Hey folks, it’s recipe time again but, this month, I’m doing something that I haven’t done in a while – Reviewing someone else’s recipe.
You see, as I mentioned at the beginning of the year, I’ve had plans for ramen for quite a while. Yet my dreams of fiery tonkotsu were scuppered at the very start.
As it turns out, that milky-looking pork bone broth comes not just from making your own stock but from boiling the hell out of it for hours and hours on end. From getting every single ounce of fat and flavour out of the meat, which neither you, nor I, are likely to have the time for.
So I was all set to move on and make something else. Until I saw this:
A dark bowl of coffee curry ramen made by Pixel Tea, as part of his “Gourmet Smash Ultimate” series of Super Smash Bros. inspired dishes.
It caught my attention with its theming – Derived from the favourite food and drink pairing of Persona 5’s protagonist – but also provided a fresh spin on japanese noodle stew and just enough spice that I could make it a feature.
In fact, Pixel’s overview alone was enough to sell me on this one. But the fact that his dish makes use of a custom spice blend, rather than a custom stock, is nothing short of a godsend.
It doesn’t make this a quick meal but it still cuts down the cooking time considerably. From most of a day to around two hours, all prep included.
So let’s see how it works out, shall we?
First off, here’s what you’ll need to make it:
For the broth (makes enough for about 6 servings):
6 cups pre-made stock (chicken or veg)
2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or coconut)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion
15 spring onions
And a portion of udon noodles per serving (~250-300g if fresh)
For the curry roux (makes enough for about 6 servings):
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-pupose flour
1½ tablespoons instant coffee
1½ tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon garam masala (I made my own, following his recipe)
1 teaspoon cayenne chilli powder (the original recipe’s upper limit)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
And for proper ramen eggs (optional, makes enough for 2):
1 medium egg
2 tablespoons dark soy
3 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking)
Which brings me to my first little quibble with the original dish: The egg in Pixel’s picture is not the soft-boiled sort that he says to use.
A soft-boiled egg doesn’t have solid yolk, fluffy or otherwise. Its yolk is raw, runny and ready to cook itself in the broth, should you choose to split the surrounding solid whites with your chopsticks.
And, contrary to popular opinion, they’re not even hard to make. All that you have to do is gently lower an egg into already-boiling water and fishing it out again, five minutes later. Then plop it into cold (below room temperature) water for another five, to keep it from cooking any further.
You don’t have to stir it and salting the water is actually detrimental, since it changes the boiling temperature. Simply use a stop watch and don’t try anything fancy and you’ll be just fine.
But I like to go beyond, when I can, so here’s how to season your eggs, if you like them traditionally marinated:
Take your now cooled and soft-boiled egg and roll it between your palms. Do this gently, with only the lightest of squishing, and it will cause the shell to crack off, without damaging the egg inside. Then you can peel it cleanly and easily.
From there, plop your egg into a cup or mug, toss in your soy and mirin and top with just enough water to ensure full coverage. Before covering the container, itself.
Refrigerate for up to twenty-four hours (minimum of about two) and viola, brown eggs with a touch of darkness to them. But, of course, you don’t have to marinate them if you’re pressed for time or don’t care about that extra little bit of flavour.
The choice is yours and, now, I’d like to quickly talk about some of my other ingredient choices, before we move on to making the main dish.
First up, you’ll see that I’m using dark soy, specifically. It puts a little more focus on flavour and a little less on salt than its lighter counterpart. Though, honestly, you could get away with either in this recipe.
Second, though, my honey. This recipe doesn’t want a floral-flavoured variety but anything else will work well with the spices and apple that make up the japanese curry base.
I, however, am going just a step further and using the darkest, woodiest variety that I have to hand – Pine. Because that slight syrupy quality is definitely going to compliment the coffee. Though I would recommend either birch or mexican honey if you really want to highlight that pairing.
Then, my worcestershire sauce. Or rather, my henderson’s relish.
It’s a very similar condiment, as anyone outside of sheffield will tell you, and it’s what I happened to have on hand. Its flavour generally isn’t thought to be quite as good as the real deal, yet its close enough that you won’t notice the difference in today’s bold-tasting broth.
What it does have over actual worcestershire, though, is a lack of fish. It makes the recipe vegetarian and is my favourite worcestershire substitute for when I need to do so. So keep that in mind if you need it, folks.
And I’m using two onions, instead of one, because mine are tiny and it’s about the same volume.
But, probably most important of all are my noodles: Fresh packaged udon.
For those who don’t know, these are an especially thick and hearty form of wheat noodle with rather more of a chew than what you’d normally find in ramen. They provide a little more substance to a soup or stew-based meal and hold heat beautifully, making them especially enjoyable in winter. Yet they might be somewhat hard to get hold of.
Check any asian supermarkets near you and pay special attention to the fridge section but, if you still can’t find them, other noodles will make an adequate substitute. Even if the dish is more satisfying with udon.
