We conceived this dish while watching the Ivan Orkin episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, which profiles a Jewish New Yorker who trained to become one of the best ramen chefs in the world. It got us thinking: What if we combined ramen with one of Jewish cooking’s best known classics?
Traditional matzo ball soup is really just chicken noodleless soup—but because Jews aren’t big on spice, it tends to end up relatively bland. Matzo balls, on the other hand, are magical orbs that take up whatever flavor they cook in. So why not treat them to a better broth bath?
No shade to instant ramen, which was a hallmark of my teenage years and also my current years, but real ramen is as far from instant as you can get. But it’s also way, way more satisfying. (Again, no disrespect. Samyang forever.)
Making ramen from scratch is a day-long process, a true project cook. There are lots of moving parts, which all require different levels of cooking and preparation. Some parts you can make ahead of time, but when it comes down to it, you could use a friend in the kitchen.
To create this recipe, we borrowed heavily from the book Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, And More From The Streets And Kitchens of Tokyo And Beyond, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat.
As that book will teach you, ramen can be broken down into a few key elements: Soup, tare (concentrate), noodles, and chashu (toppings). With those basic pieces, there are numerous styles of ramen you could create. This recipe is based on the Shoyu (soy sauce) style.
Matzo Ball Ramen (serves four)
To tackle this ramen, you’ll need to work in stages: 1. Soup, 2. Marinade, 3. Concentrate, 4. Toppings. Altogether, this will take you three hours, so start early. Also, consider investing in another saucepan, because you’ll need it.
Our matzo ball ramen uses pork, so it’s hilariously not kosher. But substitute the pork for leftover roasted chicken at the very end and you’re golden. For the toppings, don’t feel constrained to the ones we picked: Play around, see what’s available, and use what you like. Also, to cut down on time, we used Manischewitz matzo ball mix—fresh-made would likely be better, but I’ve never eaten a bad Manischewitz.
- 2 pounds chicken bones (carcass preferred)
- 1 big knob ginger, skin on
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 5 quarts water
- 2 scallions
- 1 small carrot
- 1 lb boneless pork tenderloin, in one piece
- Matzo balls, uncooked, fresh or from mix
Crush the ginger and then the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, pressing down with the palm of your hand. You will not eat these, so you don’t need to peel them.
Add all ingredients, including the pork shoulder, to a large stockpot and place burner on high heat. When the liquid boils, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered. You can discard scum at the top, if you like.
Cook for about 1.5 hours. While the soup is cooking, move on to prepare the marinade, tare, and toppings.
After 1.5 hours, the liquid will have reduced a little bit. Remove the pork shoulder and check for doneness—if it’s mostly white, with a little pale pink, it’s ready. Set aside for chashu (below). Strain the soup through a colander or using a fine-mesh sieve, and discard all ingredients that aren’t liquid. Return to pot.
Bring the liquid back to a simmer, and drop in uncooked matzo balls. I recommend going small—about a tablespoon each. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes.
Soy Sauce Marinade
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups soy sauce
- 1 cup sake
- 1/2 cup mirin or rice wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 big knob ginger, skin on and crushed
- 4 pieces star anise
This marinade is going to be used for both your eggs and your pork. Add all ingredients into a sauce pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.
You can make this marinade up to a month in advance, and simply refrigerate.
Soft Boiled Eggs
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups soy sauce marinade
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Using a spoon, gently place the eggs in the boiling water, and cook for 6-7 minutes.
Remove eggs from pan and place into a bowl of cold water. When the eggs are cool, peel them underneath the water. Discard water and peels, and pour the marinade into the bowl with the eggs. Marinate in the refrigerator until soup is done.
- 3 cups soy sauce marinade
- 1 lb cooked pork tenderloin (from soup)
When you take the pork out of the soup, place into a bowl and cover with marinade. Let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, or until soup is done.
Transfer pork to a cutting board and slice thinly. Divide into 4 portions for each bowl.
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sake
- 1 tablespoon mirin or rice wine vinegar
- 1 small knob ginger, peel on and crushed
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
This tare will be your hit of flavor for each bowl of ramen. Add all ingredients into a sauce pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.
- 1 bunch spinach, trimmed and cleaned
- 4 packages fresh ramen noodles
- 4 soy sauce eggs, cut in half
- 1 scallion, cut into strips
- 1 roll fish cake, cut into slices
- 1 sheet dried seaweed, cut into strips
Prepare the spinach: Fill a large saucepot with water and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for 1 minute, then transfer the spinach to a colander and hit it with some cold running water. When it’s cool, squeeze out the extra water, then transfer to a cutting board and chop into four portions.
Prepare the noodles: Fill the large saucepot with water again and bring to a boil. As when it boils, add all the noodles and stir so they separate. Cook for about 2 minutes, then drain into a colander. (If you need to wait before assembling the bowls, hit the noodles with a bit of cooking spray.)
Remove your soy sauce eggs from the marinade and cut in half. If you are using seaweed, scallions, and fish cake, cut accordingly and divide into four portions.
Alright, time to assemble your ramen!
- Into each bowl, pour 1/4 cup of the tare and 2 cups of hot soup
- Carefully divide noodles into each bowl. Make sure to leave some room for the toppings!
- Place one or two matzo balls into each bowl
- Assemble the ramen toppings with 1 portion of chashu pork, 2 halves of a soy sauce egg, fish cake, and seaweed. Garnish with scallions.