This article is from the January 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
At Sapporo Ramen & Noodle Bar, chef and co-owner Patrick Rubley wants you to start with the hakata modern — a bowl of ramen in a gorgeous pork bone broth (tonkotsu) that takes 12-18 hours to simmer. This combination of tare ripples with noodles, braised and sliced pork belly (chashu), marinated soft-boiled egg, marinated bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, scallions, garnished with roasted seaweed. “It’s the most well-balanced bowl of exceptional goodness that you’ll ever eat,” said Rubley, who pursues traditional Japanese techniques with an unwavering focus.
Rubley fully understands what it takes to make a killer broth — the key is taking it slow and steady until every slurp becomes a guilty pleasure. “It can’t be rushed, no way,” he said. “There’s no middle ground.”
“I’m always standing in front of three 160-quart stock pots that are literally boiling all day,” he added. “Everything is constantly rolling here because I’m making fresh broth all the time.”
Besides the broth, the menu at Sapporo Ramen & Noodle Bar features fresh ramen noodles, sauces and other recipes made in-house, including gluten-free and vegan ingredients. Even the beverage cooler is colorful with fun Japanese sodas, including Oi Ocha green tea and Calpis noncarbonated soft drinks.
Of course, ramen is a definitive national dish in Japan, and the noodle-broth combination is considered “Japanese comfort food,” Rubley said, “because it has that umami aspect that warms your insides and makes you feel better.”
In the broadest sense, a ramen bowl consists of four parts: tare (seasoning base), broth, noodles and toppings. At Sapporo, Rubley starts at the bottom of the bowl and concentrates on making three types of ramen broth: miso, which is made from fermented soybeans; shoyu, a Japanese-style soy sauce; and tonkotsu, cooked long and slow.
While cheffing in Orlando for 10 years, Rubley was drawn to the city’s Mills 50 District, with its large Vietnamese population and restaurants where he grew to crave the soulful, warmly spiced beef broth. “I loved going there for a good bowl of pho,” he said.
If you’re serious about making ramen, Rubley insisted you first find an Asian specialty market and get the right stuff. He is very particular about ingredients and swears by the freshness and authenticity at Kim Nhung Supermarket in Kentwood.
Second, learn how to make a quality homemade broth. He encouraged beginners to start with a chicken broth that’s simmered down for several hours until a nice rich yellow hue indicates rich flavor. “Making your own broth is just a very good thing to do,” Rubley said. “It just permeates good smells throughout your house.”
Finally, commit to it; give it the time and patience that it calls for. “On Sunday, my wife and I will spend 10 hours making broth. We’re doing other things like laundry, but we let the broth go all day,” Rubley said. “I’m glad that I married a chef!”
Traditional Sapporo miso
– 2 ounces red miso (available at Asian markets)
– 2 packages fresh ramen noodles (available at Asian markets)
– 8 ounces bone-in chicken breast or leg quarter cooked in the hot broth and pulled off the bone in strips (or alternatively grilled pork or beef)
1 white onion
3 large carrots, peeled
5 celery stalks
4 pounds chicken or pork bones
(optional, as many or few as you prefer)
– Soft-boiled (6-8 minutes) or hard-boiled eggs (over 10 minutes), peeled and halved
– Nori (sheets of umami-packed seaweed), cut into thin strips with scissors or crumbled atop the broth and noodles
– Whole kernel corn, fresh or frozen (thawed)
– Pickled bamboo shoots
– Bean sprouts, blanched
– Thinly sliced scallions
In a large sturdy pot, boil 4 quarts of water. Cut all the vegetables (onions, carrots and celery) into 2-inch pieces; set aside. Clean chicken or pork bones under cold water, place in boiling water and boil 4-5 minutes. Strain the bones and clean under cold water. Clean the pot, and bring 4 quarts fresh water to boil. Add the bones and vegetables, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours (skim and discard impurities). Strain the liquid using a fine mesh strainer.
Next, have all the ingredients ready to go, plus have one pot rolling with the broth and another one going with boiling water to cook the noodles. (Equally, you could blanch the noodles into the boiling chicken stock and eliminate the pot of boiling water for noodles.) While the chicken broth is boiling, cook your chicken breast until tender, pull meat off the bone in strips; set aside.
Divide the red miso between the two bowls. Pour a bit of broth into the bowl and stir to incorporate. Cook the noodles until al dente in either boiling water or stock, and divide between the two bowls. Pour hot broth over the noodles and stir together a bit.
Top with several toppings of your choice, including chicken strips, soft-boiled egg halves, nori, corn kernels, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and scallions. Serve piping hot, slurp and enjoy.
Photos: Chef Patrick Rubley, right, with sous chef Derian Frutos. Ramen dish. By Kevin Huver