Noodles from Scratch
On the left side, Union's housemade noodles and a bowl of the spicy pigtail ramen. On the right side, Dragon Ranch's just-cut noodles and a complete bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
Mixing the dough
Union's Chef Chao (left) uses bread, gluten, and a small amount of cake flour to make his ramen.
Tools and ingredients
Chao sifts the flours together, careful to break up any clumps. To that he mixes in potassium carbonate that has been diluted in water. According to Chao, this product helps to bind the wheat gluten together and make a stronger, more resilient noodle. At the lower left, Chao's Italian chitarra (guitar) pasta cutter.
Mixing and Kneading
After the dough comes together in the countertop mixer, it is kneaded for about three minutes. (Lower right) After resting and drying, the fresh dough at right will look like the ready-to-cut dough at left.
Chao demonstrates the elasticity of his finished dough, which is firm and dry to the touch.
From a large ball of prepared dough, 2.5-ounce individual portions are cut and weighed.
Chao will pass the dough through his pasta machine several times, and with each pass he applies slight resistance to help stretch the dough longer and thinner.
The portion of dough soon becomes a long ribbon, roughly three feet in length.
After being unhappy with the performance of other devices, Chao settled on using a simple wood and string pasta guitar to cut his noodles. He presses the dough over the taut strings with a rolling pin to cut the noodles.
Long in Tooth
One portion of freshly cut Union ramen noodles. A fresh pot of boiling water is used to cook each batch of noodles so that the excess flour that keeps the noodles from sticking together doesn't end up in the broth or gumming up subsequent portions.
Building the Bowl
(Left) The cooked ramen noodles are placed on a bed of cabbage; mushrooms are sautéed for the mushroom ramen. (Right) Broths are simmered before they get poured into bowls; additional garnishes are carefully added atop the noodles.
Mushrooms, noodles, pickled veggies, tofu, and seaweed are among the components of the pre-brothed bowl of Union's mushroom ramen.
The hot broth is added after simmering on the stovetop.
Spicy Pigtail Ramen
A fully dressed bowl on Union's spicy pigtail ramen includes a poached egg and a crown of crispy fried onions.
Like the spicy pigtail ramen, Union's mushroom ramen is bathed in a shoyu (soy) broth base—minus the gelatinous pig tail jelly that is used to liven (read: fatten) up the broth for the pigtail ramen.
Enter the Dragon
Over at Dragon Ranch, Sous Chef Shaun Connolly makes his ramen noodles using all-purpose flour, hot and cold water, and a dilution containing baked baking soda. The baking soda undergoes a chemical change while cooking that yields alkaline salt, an important ramen ingredient that, among other things, can help the dough from oxidizing over time. Here he's shown whisking the alkaline salt with water, mixing the dough in a commercial mixer, and kneading the resulting dough ball. After 20 minutes of chilling, five minutes more of mixing, and an hour more of chilling, the dough is ready to be rolled out.
Connolly then runs the dough through his pasta maker, folding the dough over itself several times to help achieve a dense and "leathery" texture. He is adamant about keeping the work surface clean and excess flour off the dough at this point, so that it won't end up marring the consistency of the ramen broth later on.
Connolly lays the ribbon of dough out on a drying rack. Ribbons are left to dry overnight for use the next day.
Make the Cut
Connolly opts for the spaghetti cutter attachment on his pasta machine to cut the ramen noodles, which will be then parsed out into 3-ounce portions for service. The resulting noodle is thin and cylindrical.
The Tonkotsu Base
A hefty portion of pork is added to the noodles and tonkotsu broth as Connolly begins to build Dragon Ranch's ramen bowl. The broth itself is made from housemade pork and chicken broths, charred ginger and onion, and a host of other flavorful ingredients.
A duck-fat-poached duck egg is one of the major garnishes of Dragon Ranch's tonkotsu ramen. It's partially poached ahead of time, then quickly finished in boiling water while the noodles cook (only about 30 seconds).
The Finished Bowl
Pungent baby greens, bamboo shoots, and julienned watermelon radish round out the components of the tonkotsu ramen.