Cooking for another person is an act of love. It requires an amount of time and effort that I’m completely unwilling to put in if I were cooking for just myself. It’s not that I don’t personally deserve an amazing home cooked meal all the time, it’s just that I’m perfectly okay with eating all of my kitchen failures: the burnt pork, the soggy sweet potato fries, the unsettlingly chewy chicken.
Cooking for someone else means you’re willing to give up a sliver of your soul. It leaves your face full of flour and oil, tomato stains on your shirt, sore ankles, and the inability to enjoy life while you resentfully stare at your dinner mate who’s nonchalantly devouring your four-hour meal in less than ten minutes.
If that’s what cooking for one other person is like, then cooking for thirty-five people in your small apartment’s kitchen is a masochistic and masturbatory act in wanting to please all your friends and demanding acceptance and compliments in return.
So, I hosted a ramen party.
A ramen party is exactly what it sounds like. The concept is simple: people arrive at my apartment; I’ll serve them a bowl of ramen. We thematically drink sake and Japanese whiskey and everyone high-fives me at the end of the night for a successful party. That’s all I secretly want.
Which brings us to the second installment of my Anatomy of Ramen series (in the first installment I talk about how to make Shoyu Tamago.) While this post is about making ramen noodles from scratch, it’s actually a lesson in giving a shit. It’s a story about perseverance, friendship, and the pursuit of putting delicious, freshly made noodles in everyone’s mouth.
With the holidays in the way, and a surprisingly short amount of time to prepare, I visited the Japanese Market the morning of the party to gather up all the ingredients I’d need for later that night.
For the ramen noodles, we purchased some all-purpose flour and kansui, also known as alkaline water. The alkaline water is potassium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonate solution that gives the ramen its yellow color, makes it springier, earthier, and generally just makes ramen ramen.
While shopping at the market, I secretly dropped 8 packages of frozen, pre-made ramen noodles in my basket when my husband, Carlos, wasn’t looking. I was worried. I wanted to play it safe. Making fresh ramen from scratch seemed like overkill at this point. We were only hours away from the party. We’ve never done this before. Is there time? And if there is, are we going to royally screw this up?
To help settle my fears (it’s 3 o’clock and nothing has been started – party’s at 9,) my buddy Brian came over as the resident noodle expert and rescued me from my own emotions. Meanwhile, Carlos patiently drew a diagram of how we’d all split the work and make this happen.
Brian would make the dough for the noodles and marinate the pork. It was my responsibility to take on the broth and soy sauce eggs.
Carlos decided to assign himself to the best jobs: selecting the music, showering, playing with our food, and looking dapper in a preppy sweater.
While we’re all cooking (and Carlos is relaxing) I learned a couple of things from Brian.
Brian: You can turn any noodle into ramen with just alkaline water, you know?
Me: Spaghetti ramen?
Me: Fettuccini ramen?
Me: LASAGNA RAMEN?!!
We also enlisted the help of my new KitchenAid stand mixer and pasta attachments, which I’d gotten for Christmas that same week. This is the recipe we used to make ramen magic happen using a KitchenAid mixer:
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of warm water
- 2 tbsp of salt
- 2 tbsp of kansui/alkaline water
If you can’t find kansui at your local Asian market, you can make your own by following these instructions, the important part being:
Just spread a layer of [baking] soda on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake it at 250 to 300 degrees for an hour. You’ll lose about a third of the soda’s weight in water and carbon dioxide, but you gain a stronger alkali. Keep baked soda in a tightly sealed jar to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air. And avoid touching or spilling it. It’s not lye, but it’s strong enough to irritate.
Brian combined the kansui and water, and then added the liquid to the flour. Fitting the dough hook to the mixer with a speed setting of 2, the dough was kneaded until it started to form a ball (approximately five minutes.) It’ll be pretty tough, so don’t overwork your mixer and finish the kneading process by hand.
Cut the dough into quarters, roll into a sickly brain-looking mass and wrap in a damp towel or plastic wrap, letting it rest for about 20 minutes.
Connect your pasta roller attachment to the mixer and set to the largest setting. Flatten your dough and feed it into the roller.
Fold what comes out in half and feed it again a few more times. Keep dusting the dough with some flour if it’s coming through raggedy and awful looking. JUST DON’T GIVE UP. YOU GOT THIS, YOU NOODLE WIZARD, YOU.
You can continue doing this until you’ve reached the desired thickness – we stopped at a thickness setting of 3. If you’ve got a particularly delicious broth that should be the standout ingredient in your ramen, I recommend having thinner noodles. If you want the noodles to be the star of the show, they should be thicker.
Now that you’ve got some nice, long sheets of dough, replace the attachment with the spaghetti cutter. It’s business time.
Run the dough sheets through and remember to catch the noodles once they reach a specific catch-appropriate length. Dust those suckers with flour and twirl it elegantly into serving-size portions. If you’re having a ramen party, you can just grab each portion and dunk them in boiling water as more of your guests arrive.
Midway through this process, my friends Sindy, Nelson, and Debi joined in on the noodle-making fun.
I was able to focus on the broth and setting up the apartment, while the rest of the gang formed a super organic, super efficient assembly line. My cold, frazzled heart warmed immediately. We learned, we loved, and were the perfect embodiment of motivational canvas prints in the home décor section of T.J. Maxx.
As guests arrived, we were prepared to not only serve steaming bowls of ramen, but even had time to make handmade pork buns as appetizers.
All it takes to host a ramen party and make things from scratch is a heaping amount of over-confidence, the ability to overcome a panic attack, a few good friends that can handle themselves in the kitchen, and a love of salty soup.