The Noodles, In Their Element
Since the restaurant started serving its own homemade ramen noodles, roughly three months ago, each dish comes with a noodle Yagihashi feels is appropriately sized to the broth and ingredients it's paired with. Tan tan men gets a thick noodle while, say, tonkotsu gets a thin noodle. But in either case, you're getting a splendidly textured, flavorful, and broth-sopping batch of noodles.
In a basement kitchen space below Slurping Turtle sits the Yamato LM10062IUS, a sophisticated, Japanese-made ramen noodle-making machine. Chef Yagihashi traveled to Yamato's headquarters in Japan to learn about and test-drive the machine, which he said costs nearly $40,000.
Dialing in the Thickness
The noodle machine features large rollers capable of exerting intense pressure on the ramen dough. This wheel controls the thickness, in millimeters, of the sheet of dough as it passes between the rollers. And because the rollers are so strong, Slurping Turtle can use less water in its ramen recipe, leading to, as far as Yagihashi is concerned, a more desirable consistency.
Combining Dry Ingredients
Kitchen staffer Angel Garcia arrives early in the morning to make the ramen. He trained closely under Yagihashi to learn the machine's ins and outs. Garcia first adds dry ingredients—including all-purpose flour, cake flour, egg white powder, and gluten powder—to the machine's hopper.
Dissolving the Kansui
One of ramen's distinguishing traits is its alkalinity, which can be achieved by mixing into the dough an ingredient called kansui. Because Chicago-area water can tend to be on the hard and basic side to begin with, Slurping Turtle uses super-soft Voss water to dissolve the salt and kansui powder called for in Yagihashi's ramen recipe.
Mixing the Dough
Once the seasoned water and dry ingredients are all added to the machine's mixing bin, it churns the dough for a good 15 minutes. After mixing, the dough is indeed fairly dry and clumpy—but the machine will soon smooth out those bumps.
Ready to Roll
Garcia dumps the dough into a bin...
Ready to Roll
...and then adds it to a staging area at the top of the machine.
Garcia then carefully feeds the clumps toward the machine's high-pressure rollers for the first of three or more passes.
The machine creates a long, broad sheet of pressed dough, which Garcia guides onto a metal rolling pin.
The Dough, Post 1st Pass
Eventually all the clumps of dough have been pressed into one continuous sheet, tightly rolled around itself.
The 2nd Pass
Garcia separates the large single roll into two smaller ones. The machine then presses those two sheets together on the 2nd pass, at a narrower setting.
Smoothing it Out
With each subsequent pass through the rollers, the sheet becomes more smooth and uniform and squared off.
Two Become One
While the machine certainly helps to automate the process and allow Slurping Turtle to make ramen on the scale necessary to supply its kitchen and Yagihashi's location in the Macy's food court, it's clear that a great amount of skill goes into manning the machine, as well. Garcia has the process down cold.
Now that the restaurant is making its ramen in-house, it can turn out several varieties and thicknesses of noodle. The batch I witnessed being made was Slurping Turtle's thicker ramen noodle, which undergoes three passes through the rollers and ends up as this roughly 10-inch-wide spool.
Making the Cut
The next step involves cutting the wide sheet into individual strands. These components are similar to the spaghetti attachment included in an at-home pasta machine, only much bigger.
One Serving at a Time
The dough is fed back into the machine, but now directed through the teeth of the pasta cutters. It's amazing to watch as Garcia fluidly collects, bundles, and boxes each perfectly portioned batch as it exits the machine.
Nesting the Noodles
Yagihashi said each serving of ramen noodles at Slurping Turtle is about 110 grams, and on my visit the machine fashioned exactly 50 servings out of the ingredients poured in.
The restaurant estimated that on average they go through about 250 servings of ramen a day. These freshly made noodles will keep for about two to three days, but it's very likely that they've already been eaten.
By the end of the run, Garcia has neatly filled his bin with three tiers of fresh ramen portions, each separated by sheets of wax paper.
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