The renaissance of ramen
Other noodle options
As traditional chicken and noodle soup is the cure for all ills in the United States, slurping noodle soup from around the world is also a great way to ward off the chill and satisfy a desire for comfort food.
• Pho 20, located at the Christie Lodge in Avon, serves up traditional Vietnamese pho (pronounced “phah” or “phuh”). While it’s somewhat similar to ramen, there are substantial differences. Made with rice noodles, broth, meat and vegetables, pho is usually lighter in mouth feel and consistency than ramen. Try the steak and brisket pho, but order it rare as the meat will continue to cook in the broth. Customize the pho to your own liking with bean sprouts, lime, basil and jalapenos—these are served on the side, along with a variety of condiments like soy sauce and sriracha.
• Delite & Bowl, which is situated in the Riverwalk in Edwards, offers noodle bowls in the Chinese style. Featuring a broth made from organic chicken or beef or local vegetables, the soup is almost translucent, but is packed with fresh flavor. Choose from traditional flour noodles or gluten-free rice noodles; if you order take-out, they’ll be packaged separately so as to not get gummy in the transportation process.
Say “ramen,” and what comes to mind? Is it 59-cent dinner in college? Bricks of dehydrated noodles with questionable provenance eclipsed only by the small foil packet of unidentified seasoning that is also included in the package?
This association is not unfounded. After all, it seems as if almost everyone has at least some experience with the grocery store-style version of ramen, for better or for worse. However, comparing real ramen, the kind that has captured the world’s taste buds for the past few years, to the packaged variety is like comparing skiing in North Carolina with resorts in Colorado: Sure, you can ski on both, but you’ll get entirely different experiences.
The alkaline noodles that are essential for ramen originated in China, but they have been used in Japan for the past 100 years. However, it was only after World War II that ramen became ubiquitous in Japan. This street food, which can now be sampled in restaurants from New York to San Diego, is deceptive. The ingredients are fairly straightforward — broth, noodles, meat, vegetables and an egg — but the end result is anything but.
At Nudoru Ramen Bar, a new restaurant in West Vail, chef Chris McKenzie is creating ramen that, like all truly good dishes, inspires silence. After all, it’s hard to talk when you’re busy slurping.
ALL ABOUT THAT BROTH … AND NOODLE
McKenzie, who lived and worked as a chef in multiple restaurants in Steamboat Springs before moving to Vail last year, opened Nudoru because he and his partner thought that there was an audience for Japanese flavors in Vail. Based on the reception that Nudoru has enjoyed, with people coming back several times in one week, the idea seems spot on.
“Ramen is all about the noodle,” McKenzie said. “It’s a cut noodle versus a pulled one and the alkaline water helps in the gluten development, creating a more chewy texture.”
And then there’s the broth; if the noodles are king, then the broth is the most trusted adviser, whispering in the king’s ear.
In McKenzie’s scratch kitchen, making the broth (not stock — he was very clear on this) takes about 15 hours and about 63 pounds of meat and bones, 10 pounds of mushrooms and a 5-pound bucket of proprietary ingredients and seasonings. It’s dense, but this ratio of ingredients to water is what makes such a rich broth.
Nudoru’s menu has five different bowls on it, with options for vegetarians and pescatarians as well as gluten-free noodles, but McKenzie suggested ordering the bowl as it’s described on the menu, as that’s the play of flavors and textures that the chef intended when he created the dish.
Take the chashu bowl, for example. Featuring tonkotsu broth, which is a pork bone broth and perhaps the most widely recognized style of ramen broth, the chashu bowl is almost over-the-top rich, with large pieces of house-cured pork belly resting on top, with bean sprouts, green onions, julienned snap peas and a soft-boiled egg. Every detail has been considered, from curing the pork belly in celery rather than salt to chopping the snap peas so as to make it easier to eat.
“Ramen is not a slender soup,” McKenzie said; he’s right. By maintaining a rolling boil as the broth is cooking, the fat keeps moving as well, creating a velvety, rich soup that leaves a sheen on your lips as you slurp. The soft-boiled egg, which in Japan would have been made by boiling it in the natural hot springs, is created from the more modern sous-vide method, which renders it no less silky and luxurious. And the noodles? The noodles are perfect, slightly chewy and springy, allowing the broth to cling to the bends and curves in all the right way.
Nudoru’s noodles were specially created for the broth by Sun Noodle, a company that specializes in ramen. After McKenzie gave the recipe for the broth that he created, they developed a noodle for it.
“It’s like in Italian food,” he said. “There’s a pasta for every type of sauce. Ramen is no different.”
The end result is an experience so far removed from the packaged version that it’ll be difficult to ever equate the two again.
USE YOUR NOODLE: TIPS FOR TOP RAMEN EXPERIENCES
From McKenzie, here are a few tips for getting the best ramen experience:
• Totally slurp. Like tasting wine, slurping allows you to aerate the broth on your palate. By cooling it down and moving it around, it allows you to pick up on nuances of the broth that you might miss if you simply shovel it in.
• Add an egg. The soft-boiled egg is essential in ramen; adding one more to the dish allows you to mix one in for the added depth of richness and flavor from the custard-like yolk. The extra one is for slurping up.
• Pick the pickle. Nudoru offers a “pickled plate” as a side; it should be a required item when ordering. The various pickled vegetables such as mushrooms, green beans and cabbage cut through the richness of the ramen, allowing you to refresh your palate before diving in for more.
• The right tool for the job. Ramen is served with both chopsticks and a ramen spoon, which is different than a regular soup spoon. With both a hooked handle and a notch, it’s possible to set the spoon on the edge of the bowl without it sliding off. Use the chopsticks to create a perfect bite of noodles, meat, veggies and broth on the spoon and then slurp it up.
As residents of the Vail Valley continue to expand their palates, the options for stepping outside of the culinary box are becoming more plentiful. So the next time your stomach is groaning for something substantial and heart-warming, consider a bowl of ramen.
It’s not just for college anymore.
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