Luck Sarabhayavanija and his wife Anne Fernando opened their first Ani Ramen location in Montclair, New Jersey, in 2014. As word spread, customers flocked to the location to slurp the house-made ramen. Ani Ramen serves six signature ramen dishes, with a selection of house-made pork, chicken, or vegetarian (vegan) broths. Ani Ramen now has seven locations throughout New Jersey.
Santé Magazine asked Julian Valencia, Executive Chef, and Partner at Ani Ramen House, to explain the process of making ramen. Born in Colombia, Valencia emigrated to the U.S. with his mother at age 15. Upon graduating from high school, he began working at Aki, a Japanese restaurant in the West Village. Valencia has spent more than 15 years perfecting the art of Japanese cooking while working at several New York City restaurants.
Julian, how do you describe traditional “Ramen”
“I’d like to start by saying there’s a misconception about Ramen. Most people think of Ramen as a cup of noodles or the instant precooked, dried block of noodles with flavoring powder. It’s tasty and easy on the pocketbook but not authentic.
Traditional Ramen is an iconic dish in Japan, with much history and many regional variations. Each individual or group in Japan must have its own definition.
As a chef, Ramen is all about balancing flavors from the broth and noodles down to the toppings. I compare it to a play or a movie where all its cast members are the main character, and they need each other in their best performance to shine individually and collectively.”
What are the key ingredients for making ramen?
“The good news is the world of homemade ramen is complex and exciting. There are five basic elements to ramen:
2. Broth: made with chicken bones, pork bones, vegan or fish “dashi” broth
3. Tare: a word for flavoring/concentrate seasoning, usually soy, sea salt or miso (fermented soybeans)
4. Toppings: such as proteins and vegetables and spices
5. Aromatic oils
All elements are equally important and made with great precision and respect because ramen is about balancing them while complementing each other.”
What sets your noodles apart in terms of taste and texture?
“Our supplier, Sun Noodle, had mastered the craft of making customized fresh noodles for almost four decades. When it comes to ramen noodles, they are the best in the market since their humble beginnings. What makes the difference are the freshness and the quality of ingredients used, all laden with umami, and the bouncy and elastic texture of the noodles. Sun Noodle customizes noodles to our liking and delivers them on a daily basis to our kitchens. We use two types of noodles: thin ones and a thicker version for a spicy miso ramen.”
What are your tips to making ramen noodles?
“Basic ramen noodles are made from four ingredients: wheat flour, purified water, salt and Kansui ( sodium and potassium carbonate mixture which gives ramen its unique texture.)
Fresh ramen noodles are cooked portion by portion in boiling water. Cooking time is short, usually two minutes. It really depends on the thickness of the noodle; thinner noodles can be cook in one minute or less. Originally ramen noodles were handmade.
These days, companies like Sun Noodle have at their disposal machinery and expertise that cannot be matched. They have the capacity to make smaller batches where the ingredients are carefully mixed to create small balls of dough; then they compound press the dough into sheets. Letting the dough rest is an important [step] that gives the ramen a springy texture and pleasing chewiness.”
Let’s talk broth- what are the key ingredients and how long do you simmer?
“Ramen broth can be classified by ingredients, and simmering time. For richer broths, medium high boil is required. At Ani Ramen we used a pot with capacity over 240 quarts to cook our broths.
Here is breakdown by type of broth:
1. Chicken bone broth: Simmer four hours for clear broth and more than six hours at medium high heat for creamy broth, or Paitan as it is known in Japan.
2. Pork bone broth or Tonkotsu as known in Japan: Cook 10-12 hours on a medium high boil. At some point water needs to be added very slowly.
3. Dashi ( fish or vegan stock). Simmer time is short, one hour. But this broth is extremely rich and flavorful.
The time will determine if the broth is clear and light, or cloudy and creamy. I personally like both types of broths. I also recommend combining different broths.
Adding sliced ginger, scallion and garlic to the broths is a must. These aromatic root vegetables conceal the gamey odor of the bones and enrich the flavors.”
Why does time matter?
“The result of a prolonged boil is a creamy silky broth with a rich flavor. For instance, with pork bone or Tonkotsu broth, to render it the bones are cooked in water for 10 to 12 hours at a medium high boil. This allows the bones to release the marrow and collagen to create an extremely rich flavorful and fatty broth.
As long as it doesn’t burn you can simmer for extended periods of time. In the case of Tonkotsu broth [simmering longer] reduces the initial quantity by half.”
What are the key spices, and do you add anything special to yours?
What About Cooking the Noodles?
“For miso ramen it is recommended to use thick wavy fresh noodles. Ramen noodles should always be cooked in a separate pot of boiling water (not with the broth) between one or two minutes depending on the thickness of the noodle.”
It’s important to note in Japan, it’s polite to slurp your ramen.
“That’s right! The Ani Ramen slogan is “Slurp. Sip. Repeat.” – an ode to the tradition.”
Miso Ramen Recipe
- Julian Valencia, Executive Chef & Partner, Ani Ramen
2 cups vegan broth or 2 cups of chicken, pork or fish broth
2 dry shiitake mushrooms
2½ tablespoons shiro (white) miso
1½ tablespoons aka (red) miso
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon grated garlic
¼ teaspoon grated ginger
¼ teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
½ cup finely cut scallions
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup diced onions
Dry wakame (seaweed), optional
- Put the dry shiitake mushrooms into the broth, and bring it to a boil. Let it sit and wait until the shiitake mushrooms rehydrate. Remove, dry the shiitakes and slice thin.
- In a mixing bowl, add shiro miso, aka miso, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, grated garlic and grated ginger. Hot sauce is optional. Mix well.
- In a sauté pan add vegetable oil and sauté all your vegetables. Give the vegetables a nice sear and add the water. Bring to a boil and add the whole mixture of miso, making sure it dissolves. Once it boils again, remove immediately from the fire. Miso tends to get saltier when cooked for too long.
Pour broth over noodles. Add sliced fresh scallions, sprouts-, spinach-, soft- or hard-boiled eggs, and proteins of your choice.
With seven locations in New Jersey, Ani Ramen serves house-made ramen dishes and Japanese Izakaya small plates, such as pork and the shrimp bao buns, handmade crispy gyoza, chashu don bowls, double fried chicken and sake soy glazed wings. Managing partners include: Luck Sarabhayavanija, Anne Fernando, Kathleen Reyes, Israel King Jiles and Julian Valencia. www.aniramen.com
Photos courtesy of Ani Ramen.