Ramen is Dead! At least I have gochujang bacon ...

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Wait, what? Ramen is DEAD? I was just getting used to it being my FAVORITE FOOD EVER ... at least for right now. Last week I was pleased and excited to see that Lucky Peach (THE food bible) recently launched a website (luckypeach.com - convenient, no?). Well let me back up a moment - first I was dismayed and horrified when David Chang posted on Facebook that "RAMEN IS DEAD" - which included a link to the new website where I read anxiously until I realized Chang was merely suggesting that the innovation of ramen no longer exists, thanks in part to the immediacy of information available these days. And then I noticed several other submissions to The State of Ramen by the likes of food critic Jonathan Gold, food writer and publisher Peter Meehan, and the legendary ramen-master himself, Ivan Orkin. Ramen isn't quite dead, it's just that, as Chang suggests, "innovation and quality are all out of whack". For more of this glorious ramen discussion, go here.

While I was relieved I'd be encountering glorious bowls or ramen in the future, I blushed a bit as Chang complained about "everyone doing tonkotsu" (ramen using pork bone broth) ... I'd just made a batch of tonkotsu last week, half of which was snuggled in sweetly next to more pork bones in the freezer. Perhaps I'd save those for some split pea soup. Chang does not need to know.

I get what he's saying, though, and while I was feeling a bit groggy from several bowls of the pork broth (with a couple more to go unless I wanted to waste the ramen broth - gasp! Sanctimonious!) I wasn't quite ready to give up on Japanese noodle soup. So I lightened things up by switching out my ramen noodles to thin Japanese wheat noodles and traded the heavy, intoxicating tonkotsu broth for lighter ramen broth featuring scallions, shiitake mushrooms, shrimp shells and traditional dashi broth. And unlike traditional ramen which is usually very "soupy" - I actually used the broth more as a condiment to flavor the noodles and additional ingredients in the bowl.

This dish was inspired after I watched Kelsey Nixon (of Kelsey's Essentials on Cooking Channel TV) highlight ramen in one of her episodes. Traditional ramen toppings were replaced with shrimp, corn, shiitake mushrooms and bacon, and her broth consisted more of dashi. But of course I wanted to tweak it a bit myself, so I switched out regular bacon for gochujang bacon.

Gochujang bacon is quite simple to make and it tastes like a million dollars. Fry some bacon up in a pan, add a tablespoon or so of gochujang (a Korean fermented chili paste that should be a staple in your pantry), a quick sprinkling of brown sugar, and a dash or two of soy sauce. You've just been upgraded to first class bacon - which you can eat with everything (as you'll see from upcoming posts).

There are no rules here - make this ramen your own with your own special toppings. I do require that you slurp, though. Slurping is essential.

Gochujang Bacon Ramen with Shrimp & Corn

serves 4
time: 2hr 30mins
difficulty: moderate

Dashi

  • Two 6-by-7-inch pieces kombu, rinsed (or you'll end up with gritty dashi)
  • 1 1/2 ounces bonito flakes

Ramen

  • tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 12 ounces large shrimp (16/20), peeled and deveined, butterflied, shells reserved
  • scallions, greens thinly sliced, whites left whole
  • dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed (or else you'll end up with gritty broth)
  • tablespoon mirin
  • teaspoons seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
  • 15 ounces noodles of your choice
  • ounces bacon
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang chili paste
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ears corn, kernels removed or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

 

  1. To make the Dashi Broth:  Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a medium pot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the bonito flakes. Bring the heat back up to just under a boil, then remove from the heat and let the bonito steep for a few minutes. Strain the dashi into a bowl and discard the bonito.
  2. For the ramen broth:  Wipe out the pot, add the oil and set over medium-high heat. Add your reserved shrimp shells and scallion whites. Cook, stirring, until the shells begin to turn pinkish orange all over, 4 to 5 minutes; you'll hear the shells make a crackling sound as they toast and brown. Add the reserved dashi and rinsed shiitakes and bring to a simmer. Simmer the broth for 30 minutes, then strain the broth, reserving the shiitakes. Return the broth to the pot, stir in the mirin and seafood seasoning and set over low heat until ready to serve. You should have about 3 cups of broth. Stem and slice the shitakes and set aside to use as toppings for you ramen.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook your noodles according to their package instructions. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water to remove surface starch and to stop the cooking. Leave to drain while you finish with the remaining ingredients.
  4. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Spoon off and reserve all but about 1-2 teaspoons of bacon grease and add the gochujang paste to the pan. Once it warms through and begins to liquefy a bit, stir the bacon into the paste to coat. Sprinkle the brown sugar and soy sauce over the bacon and stir until everything is caramelized. If you notice your bacon starting to get a bit too brown, turn down the heat or simply remove the heat from the pan as you continue to stir to coat. Remove the bacon and let it cool, then chop into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Rinse out the pan and return it to the stove. Raise the heat to medium-high and add a tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat. Add the shrimp and corn and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the shrimp are cooked through, about 4 minutes.
  6. Divide the noodles among four bowls. Top with shrimp, corn, bacon, sliced shiitakes, scallion greens and chopped gochujang bacon. Ladle ramen broth into the bowls and serve.