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The Bend Magazine

Worldy Flavors on the Local Level

07/29/2020 05:00PM ● By Justin and Kayla Butts
By: Justin and Kayla Butts  Photos By: Rachel Benavides

Standing by the harbor in Sasebo, just up the coast from Nagasaki, with the wind blowing in your hair, seagulls calling, sailboats going in and out of the slips and massive oil tankers moving as silhouettes on the horizon, it feels a lot like Downtown Corpus Christi. The whitecapped water is the same color blue.

The nights feel the same. The air is hot and humid with a hint of saltwater on the soft breezes. Bar-hopping in Sasebo is like drinking your way from The Surf Club down the line of cool bars to House of Rock, except in Japan there is rampant karaoke. The karaoke is unnerving at first, until a certain amount of rice wine and Asahi elevates the mood, and then it is the best thing ever. 

What’s different about Japan from anywhere else in the world is the ramen. The historical origins of ramen are murky, but what’s certain is that the renowned noodle dish is packed with flavors and mighty delicious. 

Following WWII, Japan suffered a devastating rice harvest, which might have led to widespread famine. The United States shipped massive amounts of wheat as aid to help Japan recover. The Japanese turned much of this wheat into noodles for ramen. Ramen soon became hugely popular in Japan.

America also shipped other food items, including corn and butter, to help the Japanese get back on their feet. The Japanese added these ingredients to their new ramen dishes. The American GIs stationed in Japan, many of them Midwestern farm boys, loved their ramen with corn and butter. Today, ramen is still commonly served with corn and butter across Japan.

For that matter, one of the many elements we in the Coastal Bend have in common with Japan is our local ingredients. The small farms of The Bend produce the same array of Japanese vegetables and herbs, from bok choi to peppers to basil. Our local pork is comparable and our seafood, from scallops to shrimp, is just as good. These high-quality ingredients create exceptional dishes.

The broth is the secret to really good ramen. Actually, the broth is everything. Once you have prepared this magical elixir, the rest is easy—just add what you love. In our recipes, we skip the corn and butter, but feel free to use profusely, just as the locals do in Sasebo.

By the way, ramen is the best-ever hangover food. If you find yourself enjoying an evening on the town, sampling all the best cocktails, blasting your karaoke into the humid night, whether in Downtown Corpus Christi or Downtown Sasebo, don’t forget the recipe for recovery:

Eat one spicy bowl of ramen in the bright morning while looking across the blue water, watching the boats go by, and dreaming of faraway lands.

Vegan Shoyu Ramen

Soy sauce, or what the Japanese refer to as “Shoyu,” adds depth to this vegan ramen soup, which features vegetables that are in season in cooler months. 

Serves 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Broth and Tare:
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1” piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup hot pepper paste (optional)
Salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
6 cups vegetable broth (see recipe below)

Toppings:
1 block medium-hard tofu, cubed
2 heads bok choi, halved
2 carrots, coined
1 cup snow peas
1/4 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup mushrooms, rinsed (rec. enokitake variety)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped

Directions:
In a large pot, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Cook onion for 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add additional ingredients to finish out the broth. Heat to a low boil and then reduce heat to medium low to maintain broth at a simmer for spooning over toppings. 

In a separate pot, boil enough water for ramen noodles and cook per package directions, until noodles are al dente. Strain noodles with a sieve and place in bowls. Add tofu, bok choi, carrot, snow peas, cabbage, and mushrooms. Let sit for 3 minutes before adding noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, and green onion. Serve hot with oolong tea or a cold brew.

Vegetable Stock: 
Combine 1 whole onion with vegetable peels (carrot tops, onion skins, radish ends, etc.), 4-6 garlic cloves, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves in a slow cooker. Cover mixture with water and cook on low for 8 hours. Transfer to large mason jar by sieving with a cheesecloth-lined strainer and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 

Miso Pork and Seafood Ramen 

Commonly known as Sapporo ramen, after the region of Japan where it was developed, this rich ramen is flavored with miso and takes advantage of summer produce in The Bend. 

Serves 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes 
Cook time: 30 minutes, plus 8 hours

Broth:
6 cups homemade pork stock (recipe below)
1 tbsp sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1” piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup miso
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup hot pepper paste (optional)
Salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

Toppings:
4 lb braised pork shoulder roast 
(recipe below)thinly sliced
1 lb sea scallops
1 lb large gulf shrimp, with heads and 
tails on for stock
16 oz ramen noodles
2 Thai eggplants, thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
1 bunch basil, chopped
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
2 limes, halved for serving (optional)
1 avocado, sliced for serving (optional)

Directions:
In a large pot, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and miso paste, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in mirin and pork stock, adding additional ingredients to finish out the broth. Heat to a low boil and then reduce heat to medium low to maintain broth at a simmer for spooning over toppings. 

In a separate pot, boil enough water for ramen noodles and cook per package directions, until noodles are al dente. Strain noodles with a sieve and place in bowls. Add shrimp, scallops, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers to bowls and ladle simmering broth on top. Let sit for 3 minutes before adding noodles, bean sprouts, basil, and onion. Top with sliced avocado and freshly squeezed lime juice. 

Pork Stock: 
Combine 1 package pastured pork bones, as well as shrimp heads and tails, with vegetable peels (carrot tops, onion skins, radish ends, etc.), 4-6 garlic cloves, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves in a slow cooker. Cover mixture with water and cook on low for 8 hours. Transfer to large mason jar by sieving with a cheesecloth-lined strainer and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 

Braised Pork Shoulder Roast: 
Season pork roast liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Sear pork for 5-7 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Add 1/2 cup mirin, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and 1 generous cup water to the bottom of the dutch oven, transfer to an oven preheated at 325°F and cook for 3 hours, occasionally bathing the roast in its pan juices.