole Foods, because apparently I am forgetful and SO MANY INGREDIENTS. Chang recommends super-awesome high end bacon, but I decided that regular-awesome Whole Foods bacon would have to suffice. I also got myself an antibiotic-free organic whole chicken from Whole Foods to maintain the localganic integrity of the project.
The recipe starts out very precisely – use a 3″x6″ piece of kombu, and then boil it in 6 quarts of water. But it kind of devolves over the course of the day – boil the bones for 6 or more hours, replenish water as necessary, but then stop at hour five, but it’s still cool to continue simmering for an unspecified amount of time. You know, broth. At the end, I worried that it was either too strong or too weak, but then I tasted it and decided to stop worrying. Because it was killer. Looking around some more, I think I maybe should have ended up with 5 quarts instead of the 4 I got. I may thin it out when I serve it, but honestly, I’m not sure I care.
My favorite aspect of the recipe is that Chang tells you not to discard the boiled shitakes because you can totally pickle those, but makes no mention of what to do with the whole cooked chicken you just pulled out of the pot. (And no, I did not pickle anything because I am lazy, but I did cool and shred the chicken, because DUH.)
I found a gravy separator to be invaluable in this process. Perhaps you are really great at skimming fat, but I’m not, and so the gravy separator made removing the fat relatively simple.
When it was all done, I let it cool while I did some yoga. I came back to the kitchen and then passed my Berkshire-pig bone, organic chicken, CSA veggie, premium bacon broth through my unbleached organic cotton cheesecloth-lined strainer. I pondered briefly whether or not there might be a way to take myself even more seriously. There was. I hooked the ipod up to play Arcade Fire and had some deep thoughts while I cleaned up.
I finished washing the last dish at 9:30pm, 13.5 hours after I had started the broth.