Watch Uncle Roger make iekei-inspired ramen with Nephew James:
ABOUT YOKOHAMA IEKEI-STYLE RAMEN
Iekei-style ramen (pronounced E A K) is a style of ramen invented by Minora Yoshimura in 1974. As a truck driver, Yoshimura-san had been all over Japan, falling in love with ramen as he went from shop to shop. Iekei ramen was his way of pairing classic tonkotsu ramen - which he’d become enamoured with whilst training at the iconic old school ‘Ramen Shop’ chain - with tokyo tori shoyu ramen.
Yoshimura-san’s original shop - ‘Yoshimura-ya’ - was situated in Isogo-ku, about 20 minutes from Yokohama. It later moved to a new location just around the corner from Yokohama station, where it remains to this day, still with a line around the block most mornings.
Iekei Ramen is defined by a few characteristics. The style features rich pork and chicken bone soup, flavoured with shoyu tare and schmaltz. Unlike a standard Tokyo shoyu or Kyushu tonkotsu, the noodles are thick, flat, short, slightly wavy, and yellow. Yoshimura-san’s noodles are produced by Sakai Seimen, and the only way to get a supply of those noodles is with Yoshimura-san’s blessing, which is why this recipe is titled “iekei-inspired.”
The standard toppings are pork chashu, spinach, and nori. Seasoned eggs (chicken or quail) and spring onions are also regular additions.
Another defining feature of iekei-style ramen is how customisable it is. Diners are encouraged to choose the amount of fat, the amount of tare, and how they want their noodles cooked. There are also a wide array of free toppings available on the counter at iekei shops for customers to further adjust their bowls with, such as minced garlic and ginger, spices, oils, and vinegars.
The final component of iekei-style ramen is actually a simple bowl of Japanese rice! Ordered with a bowl of ramen, it’s the perfect accompaniment for a hungry diner, with many adding it directly to the leftover soup as a means of soaking up those final sips of soup, or eating with your soggy nori!
I went to Japan once, back in 2005, but never ate a single bowl of ramen. So, despite all of the above, I’m still just trying to respectfully offer a version of something I’ve never tried. Bear that in mind when re-creating this recipe, and feel free to deviate and make it your own. Yoshimura himself has been very open with his recipes, which is why there’s such a large number of iekei shops across Japan, so I hope he’d approve.
Thanks to Scott LaChapelle, Keizo Shimamoto at Ramen Shack, Omar at Komugi Noodles, James at Tomo no Ramen for their input and guidance. Thanks to Mike Satinover for editing this for me. Not much of the info above is particularly original so huge thanks also to Ramen Beast, Ramen Guide Japan, Way of Ramen, Rajuku Ramen School and so many others for spreading the ramen/iekei gospel.
MATSUDAI IEKEI-INSPIRED YOKOHAMA-STYLE TONKOTSU RAMEN RECIPE
This recipe will make a lot of ramen - around 7 portions of soup, 4 portions of noodles, 12 portions of chashu, 6 eggs. Feel free to scale things back, freeze excess, and generally do as you please. Also, this is a lot of work for a single day, so feel free to spread the cooking over the course of a few days.
- 700g femur
- 500g chicken carcass
- 1kg pork back/neck bones
- 150g pork back fat
- 10g dried shiitake
- 1 medium onion, cut in half
- 1/2 bulb garlic cut in half
notes: the first step is optional. traditionally, iekei shops don’t soak the bones, but I prefer the cleaner soup which results from the soak. If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can cook your soup on the hob for 6-8 hours on a rolling boil, topping the water up to the original level and stirring every 15 minutes or so and following the below instructions from step 6 onwards.
- The day prior, place the pork and chicken bones in water to soak overnight to remove myoglobin
- Remove the femur and chicken bones and 1/3rd of the neck/back bones from the soaking water, and add them to your pressure cooker with fresh water to cover
- Bring the contents to a boil and skim any brown scum, moving the bones a couple of times so the scum doesn’t stick to them. stop when the scum stops rising, or turns white
- Seal the pressure cooker, and bring to high pressure. Cook 1 hour under high pressure.
