Sean Ramen vs. Ivan Ramen

My pal Greg, who has expanded my cookbook horizon in the past, got me an interesting book for Christmas. It’s called “Ivan Ramen.”

So this Jewish guy Ivan from Long Island moves to Tokyo, it seems, and decides to open a ramen shop. (Sounds like the set-up for a bad joke.)



Ramen is an interesting food. To most of us, it’s something that comes in a brick in a package to be added to hot water. In Japan, it’s essentially a fast food, but is treated with an amount of reverence not afforded our chicken nuggets or fajita wraps. I suppose it’s somewhat analogous to the veneration we have for the hamburger in Southern California — where fierce arguments will break out over whether the best burger is to be found at Father’s Office or Umami Burger.

In Tokyo, in particular, people are fiercely loyal to their particular ramen shops. And there are ramen stands on every corner. Which made it all the more likely for Ivan Orkin to succeed — which he did, wildly. The key, as it often is with restaurant success, may have been his developing his own unique style based on the quality of ingredients and meticulous crafting of each element of this simple soup. The book, half cookbook and half memoir, is an interesting read.

Stopping by the Japanese market one afternoon, I picked up some fresh ramen noodles and thought I’d give it shot. The Ivan ramen ritual in the book was intimidating. So I did the Sean Ramen version of Ivan Ramen. In addition to not crafting the noodles by hand with rye flower, I made the one-hour fresh chicken stock instead of the six-hour version; I used my handy dandy powdered dashi stock (secret weapon ingredient #3) rather than fussing with the two-day version in the book; I made the sofrito in 45 minutes on the stove instead of six hours in the oven. And so forth.

Bowls with pork/chicken fat, sofrito and katsuobushi salt, awaiting the ramen and broth

Bowls with pork/chicken fat, sofrito and katsuobushi salt, awaiting the ramen and broth

Our friends, Dan and Nonie, happened to call to see if we wanted to have dinner that evening as I was already two hours into my ramen. So we invited them over, and I handed the book to Dan when they got there.

“Wow,” he said, “I had no idea ramen was such a thing!”

It is such a thing, especially in Japan. And it’s getting pretty big here in L.A., where there are long lunch lines of mostly white hipsters at the Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle shop in the Little Osaka neighborhood of Sawtelle. Apparently, as usual, New York is a bit behind.

In his preface to the book, released just before Ivan Orkin was to open his first U.S. ramen shop in New York, chef David Chang warns him. “Now you’re going to open a shop in New York. Well, let me be the first to congratulate you on a terrible decision… When I opened up, people in New York didn’t know anything about ramen at all. The funny thing is, people know even less about ramen today.” His ominous words of failure go on: “Half the food bloggers in the world are Asian women. They’re going to laugh at you and yell at you… People are going to look at you like this weird thing, like the Eminem of ramen. You’re probably f***ed.”

The rash of scathing Yelp reviews would seem to bear out Chang’s words. Visitors to Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in New York complained about a layer of oil floating on the surface, of the noodles being too chewy or too soft, of the ramen being too salty, lukewarm and looking “like a mess,” of it being “the worst ramen ever.” One reviewer said, simply, “its gross” (sic).

I can’t comment, since I’ve never had it. It sure sounds good in the book. How was the Sean Ramen? We all slurped happily away and were plenty happy with the layered flavors and balance of textures. It wasn’t too oily or salty, it wasn’t lukewarm. It wasn’t gross.

Would I have noticed the difference if I made the six-hour stock versus the one-hour version, the six-hour sofrito instead of the 45-minute sofrito? I’m skeptical. Hip to the shortcuts I’d taken, Dan posited that all the laborious steps in the full Ivan version probably resulted in not such a different ramen, but in many subtly nuanced enhancements that made for an overall richer ramen experience. Ummm… yeah, maybe.

Sean Ramen

Sean Ramen

Now you want a recipe!?? My friend Rachel recently posted a ramen recipe on her blog which is half packaged brick of ramen, half homemade ramen. You might try that for starters. But if you’ve got access to fresh ramen noodles in your area and want to give the more advanced Sean Ramen a shot, here’s a simplified version based loosely on Ivan’s original.

If you want the full Ivan, you better buy the book. Enjoy!

*    *    *

Sean Ramen
serves 4

1/2 small apple, peeled and finely minced
1/2 small onion, finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tsp. finely minced ginger
2 tbsp. grapeseed oil
8 oz. cube pork belly, cut into 4 equal 2 oz. strips
1 quart homemade or good quality chicken stock
1 quart dashi broth (okay to use powdered)
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. dashi powder
11 to 12 oz. fresh ramen noodles
4 eggs
4 scallions, slivered

Make your sofrito: Place the minced apple, onion, garlic and ginger in a very small pan with 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over the lowest flame possible. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30-45 minutes (or however long it takes the sofrito to become golden but not brown — watch closely so it does not burn). Remove from heat and place in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix together 1 tsp. salt with 2 tbsps. hot water until salt dissolves. Add to sofrito bowl and let cool.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium heat. When it is hot, fry your strips of pork belly on all sides until golden brown and crispy. Remove from heat and set aside. Reserve the rendered fat from the pan in another small bowl.

Make your half-cooked eggs: In a small saucepan, heat 2 inches of water to a boil. With a pin, make a small hole in the bottom of each egg. Carefully lower each by spoon into the boiling water. Cook for 7 minutes, then plunge immediately into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Peel and cut in half with a sharp knife brushed with water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together salt and powdered dashi broth.

Heat your two broths together in a large pot over medium-high heat to a low rolling bowl. Turn off heat and cover. Heat two quarts of water to a gentle boil in another large pot. Drop in your noodles and cook to al-dente, about 2-3 minutes.

Compose your ramen. In each of four large, deep soup bowls, place 1/4 of the sofrito, 1/4 of the reserved rendered pork fat, and 1/4 of the dashi/salt mixture. Ladle in stock to about 1 inch from the top of bowl. With tongs, scoop ramen from the hot water and divide between the four bowls. Top each ramen with pork belly, two half eggs and slivered scallions and serve with chopsticks and spoon.

Good with a cold Sapporo!

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. reginaloops
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 00:44:26

    Wow this seems so incredibly fancy for Ramen. I grew up with Maruchan haha! Making it fancy meant my mom cracking an egg into it. Very interesting. Great post!


  2. Michelle
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 00:55:57

    You and Rachel and I are obviously on the same wave length. I made clean-out-the-refrigerator-after-Polar-Vortex ramen last night. It didn’t hurt that we had homemade duck stock and the end of Steve’s New Year’s Eve pork belly. 😉 The apple? That’s interesting.


    • Michelle
      Jan 10, 2014 @ 00:56:36

      P.S. I didn’t mean interesting in a bad way. People always think that.


      • scolgin
        Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:43:55

        Never would’ve thought that. 🙂 Although your P.S. does remind me of a girl I dated once in college who said, “You’re so weird… But I mean that in a GOOD way!”

    • scolgin
      Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:44:57

      That’s what I thought about the apple. It added a sweetness that was nice, especially playing off the ginger. Although the small amount of sofrito that you put into the bowl… would you even notice the absence of apple?


  3. Trackback: Eating New York | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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