Okay, just look at it! Look at it! There is much color and beauty in this picture. And since we eat with our eyes before the food even makes it into our mouths, I have done you an incredible service here by giving you a rainbow of flavor and color. (You're welcome.) Now that we have made it past the surface, because you know, looks matter and all... but it is what is on the inside that counts. (Or so I've heard.) There are so many flavor bombs going on in this dish. The luscious pork belly, salty miso, slurpy noodles, creamy shiitake mushrooms, charred baby bok choy and the slow cooked flavors of pork fat, ginger and onion... guys this is one mouthwatering soup!
I am a serious lover of pretty much any cuisine that is vaguely Asian. Vietnamese and Japanese are two of my favorite cuisines, by far. And I love, love, love ramens. When ramen is done right, it has the ability to be both sophisticated and reminiscent of street food. The craveable layers of flavor, combined with satisfying noodles and a medley of vibrant vegetables hit the sweet spot every time. Every. Time.
Another beauty of this dish is how customizable it is. The mushrooms, the bok choy, the kinds of peppers or noodles you use, even the protein; they can all be switched up to your liking. Now I would like to think that I did a phenomenal job of selecting complimentary flavors to perfectly balance this soup. But you're entitled to your opinion (wrong as it may be), and can alter it however you like. :) Don't like bok choy? Nori, cabbage or spinach are acceptable substitutions for greens. If the thought of pork belly is out of your comfort zone, then feel free to use something else. Once again, as stated above, I know what I am doing. So following along with exact duplication if you so chose is completely acceptable and preferred.
There are quite a few steps to this recipe. But it isn't as complicated as it is lengthy. Because of all of the ingredients that go in it, it may seem a bit daunting. But really, it is mostly pretty straight forward!
1.5 lbs pork belly
32 oz chicken broth
1 lg chunk of ginger
1 yellow onion
1/4 cup red chili paste
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 heads baby bok choy
stalk of green onions
10-15 shiitake mushrooms
bundle enoki mushrooms
1 soft boiled egg per bowl/serving
1-2 red chili peppers
1/2 cup miso paste
4-6 servings ramen, udon, rice or other noodles (I used 4- 158 gram servings of gluten free udon noodles.)
1/2 - 1 cup cilantro leaves
1. The first thing I do is broil my onion and my ginger in the oven. Giving them a nice char really adds flavor to this dish. And since you want it to seep in the broth for a while, you might as well get this started first. I pretty much just slice them so that more is exposed to the direct heat.
2. Broil towards the top of the oven for 10 minutes or so until they begin to darken.
3. As the onion and ginger are charring in the oven, begin to trim your pork belly. I like to remove the pork skin by carefully slicing through the layer of fat that connects the skin to the rest of the piece of meat.
4. Then, I trim of any pieces that are really just giant chunks of fat. You want to keep the fat in there for the most part. That is one of the beauties of pork belly. (You can see the strips of pork belly above on the left picture as well as in the right picture. It is separated from the skin and even little chunks of fat on the bottom right of the left picture.)
5. After you have trimmed the pork belly, cut each strip into 2" long chunks.
6. Add the "extra fat" to your Dutch Oven (or large pot... but I have a love affair with my cast iron Dutch oven). Brown it until a decent amount of fat is rendered. Make sure to stir it frequently so that it doesn't burn.
7. Add your charred yellow onions and ginger, soy sauce and red chili paste, followed by the chicken broth. (If you have cheese cloth, you can use it to bundle up the onions, ginger and cooked pork fat so that they are easier to remove later. Or, if you're like me, and you think you have cheese cloth, but it turns out you're out, you can use a large slotted spoon to remove these ingredients when the time comes.)
8. Allow those flavors to cook together for 30 minutes or so (more if time allows).
9. While all of the yummy flavors of your broth are cooking together, you can get some beautiful grill marks on your baby bok choy and green onions if you chose. This step is not necessary, but it is a beautiful and flavorful one.
10. Using an outdoor grill, or a grill pan, cook for 2-4 minutes per side. I weighted mine down with a bowl to get those deep colors of the grill marks, while not over cooking the vegetables. You also want to use a high heat so that you are just charring it and not fully cooking the baby bok choy and the green onions.
11. After the broth has been simmering for 30-60 minutes, add the strips of pork belly. Reduce the heat so that you can braise the meat for another 30 minutes or so in the liquid. This will help cook the meat all the way through, while infusing it with flavor. (We are going to take the pork belly out of the broth and crisp it up later, do not fear!)
12. Remove all large food items from the broth. This is to include the ginger, onion, pork fat and braised pork belly. You can strain ingredients, use a slotted spoon, or whatever method you chose. Feel free to discard the onions, ginger and pork fat, but keep the sliced pork belly strips!!!
13. Pat the pork belly dry and add it to a large pan. You can cut it into bite sized pieces if you like, or keep it as is.
14. Cook to pork belly on a medium high heat so that all sides are browned and crispy. This will take roughly 4-6 minutes per side(or 10-15 minutes if you're pushing around/stirring). And you may need to drain the fat on one or more occasions.
15. While you are crisping your pork belly, add the shiitake mushrooms to the broth. I kept mine whole for aesthetic appeal, but once again, you can chop them up if it makes it "easier" to eat for you. Allow the mushrooms to cook/soften in the broth for 10 minutes or so. (The same can be said for the green onions and the baby bok choy. I like to plate them at the end... because well, its prettier. But if you want ease over style, chop it on up here.)
16. Cook the noodles in the broth according to the instructions. If you are eating immediately, you can keep them in the broth, if you are waiting, consider removing them so that they are not soggy.
17. Add the miso paste. You want to do this step towards the end, due to the nature of the miso.
18. Plate by spooning in the broth, mushrooms and noodles. Add the bok choy, green onions, sliced red chilis, seared pork belly, enoki mushrooms and a soft boiled egg.
19. Garnish with cilantro leaves.