Now, to begin the true cooking process, gather together your roux ingredients and begin melting the butter in a pan over gentle heat. You’re going to want to heap your tablespoons a little more than you think is necessary, when doing this step.
Unlike in the next one – The stirring in of the flour – where you’re going to want to keep things level. Otherwise, the roux will end up far too dry. It’ll be dry enough already.
Once the flour has fully mixed into the melted butter, remove it from the heat and add the spices. All of them. Including the coffee and the turmeric and nutmeg that Pixel forgot to tell us when to chuck in.
Simply put, everything for the roux goes in now. Then we let it cool to a solid paste, while we get started on the stew.
To do which, we begin by heating the oil in a large saucepan and frying both the ginger and the garlic, until they start to smell divine. It won’t take long. Two or three minutes, at most, to amp up the aroma, then we toss in the onions.
Unfortunately, though, they will take long. A good twenty minutes or more on a low to medium heat, in order to not just soften but actually caramelise them. Giving us something like so:
Which may look similar to what I made for my salsa negra but is, in fact, quite different. Cooked both lower and in more oil, so that the onions brown, instead of charring. Though that isn’t all that the extra oil is for.
No, that extra oil also coats the potatoes and carrots, so that we can easily mix them in, without anything sicking, and cook for about three minutes, before they’re joined by honey, apple and stock.
Peel the apple and grate its flesh finely into your pan. Then use the honey to smother it onto your veg, before adding all six cups of your chicken or veg stock and an additional two of water. It’s a lot of liquid but it still doesn’t stop these from being some of the boldest noodles around, don’t worry.
And don’t worry about how your soon to be bubbling broth looks, either. Between the remnants of that oil and all of those floating apple shreds, the surface is bound to look a little scummy but, by the time that we’re done, it’ll all have broken down into the dish for that proper japanese, fruity undertone. As well as giving the whole thing just a little more sweetness, to combat the dark and slightly bitter coffee.
But apple isn’t the only thing that helps bring balance to these curry udon and, according to Pixel Tea, now is the perfect time to season the stew with salt and black pepper. Though he doesn’t state how much of either.
Fortunately, for me, however, I am of the opinion that no amount of peppercorn is too much for a japanese curry and I found eight full rotations of my grinder gave perfect balance of strong yet still mild enough not to overpower anything else. Your mileage may vary, mind you, so blow on, sip, taste and adjust the seasoning until you’re happy.
Then stir in the roux, along with your worcestershire (or henderson’s), soy sauce, ketchup and tomato purée, continuing to stir until you’re certain that everything has dissolved. In fact, keep going even further, perhaps easing up on the stir-frequency, if you like, but keeping an eye on your pan, all the same.
Keep your broth at a boil for the next twenty to thirty minutes and then press one of the potato chunks with a fork. If it’s mashable yet firm, the stew is ready. All that’s required now is that you portion it off and cook in the noodles. Well, that and garnish.
My noodles said to boil for three minutes before serving, so I got out my stopwatch and did exactly that. Others, however, may come with different instructions, so do whatever the package says. Just do it in the broth, rather than in water, for that extra infusion of flavour.
And finally, top with egg and the greens of your spring onions to serve (use the whites for another dish).
I’m honestly quite proud of how it turned out. My picture almost matches the creators and this ramen tastes truly delicious.
Its rich and dark, as expected, with strong undertones of japanese curry and an almost onion gravy quality on top. The majority has a mere high
from its chilli and spices, yet the physical heat of the noodles still warms me to my core. And, despite the apple, honey and onion in it, the stew is surprisingly savoury, allowing the sweeter chunks of veg to really contrast the light and sophisticated bitterness of the coffee.
Add to that the classic pairing of umami and greens and this is a well-balanced dish, indeed. Even if it is somewhat on the mild side. Which isn’t exactly hard to fix.
Trading cayenne for ghost pepper powder would add a little extra depth and a lot of extra spice, without changing the major flavours at play, but, should you want to try something more sensible, there are plenty of other options.
The Chilli Jam Man’s Bhut Grinder always works nicely in place of salt and pepper, while Upton Cheyney’s Roast Garlic & Ginger plays well with rich ramen, already, and Burning Desire‘s Coffee Rub would make for a highly multifaceted change from pure, instant coffee. Even if the amount of nuance in that last product might be overkill.
Just be aware that, if you do decide to tweak this recipe, the broth left at the end is almost twice as hot as the noodles. So don’t do anything too crazy.
All in all, I feel like there could be a little more precision to Pixel’s write-up and I would have liked some rough time estimates for each step but he’s done his research and made something wonderful with it. I can’t fault the results in the slightest.
So, go give the original recipe a read over on his website, especially if you’re interested in the character and story behind it, and make sure that you check out his others, as well. The majority look to be chilli-free but they all look just as tasty.