- After, quick release the pot (a natural release is fine too, but will take longer)
- Break up the bones with a wooden spoon or similar, add 1/2 of the remaining pork backs/neck bones and boil for 1 more hour, stirring regularly. this will stop the bones from scorching at the bottom of the pot, and will break up the bones and fat in the process, promoting emulsification and resulting in a creamier soup. keep topping up with water to the original level
- add the final pork bones and aromatics and boil for 1 more hour, stirring regularly, and letting the liquid reduce. your final yield should be around 2 litres, so reduce a bit or add some water and boil to re-emulsify if necessary.
- strain & cool the soup, or use it immediately. Some shops have relatively clear soups, others are very emulsified. If you want a richer, more emulsified soup, feel free to use a hand blender for about 30 seconds before cooling.
- 360ml dark (koikuchi) japanese shōyu
- 360ml light (usukuchi) japanese shōyu
- 1440ml water
- 160g salt
- add all ingredients to a pot and cook for 1 hour at a low-medium simmer, stirring at the start to dissolve the salt
- after one hour the tare should have reduced by about 1/2
- Turn off the heat, and leave the pot - covered - at room temperature to cool overnight
- if the tare has formed a skin, remove it using a slotted spoon, being careful not to discard any tare
- Transfer the tare to a sealed container, and store it in the fridge until you need it. it’ll keep for a few months.
GARLIC SCHMALTZ AROMA OIL
- 500g chicken skin
- A splash of water
- 60g garlic cloves (whole)
- 25g spring onion whites
- add the chicken skin and water to a pot and bring to a boil on medium-low heat. the water will keep the chicken skin from browning whilst it starts to render.
- once the water comes to a boil and starts to evaporate, turn the heat down low and cook for about an hour, moving it regularly and being careful not to brown the skin. If you’d like to save some time, our friend Mike Satinover (aka ramen_lord) has a trick for rendering schmaltz in the microwave, which you can view here.
- strain the schmaltz (your yield should be around 200ml), add your garlic and spring onions and cook low for 20 minutes until very fragrant
- strain and cool, or use immediately
Below is the spec for our noodle, along with quantities to make 4 140g portions. For a simple guide to making the noodles, please see either Way of Ramen’s guide here, or once more see Mike Satinover’s ‘Book of Ramen’, where he also has a written guide.
These noodles should be quite thick, relatively straight, short (30cm long) slightly yellow, and cut a little flat. Our noodle is cut 2 x 2.5m. You can order some from us if you’re based in the UK and would like to see how ours look.
- 93% high-protein wheat flour (372g)
- 7% tapioca flour (28g)
- 37% water (148ml)
- 1.25% sea salt (5g)
- 0.8% sodium carbonate (3.2g)
- 1% potassium carbonate (4g)
- 0.05% beta carotene (0.2g)
In iekei-style ramen, toppings are a part of what defines the style. There’s always nori, spinach, and chashu. Iekei style is regularly served with negi (spring onions) and eggs, too. Often, marinated quail eggs are used in place of, or as well as, the regular ajitama. Included below is a simple recipe for regular chicken egg ajitama.
- 6 large, fresh refrigerated eggs (from the fridge)
for the marinade:
- 500ml water
- 105ml japanese soy sauce
- 90ml mirin
- bring a pot of water to a boil. it should be large enough that it doesn’t stop boiling when you add the eggs
- *optional* pierce a hole in the fat end of each egg using a drawing pin so that they cook more evenly
- cook the eggs for 7 minutes at a rolling boil, moving them around gently for the first minute or so. this will centre the yolk
- carefully remove the eggs from the water and cool them in iced water (or in cold water, changing regularly, if you are out of ice) for around 20 minutes
- peel the eggs (if you peel them under the water the shells will come away more cleanly and easily)
- place the eggs in an airtight container, cover them with the marinade and place a paper kitchen towel over the top so that they stay submerged in the liquid and marinate evenly
- leave in the fridge for at least 48 hours (we like them at 3-4 days). use within 5 days.
