Our noodle recipe has changed over the years. The noodle we serve now isn’t the same as the one we opened with. This recipe is my play on soba; these can be served hot or cold. Most ramen shops would frown upon using soba-style noodles because they’re so mild compared to a salty, porky ramen broth. But my soup is lighter than most, and works well with these more ethereal noodles.
I’m personally obsessed with the kaori, or aroma, of the noodles. Most shops use one type of flour that is specifically designed for ramen, with a protein level of 10 to 11 percent. These flours are inexpensive, but they don’t have the deep, fresh aroma that I’m looking for. At my shop, we combine soft udon flour (7 to 8 percent protein), with high-protein bread flour (14 to 15 percent protein) and a small percentage of rye or other whole grain flour, for a noodle with an irresistible aroma of fresh wheat. It’s a circuitous route to get to the 10 to 11 percent protein content that works for noodles, but we get much more interesting textures and complex flavors, and even a deeper color, with pretty little speckles of whole grain. Toasting the flour brings out more aromatic nuances, while removing some of the liquid in the flour and making for an even chewier noodle.]
Powdered kansui adds the alkaline component of these noodles. As noted in numerous places by Harold McGee, the oracle of culinary science, a simple substitute for kansui powder is baked baking soda. Spread baking soda in a thin layer on a foil-lined sheet tray and bake for one hour at 275°F (135°C). Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid for up to a couple of months.
In Tokyo, we work with an excellent and very expensive noodle machine. You won’t have one. But neither did I when I first started developing these recipes. Believe me, you can make great ramen noodles at home with a manual pasta machine. But it will take you more than one try to iron out the kinks. Try the recipe, curse me out if you must, and try again. Your kitchen will produce different results than mine—that’s just the reality of cooking, Repeat and tinker with the proportions until you have your ideal bowl of toothsome, fragrant noodles. This recipe yields enough noodles for ten bowls of ramen.
Makes about 1.3 kilos (2 3/4 pounds)
Toast the rye flour in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Stir the flour until a few wisps of fragrance reach your nose, about 4 minutes. Don’t give it any color! Weigh the flour again after it’s been toasted: you only want 70 grams of toasted flour for this recipe—the extra 5 grams are to account for any loss while toasting.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flours and set aside. Ramen noodle dough can be quite stiff and difficult to work with. If you don’t have a stand mixer, good old-fashioned elbow grease will have to do.
In a separate bowl, slowly stir the kansui into the water until it’s fully dissolved (this takes a little time). Then stir in the salt to dissolve.
Outfit your mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer running on low speed, add the water in thirds to the flour mixture. After a few minutes, the dough should begin to come together. It will be a bit shaggy—more so than Italian pasta dough. If it isn’t coming together at all, add a spoonful of water. Once it comes together, increase the speed to medium-low and let the machine run for 10 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Turn off the mixer and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let stand for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, the dough should be significantly softer in texture and smoother in appearance. Set the dough ball on a cutting board, flatten it with the palm of your hand, then cut it into four 5-centimeter (2-inch) strips. Cover the dough strips with a damp kitchen towel.
Set up your pasta machine and adjust it for the largest size. Pass one piece of dough through the machine, then fold it over on itself so that you have a double sheet. Turn the machine to the second largest size, and run the doubled sheet through. Double the sheet over again, and run it through the third largest setting.
Don’t double the sheet over again. Run it through the fourth largest setting, then once through the smallest setting. Set aside and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Once the sheets are all rolled, pass them through the thinnest cutter you have, or cut them by hand so that they are as thin as possible. As you work, toss the noodles with a little cornstarch to keep them from sticking together, and shake off the excess before cooking. Store the noodles in a container wrapped tightly with plastic (or individual portions in ziplock bags) for up to a day.