How Queen West’s newest ramen house makes its noodles
By Jon Sufrin
A-OK's shoyu ramen (Images: Jon Sufrin)
Making a proper bowl of ramen is a time consuming process, but for Chris Jang, chef at Queen West’s newly opened A-OK Foods, the noodles are the most labour-intensive part. Every day, for five days a week, Jang dedicates at least an hour and a half to crafting ramen noodles.
Jang knows that he can outsource customized, high-quality ramen noodles from a factory. Many reputable ramen houses, including Momofuku Noodle Bar, do it that way. But then he wouldn’t be able to make them to his exact specifications. Plus, it’s just not his style.
“It’s a lot of effort making these noodles,” says Jang, who previously worked at Yours Truly. “But if I can make some tasty food, it’s worth it.”
Over the summer, Jang made a ramen research trip to Asia. He staged at a few ramen houses in Korea, and he tasted his way through Japan. His two types of ramen — shoyu and Sichuan tsukemen ($10.50), which join a selection of Asian-inspired snacks on the menu at A-OK Foods — are hybrid creations of his favourite soups. He makes his noodles on-site, in a temperature-controlled room with custom-built machine from Korea. Here’s how he does it.
Jang pours two types of flour — semolina and strong flour — into the machine’s mixer along with salt, water, eggs and kansui, a cooking substance that is crucial to the noodle’s texture. The dough is mixed in the machine for at least 20 minutes; Jang keeps a close eye on it to make sure it’s not clumping up. The result it a dry, powdery dough.
After the dough is mixed, it’s passed through the machine and pressed into a sheet so that it resembles a large roll of paper towel.
Jang splits the sheet in half, separating it into two separate sheets. He then runs the two sheets through the machine together so that they form a third sheet. He then takes that sheet and repeats the process, splitting it in half and running it through again.
To make the sheet thinner, it’s run through the machine two more times. If the dough is made too thin too quickly, it will break, so it’s thinned out gradually. Jang has found that this specific process of folding, re-folding and then re-pressing is the key to optimal noodle texture.
The sheet of dough rests for about half an hour. Jang says that the room’s constant temperature of 21 degrees Celsius helps the dough to firm up a bit during this phase.
The machine cuts the dough into thin noodles that are about a foot and a half long.
The noodles are collected and placed into a wooden box, where they’re aged in a fridge for two to three days. Again, this helps with texture, but it also helps refine the noodles’ flavour.
For the shoyu ramen, Jang boils the noodles for around one minute and 40 seconds in unsalted water. He then shakes them, shakes them good, to get rid of excess water in preparation for…
The noodles have reached self-actualization and are now part of a complex soup. The shoyu ramen is made with chicken broth — chicken bone, chicken feet and and old hens, which have more flavour — along with a soy sauce seasoning, a soft boiled egg and pork shoulder that’s been cooked sous-vide and then grilled. Goji berries, scallions and a crispy, deep-fried piece of seaweed add a final garnish.
A-OK Foods, 930 Queen St. W., 647-352-2243