The chashu for this bowl is very simple, so I’m going to write it here as a process rather than a definitive recipe. When filming with Uncle Roger, he wanted to use pork belly, so that’s what I’ve used as the basis here, too. I think I prefer a pork ‘rib-eye’ joint for this bowl, or fatty shoulder. The original shops usually use loin, and smoke it once cooked. Totally up to you, though. There’s no right or wrong answer.
If you are using pork belly, ask your butcher for a flat piece around 1.5-2kg, with the ribs and rind removed but as much fat as possible left on the belly itself. You can also ask the butcher to roll the belly for you, or you could buy some butchers twine and do that yourself.
If you’d like, you can cook the chashu in the soup (after the pressure has been released, if using a pressure cooker) for around 1 hour and 30 minutes or so, until the pork feels very tender and you can easily push a chopstick right through it. If you have a temperature probe, the pork should be at around 94-96c. If you want to do this separately you can cook the pork in boiling water.
Cool the pork in your shoyu tare, either in a container with the pork submerged under a paper kitchen towel, or in a ziplock bag with the air removed so the chashu is fully covered. Remove the pork from the tare after around 2 hours and strain the tare again, to get rid of the fat that will have come off the chashu and be floating at the top of the tare.
Here you have two choices. 1: you can either leave the pork in the fridge in an airtight container or zip-lock bag until you’re ready to use it. Or 2: you can cold-smoke it. There are various guides available for smoking and I’m not an authority, so just google one you like the look of and use a good quality, gentle, aromatic wood.
When you’re finished, leave the chashu to rest in the fridge overnight so that you’re able to cut it properly. If you try cutting it when it’s still hot you’ll end up with pulled pork like Nephew Nick DiGiovanni!
n.b. If you do decide to use loin, rib-eye or shoulder, cook the joint for about an hour, until the internal temperature is around 85c. From there, the steps are as above.
ASSEMBLING YOUR BOWL!
* The below instructions are for 2 portions. If you’d like to make more or less, adjust as you like.
- half-fill a saucepan with salted water, bring it to a boil, and cook your spinach for around 45 seconds before removing it and setting it aside on your chopping board.
- slice your chashu into thin slices and, if using, prep your spring onions as desired
- set up your mise en place. arranging the rest of your toppings and noodles on the board for easy access. your ramen will come together quickly and it helps to have your ingredients on hand. be sure to keep your noodles and nori dry
- re-fill your saucepan two-thirds full with un-salted water and bring it to a boil. simultaneously, boil a kettle
- put 2 portions (650-700ml) of soup in a smaller pan and bring it to a low simmer
- fill your bowls with the boiling water from the kettle and let them heat up
- *optionally* heat your pork belly through either in a frying pan on medium heat or with a chef’s blow-torch, until lightly browned and piping hot. set the pork aside
- whilst the chashu is cooking, put your ajitama egg/eggs in the boiling water to warm through for 60 seconds. remove carefully and set aside. cut in half if you like.
- iekei is famously customisable, and famously salty and fatty, so feel free to use your judgement here, but once i’ve emptied the water from the bowl/s i put 30ml of tare, 30ml of aroma oil, and a big pinch of MSG in each one. i also like to add a pinch of white pepper. if you want a less fatty, salty bowl you could start with around 22ml each of tare and aroma oil. similarly, if you’d like a richer, saltier bowl, add more
- place the noodles in the boiling water, shaking first to untangle them and remove any excess starch move them regularly with your chopsticks to make sure they don’t stick together. Our noodles take around 2 and a half minutes to cook to my tastes but again, use your judgement.
- put half the soup in each bowl and stir to combine with the tare and oil
- put the cooked noodles in the soup, folding them to provide a platform for the toppings and coat them with soup. arrange your toppings as desired
- eat the bowl quickly. the ramen will be at its best as soon as it’s served - the longer it sits in the soup, the more the noodles will soak up the soup and the mushier they will become. from the moment the noodles go into your bowl it should take you no more than 8-10 minutes to finish your ramen. feel free to customise it whilst you eat by adding minced ginger, garlic, benishoga, doubanjang, shichimi, chilli oil, miso paste, pickles, or really whatever you like.