[Photographs: Sho Spaeth]
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What if you took pasta carbonara but made it with alkaline noodles instead? That sounds great!
But what if, instead of just subbing in ramen for spaghetti, you took the idea further, offering a carbonara-ish flavor profile but added in some flavors that are more identifiably Japanese: soy sauce, mirin, and the savory, smoky shaved flakes of fermented, smoked, cured, and dried bonito? Well, then you’d be some kind of ramen genius.
Sad to say, but I’m not a ramen genius. But Yuji Haraguchi, of the eponymous Yuji Ramen, is. This recipe is an attempt to clone the bacon and egg mazemen Haraguchi has served at Yuji Ramen since it first opened as a pop-up at a Whole Foods in New York. It’s a testament to how good the dish is that it’s never left the menu.
Mazemen, for those who are unfamiliar, is a soup-less ramen, essentially highly seasoned alkaline noodles with a range of toppings, all of which are meant to be mixed thoroughly together once served (maze means “mix”). Think of it like the noodle version of bibimbap, or those KFC bowls of mashed potatoes, fried chicken nuggets, gravy, and corn.
While Yuji Ramen usually offers its bowl with some kind of green vegetable, typically kale, I chose to offer this recipe in its most stripped-down form, since that means you probably have everything you need to make it in your house. Most people will have bacon of some kind in their fridge as well as eggs. And if you keep a reasonably well-stocked pantry of Japanese ingredients, you’ll likely have soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, and katsuobushi on hand, too (although, do note, the katsuobushi, while delicious, is optional).
The one ingredient that could seem daunting to procure is the noodles themselves, but fear not: You can use noodles from your stash of instant ramen (just save the seasoning packet for dumping over popcorn). You can also use pasta boiled in alkaline water for a reasonable approximation, a method I generally look down upon for ramen in soup, but I find acceptable for mazemen.
You can also just make ramen yourself, using nothing more than flour and baked baking soda (if you don’t have bread flour or vital wheat gluten, you can just use all-purpose flour; the noodles will be slightly less snappy but edible nonetheless).
The recipe has been written to produce two portions of bacon and egg mazemen for a reason, namely that it’s easier to dress the noodles properly, even when using the largest mixing bowl at your disposal, than it is to dress three or four portions (or more). But so long as you only dress two portions at a time, the recipe scales quite well.
Why It Works
- Vigorously tossing the noodles with bacon fat and the seasoning liquid helps create a creamier sauce that clings more readily to the noodles.
- Katsuobushi and bacon have complementary savory, smoky flavor profiles.
- Mixing an onsen egg into the noodles tempers the salinity of the seasoning and adds richness.
- 3 ounces (85g) slab bacon, cut into lardons (small batons), or thick-cut bacon (about 4 slices)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) mirin
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon (4g) sugar
- 2 portions ramen noodles, store-bought or homemade
- To Serve:
- 2 onsen tamago
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/8 ounce (4g) katsuobushi (optional; see note)
If using slab bacon, add lardons and vegetable oil to a 10-inch nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fat has rendered and bacon is evenly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate and reserve rendered fat. Set aside.If using sliced bacon, cook whole bacon slices until quite crisp according to your preferred method. Transfer bacon slices to paper towel–lined plate and, when cool enough to handle, crumble into bite-size bits; reserve rendered bacon fat. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and sugar. Using a whisk or fork, stir mixture until sugar is completely dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 tablespoons (30ml) reserved bacon fat. Set aside.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add noodles and cook according to package or recipe directions.
When noodles are cooked, drain briefly, then add to bowl with soy sauce–bacon fat mixture. Using tongs or chopsticks, rapidly toss and stir noodles vigorously in liquid at the bottom of the bowl, until the liquid emulsifies and turns creamy, about 30 seconds.
To Serve: Transfer noodles to a serving bowl, and using a rubber spatula, scrape any remaining sauce over noodles. Garnish with onsen egg, scallions, and katsuobushi (if using). Serve immediately.
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