I love ramen. Those chewy yellow noodles hold a very special place in my heart. I don’t care if it’s the styrofoam-like bricks made at home or an ever-elusive bowl found hidden at a noodle shop. When the world has turned against me and everyone seems fickle and unreliable, ramen is there with open arms and a warm embrace. I have shed tears into a bowl of ramen, sobered up to a bowl of ramen and have sat naked, beaming with joy, over a bowl of ramen. To say the least, we’ve been through a lot.
But ramen is complicated. At a simple glance, just broth and noodles—at another a melding of cultures and ingredients defined by a depth of flavors rivaled by few. Characterized by its use of kansui—a mixture of baking soda and water that gives ramen it’s unique chewy texture and yellow color—this humble dish exemplifies a rapidly shrinking world. Traced from its arrival in Japan from Chinese tradesman to its Americanization from the military occupation after the war, to the boom of popularity of instant ramen in Japan in the seventies and later in America, ramen has traversed an arduous path that has led to the cultural trend we know today. Check out The History of the Ramen Noodle to learn the full journey of the dish.
“Immerse yourself in ramen. Make every step and each component a special journey towards the magical final bowl. Enjoy the peaceful concentration that comes with cooking good food. Learn about it, study it, and eat lots of it to find what style resonates with you!” – Daniel Asher
Now, I originally wanted this to be an article about all the reasons I love ramen so much. Unfortunately it ended up sounding like something you’d find at the back of a Penthouse. So instead we rounded up some of the top chefs from around Colorado and tricked them into giving up some of their tips, tricks and recommendations for how to make it at home and where to find the best.
Pro Tips for the Home Cook
One of the juggernauts of the Denver restaurant scene, Guard is behind places including TAG Restaurant, Lucky Cat and the recently opened Mister Tuna. But even without the restaurant empire, the chef knows how to cook some instant ramen.
“I love ramen and have a few pro tips for the home cook. I use the packages but never follow the directions: first, I boil the water and cook noodles until they just break apart. Put them in the bowl that way (even ramen noodles should be al dente ) and then you can add the seasoning packet, fill water 3/4 up the bowl and then add a few more items to bulk it up. I like bok choy, soy sauce, sliced green onions and grilled chicken thigh. Definitely add minced ginger, about a tablespoon, and for real dos, top it with a soft boiled egg!”
When you want to talk ramen, you talk to chef Ryan Witcher. Before his recent return to Colorado to take the helm at Sugarmill, Witcher traveled through Asia working at some of the top high-end hotels and restaurants.
“I love ramen when it’s done right. The broth/base is so important and a lot of people don’t take the time to do it right, which leaves the dish very bland with no finish.”
“I like my ramen very spicy with fresh seafood. You can make a broth with dried anchovies, dried kelp and shrimp (roasted first in the oven). Let it sit, strain and reserve liquid. Sauté garlic, red chili and fresh red chili in the pan until tender and add Napa cabbage, onion, shitake mushroom and bok choy. When veggies are still al dente, add chili oil, soy sauce, clam juice, chili powder, cane sugar and fresh cracked black pepper. Stir until combined. Add your broth. Add your fresh seafood (I like baby octopus, mussels, oysters, and shrimp). Add cooked ramen and enjoy!
Pro tip: Use and caramelize oxtail in the oven before adding it to your soup base for meat-based ramen. For seafood-based ramen, go to your local HMart and pick out some great traditional dried kelp, chili powders and dried anchovies.”
Krebs is the phenomenal chef currently residing at the Isle of Capri in Blackhawk. Chef Krebs explains his love of a good bowl of ramen on a cold winter night.
“We usually cook a pork shoulder in the slow cooker for several hours while we make the broth from chicken, pork, miso paste and other spices. Whereas this broth is very flavorful and fills the room with a comforting smell. While simmering, the broth is usually cloudy. I entered a ramen noodle competition last year where I served a bowl of lobster ramen. In order to produce a clear, golden brown soup, I clarified the broth, served it with shiitake mushrooms, edamame beans and lobster claws and tail meat.”
Chef Daniel Asher is the former culinary director of the Edible Beats group and is now the owner and executive chef of the forthcoming River & Woods in Boulder. Check out his new kosher chicken-soup-meets-miso-broth ramen mashup slotted for River and Woods. “You’re going to be blown away,” he promises.
“I love ramen. I adore it, actually. It’s such a beautiful cultural statement on the excellence of Japanese cuisine. The broth gets loved on for hours and days and all the garnishes and layers of flavor spill out like a tapestry woven of many fabrics around the bowl. There is such regional diversity and expressions of ramen, it is endless and enchanting. From noodle technique to ingredients it is one of the most complex and mesmerizing of dishes, and it is truly the definition of comforting soul food.”
Pro Tip: Immerse yourself in ramen. Make every step and each component a special journey towards the magical final bowl. Enjoy the peaceful concentration that comes with cooking good food. Learn about it—study it. And eat lots of it to find what style resonates with you!”
Dan Kane is the executive chef at Del Frisco Grille in Cherry Creek. I’m not going to lie, when I heard his take on ramen, I thought he was insane. Upon trying it myself, I now owe the man one very awkward hug. A must try for any ramen connoisseur.
“I LOVE ramen. Let me tell you how to make it—it’s very unorthodox take but you’ll be blown away. Add a little A-1 and Heinz 57 sauces and cumin. Seriously, try it. Woody, dark, smoky—it’s divine. You can also add Worcestershire if you’re eating ramen with beef. And please, please, please don’t overcook the noodles. They should be al dente.”
Where to Find It
While the Osaka Ramen in Cherry Creek may be closing, the original in RiNo is alive and well. Marked only by a small door and an unassuming sign, Osaka has an incredibly friendly staff, a great happy hour and a ramen offering that is nothing short of spectacular.
“Osaka Ramen. They do a phenomenal job of balancing flavors just exactly right and they have so many different options, there’s always a taste to match whatever you’re feeling that day.”—Dan Kane
“I like what Jeff Osaka has going on. He’s got a great perspective on ramen identity and he is very good at what he does.”—Daniel Asher
A personal favorite, Tokio is hidden in the shadow of the ballpark off of 20th. I highly recommend the charcoal-grilled yakitori alongside the Tsuke Men (ramen dipped in broth).
One of Troy Guard’s joints, Lucky Cat, is next to the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Lowry. Talk to the chef and general manager Brent Calley, he won’t steer you wrong.
“I love, love, love the pork ramen at Lucky Cat and I like Uncle’s pork miso ramen.”—Troy Guard
Probably the more well-known Denver ramen, Uncle certainly deserves the reputation it has. The downside of offering such great food—there is often a wait and they don’t take reservations. But is it worth it? Absolutely. Down to the last spoonful of broth.
Bonanno’s flagship ramen restaurant, Bones is the quintessential noodle shop. Check out their steamed buns and lobster ramen.
“I love Ramen. Simple is best—miso broth, good smoked tofu and seaweed. Sometimes I add a poached egg if I’m feeling sassy.” Frank Bonanno