Ramen, at the moment it’s everybody’s favourite noodle. And why not? Cheap and delicious. An everyday Japanese dish with so much variation and endless refinement there’s something for every taste. For me, a bowl of Hakata style tonkotsu is my favourite ramen. Rich pork stock, marinated egg, sweetly soft slithers of chashu and of course those firm ramen noodles. You can get good tonkotsu in London now so I don’t have to go back to Kyushu for them. Though sadly Birmingham is still sorely lacking any, let alone good, ramen joints.
Yet these aren’t my favourite noodles. Ramen noodles are actually Chinese style noodles, a derivative of lai men “pulled noodles”. If you think there are a lot of variations of ramen in Japan, you should check out what they have in China! Unsurprisingly my favourite noodle dish of all comes from Hong Kong. 竹昇麵 bamboo noodles, made by pressing duck eggs, flour and salt with a large bamboo pole. That’s it! There aren’t many places left that do it the old way with a man riding the pole, levering the ingredients together until a smooth dough is formed. The dough is then flattened and cut into thin noodles with an incredible chewy springy texture so beloved by the Cantonese palate. At Lau Sum Kee Noodle Store 劉森記麵家 in Sham Sui Po, Hong Kong they serve these perfect noodles with a sprinkle of dried shrimp roe, beef tendon and brisket. This is my favourite noodle dish.
It doesn’t look all that does it? Just a splash of gravy from the beef bits, some gritty looking stuff on dry noodles. It’s certainly not as glamorous as a manicured bowl of ramen. But great Cantonese food is like great Italian food, appearing simple but hiding great depths. That cured shrimp roe is a local delicacy, made by harvesting small fresh water shrimp and filtering the tiny eggs. They’re salted and air dried, the flavour is like bottarga but more intense. Imagine how much The River Cafe would charge you for fresh duck egg pasta and a sprinkling of bottarga. This was 50HKD, about £4, and there’s beef too!
We can’t get cured shrimp roe here but we can make our own duck egg noodles. Which in my opinion are better than regular alkali ramen noodles in every way; flavour, texture and colour. Shame Japan hasn’t picked up on this in their popular ramen culture, I would love to taste the results. But that doesn’t stop us from creating a delicious bowl ourselves. Let’s start with the noodles.
Duck Egg Noodles – 4 portions
300g strong white flour (bread flour)
3 duck eggs
- Mix all the ingredients together and knead. Knead and knead some more until a smooth ball is formed. Wrap and rest for 15 minutes.
- Cut the dough in half and work one half at a time through a pasta roller at it’s widest setting. Fold and roll the dough at the widest setting at least a dozen times. This mimics the pressing and kneading of a wiry Chinaman riding a large bamboo pole (really!). At first there will be large gaps and rough patches but carry on until a smooth sheet is produced.
- Narrow the setting on the noodle machine and run the sheet once at every setting. You’ll need to cut the sheet in half before it gets unwieldy. Narrow the thickness until it’s the same width as the noodle cutter.
- Put the sheet through the cutter. Collect the noodles and dust lightly with flour, separating the strands slightly. Fold the noodles carefully and place on a floured surface. Repeat with the other sheet.
- Repeat with the other half of dough. In the end you will have four portions of noodle. Rest the noodles for a better texture, overnight is best.
- Or make a lot, they freeze well.
- Fresh duck noodles take 2 minutes to cook in boiling water (from frozen add another minute). Once cooked, drain and rinse in cold water to stop them overcooking.
So we’ve made great noodles, let’s make some stuff to go with them. I’m not going to rolling boil a pork bone stock for 12 hours to make tonkotsu (not again) and I wouldn’t expect you too either. Let’s think about this laterally, Vietnamese Pho is lovely but that involves boiling beef bones for ages too. If we can apply those flavours to duck then there’s potential for a great bowl of duck ramen taking inspiration from across Asia.
Pho Duck Broth (faux duck broth) – 4 portions
1 duck carcass, chop into large pieces
1 star anise
1 black cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 stick cassia
Half a small charred onion
Half a thumb sized charred ginger
Water – see below
1 phone sized piece of kombu
- Put everything except the kombu in a pressure cooker and pressure cook for 1 hour. As there’s no evaporation in a pressure cooker the amount of water needed can be measured by filling your noodle bowl and emptying it into the pot.
- If you’re not using a pressure cooker then adjust by adding more water. Simmer gently for up to 2 hours.
- Turn the heat off and add the kombu. Leave to steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain well for a nice clear broth.
You have noodles and you have broth. Add anything else you want to it. My chilli duck ramen has the broth infused with red oil chilli bean paste, slices of tea-smoked duck breast, a marinated soft boiled duck egg, shallots browned in duck fat and spring onions. Duck egg noodles are better than any other, try this recipe and see for yourself.