Tennessee native Sarah Gavigan—a former music and film industry veteran who left LA and plunged herself into the Nashville culinary world, first with POP Nashville, then Otaku Ramen and Little Octopus—can now add cookbook author to her growing list of achievements. On Nov. 13, guests gathered at Otaku Ramen in The Gulch to sip ramen “shooters” and Sapporo in celebration of the release of her first cookbook Ramen Otaku: Mastering Ramen at Home.
In her book, Gavigan shares more than 40 recipes that carefully guide home cooks through the steps needed to create a perfectly slurpable bowl of ramen—from stock to toppings. An entire chapter is dedicated to noodles, although you won’t find any recipes here (she explains that way more goes into the noodles than you can possibly imagine). Instead Gavigan shares resources for purchasing noodles, along with helpful tips for cooking them, and guidelines for pairing noodles with stocks to enhance the bowl.
Beyond the recipes, paragraphs of history, interviews with ramen legends, and her own reflection on the cuisine that led her to become ramen otaku (“obsessed” in Japanese) make for a read you can cozy up with on the sofa just as easily as in the kitchen.
Her lifelong love of writing, coupled with a passion “to see ramen culture grown in the United States,” inspired her to take on this most recent project. “I want to help feed that,” she says. “This is decidedly American ramen, birthed from the traditions and ingredients of Japan. I am very proud of that.”
We caught up with Gavigan to talk about making ramen, and asked her to walk us through a day of preparing Chintan ramen stock at home. She even shared a favorite playlist to fuel the day’s work.
What surprised you most about the entire process of creating a cookbook?
How much fun it was. They say in Nashville, “You have your whole life to write your first record.” I feel like this cookbook was easy for me because it’s what I think about all the time!
Are there ingredients you miss seeing in Nashville markets that were more easily found in L.A.?
Where do I begin—all of it. MISO. I can only get about four types. In my Los Angeles market, Mitswa, there are over 50. It only gets deeper from there. Shoyu, vinegar, everything really. It has been a challenge.
Give us an idea of the amount of bones needed to make a batch of stock at home vs. a batch of stock for a day at Otaku Ramen.
We make up to 600 bowls a day at the ramen shop. That’s 12 ounces of stock per bowl, which equals roughly 56 gallons of stock, equaling about 100 lbs of bones. We call it “Game of Bones.”
Any words of inspiration for those who are making Ramen at home?
Start with stock and accept that you will need to do it a few times to get the touch. Use the book to play the long game – invest in your stock making first.
It may be way too soon to even think about this one, but is there another cookbook in your future?
Well, of course! Can’t say quite yet what the focus will be, but I love Izakaya style food almost as much as I do ramen.
Let’s talk about making a Chintan, which is a clear golden chicken stock.
2 lbs chicken feet
1 five or six lb. whole chicken
2 cups ginger
1 12×12 in. piece of kombu
9:00 a.m. Head to your local Asian store, and buy a fat hen and chicken feet. (Chef’s tip: In Nashville the go to market is K&S or Sonobono Markets for Japanese goods. Best to get your chicken feet from your butcher or your farmers market direct from some of the great farms in Middle Tennessee, like Wedge Oak in Lebanon who is at the Richland Park Farmers Market every Saturday and sells incredible chickens.)
9:30 a.m. Clean chicken feet in quick boil (see recipe for details)
9:45 a.m.Butcher whole chicken (see recipe for details)
10:00 a.m. Arrange chicken in stockpot–the feet on top–and add filtered or distilled water [2:1 water-to-bones ratio, using volume]. Add a temperature gauge and bring slowly to 190 degrees. (Chef’s tip:For making the stock, the feet are on top to leach all their collagen and seal the pot from air. Once that fat covers the top of the stock, you keep oxygen out which helps create a richer more vibrantly colored soup. Fat is essential to ramen, as it’s the “lick your lips” sensation that great ramen always has.)
10:45 a.m. At full temp, let it go for 6 hours.
11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I usually do all my food prep for the week during this time, but you can also use the time to make a chashu (marinated, braised pork belly) or a tare (the ramen’s seasoning). Recipes for each are in the book.
