Saikyo Miso originated in Kyoto — a city that has been a center of politics, economics, and culture for more than a thousand years—and has been cultivated by the elegance of royalty. (Saikyo means “west city,” the former name for Kyoto.) Saikyo Miso has been a valuable part of the Imperial Palace’s hare (soul rejuvenation) ceremonies and has developed along with the food culture of the capital city. It is known for its generous amount of rice malt, its sweetness due to its low sodium content, and its beautiful light beige color.
The fermentation period for this miso is relatively short which contributes to the color and the buttery, smooth consistency. Compared with other miso, saikyo has the least amount of salt (5 percent to 10 percent) which minimizes the intense flavor to a naturally sweet, mild taste. Fish fillets are marinated in sweet miso for at least 2-3 days or up to 5-7 days for thicker slices before being grilled.
I say those are lucky who have never tasted certain delicacies because they don’t know what they are missing. If you didn’t enjoy eating fresh creamy and dreamy melt-in-your-mouth soy milk skins in Kyoto — kumiyage yuba — you obviously don’t miss it. With a tiny drop of freshly grated wasabi and diluted with dashi soy sauce for dipping, it is something to crave for. Fortunately, it is easy to make at home.
Creamy chicken stock for ramen is now my number two favorite after tonkotsu. Torikotsu uses the same technique but requires less time and efforts to make it than tonkotsu — it is much easier to gelatinise chicken cartilage and connective tissues and extract flavors from less dense chicken bones. Most of the myoglobin is neutralized during the fist step of soaking chicken in cold water. To make it efficient, chop chicken wings and legs to smaller, 1-2″ pieces to expose bones marrow. As a result, there is significantly less scum to skim during the second step. Just like for tonkotsu, it is essential to remove the foam that appears, but keep the chicken fat and emulsify it into the creamy stock later, during the rapid boiling. Pressure cookers are very helpful and streamline the last stage of making chicken paitan even more if you are working on just a few portions. For the recipe below, use a 10-quart stock pot.
Chāshū is my favorite meat ingredient for ramen. Just like ramen, it came to Japanese cuisine from China and transformed into a very different dish. Originally, char siu 叉燒 is a kind of barbecued pork in Cantonese cuisine. In Japan, it is meaty pork belly slowly cooked in a flavorful broth. At the end of cooking, pork belly loses a lot of fat and becomes very tender and soft. Every bite of chashu melts in the mouth. For ramen, chashu os served thinly sliced. A very similar Japanese recipe for cooking pork belly to serve it with cooked rice, hot mustard sauce, and pickled vegetables is called Buta no Kakuni (豚の角煮, “pork cut square and simmered”). For both recipes, pork belly can be skinless or with pigskin, based on personal preferences and availability.
Every time I invite people to experience ramen for the first time and they pick the toppings, I suggest to include eggs. In the menu, they read “pickled” or “marinated” next to the eggs and say “No.” I smile and order extra eggs for my bowl of ramen, because I know what’s going to happen next — they will see them, ask for a bite, and I’ll have to share. Why didn’t you order them? — I ask. They are simply expected to be similar to American vinegary pickled eggs, which do not have a lot of fans these days. Ajitsuke tamago are completely different. They are soft with runny yolk and seasoned in a savory broth based on soy sauce. They are delicious!