5:00 p.m.Strain off golden stock and add kombu and ginger
5:20 p.m.Place bones back in pot with water to cover and bring to a rolling boil to make Paitan, the cloudy second stock. Should take about an hour. Add more water as needed, strain, and reserve for chili or chowder–or Ramen! (Full recipe for Paitan stock is in the book.) Both stocks are highly versatile and freeze very well.
(Reprinted from Ramen Otaku: Mastering Ramen at Home by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Sarah Gavigan with Ann Volkwein)
Blanch the chicken feet: In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, arrange the feet and add enough cool water to just cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water reaches a boil, remove from the heat and dump out the water.
Cut the chicken: With the tip of a sharp knife, cut the wings off and place them in a stockpot or pressure cooker vessel. Remove the breast meat by guiding your knife along both sides of the cartilage at theend of the breastbone. Reserve the breast meat for another use. Turn the chicken breast side down. Cut lengthwise down the center of the chicken, separating the thighs, to split the chicken into quarters.
Tightly pack the chicken parts, including the skin and bones, into the pot. The goal here is for the bones to remain relatively still while they cook, not roll around. Arrange the blanched feet in a tight formation on top of the chicken. If you have the space in your fridge, place the whole pot in there to chill for 1 hour. Why? To let those chicken feet gel together and form a sort of raft on top of the bones. The raft will float on the whole surface of the pot. If you simply don’t have the space in your fridge to do this, just watch your stock carefully as it comes up to temp to ensure thatit never boils. This will allow the feet to leach the collagen to seal the pot, which will keep oxygen out. The lack of oxygen is the key to a beautiful golden stock.
Remove the pot or vessel from the fridge and fill it with just enough water to cover, about 8 cups—the ideal ratio is 2:1 water to bones; you don’t want to drown them.
Affix the temperature gauge to the side of the pot and heat to medium. You do not want to see bubbles or steam coming off the pot, or bones rolling around. You are looking for molten stillness. Bring the broth to 190 to 200°F. Don’t rush this process; it should take about an hour to get the pot to the right temperature. In raising the temperature slowly, you will see the chicken feet begin to release the fat, which will eventually “seal” the pot, trapping in oxygen and steam. Reduce the temperature to 190°F and you should see what we call a low bubble, or a few bubbles but not a boil. A filmy brown foam will begin to rise to the top at this point—ignore it. Don’t skim the stock. Trust me, you want the foam. It has essential amino acids in it, plus it acts as a raft to help clarify the stock for the next 30 to 45 minutes. When you start to see a layer of the fat coming off the bones and feet, cover the pot to keep oxygen out (oxygen will oxidize your stock, giving it an unappealing dingy color).
Continue simmering at a low bubble of 180 to 190°F for 6 hours. No stirring, ever.
While the broth is cooking, prepare a large bowl or container (or several smaller bowls/containers) to chill the broth in, and clear space in your refrigerator.
When the broth has reached a rich golden color, your entire house will smell like incredible chicken soup. At this point, when you (carefully) taste the hot broth, it should have a lick-your-lips, pure-chicken quality (or it should read 4 to 5 Brix on a refractometer, if you have one). It should taste of chicken first, not water. If your stock tastes like water first, give it another hour at 200 to 210°F to reduce a little. Don’t let this stock cook longer than 6 hours or it will begin to reduce, lose its clarity, and the color will become less vibrant.
Strain your stock into the prepared bowl or container, and then add the ginger and kombu. Reserve the bones for tori paitan broth. Allow the ingredients to steep in the broth for about 40 minutes at room temperature, then strain the ginger and kombu out and discard. Cover the broth and chill in the refrigerator until it is totally solid and gelatinous, a minimum of 3 to 4 hours or overnight.
When the broth is totally chilled and a thick layer of fat has formed on top, use a spoon to skim off the fat.
The chintan will last one week in the refrigerator or two months in the freezer.
Fire up one of Sarah’s favorite playlists below and get started on your own ramen journey.