Thursday, July 14, 2011

The secret ingredient

Instant-ramen gnocchi parisienne
When it comes to food, we all have our guilty pleasures--the things that we ate while growing up and that we're a little sheepish to admit to still eating and loving now. One of my boyfriend's is instant ramen. The noodles, admittedly, have a certain something to them--a flavour and consistency that you won't find in any other noodle. And the deliciously salty seasoning that comes in a little packet with them--well, it's the closest we get these days to those wonderfully rich and meaty broths of Asian noodle houses the world over (pescetarianism--it has its limits, you might say). Given this little penchant, both of us were delighted when we found out that the first issue of Lucky Peach--David Chang and Peter Meehan's latest brain child, a food quarterly--would be dedicated to ramen.
Instant ramen, hooray
Lucky Peach is just about everything I hoped it would be--there's the booze-fueled rant of which I posted an excerpt a while ago, Chang and Meehan's travelogue of the time they spent eating their way through Japan last year, Ruth Reichl's instant-ramen taste test, and, of course, a trove of ramen-centric recipes (and seven wicked egg recipes thrown in for good measure)--some simple, some wacky, some daring, and all likely brilliant.
Milk-soaked ramen
The one recipe for which I can vouch so far (it's latecoming, I know, but I've been busy lately trying not to inhale clouds of lead dust) is the ramen gnocchi parisienne. That's right--gnocchi made from an instant-ramen-based dough. Who would ever think of doing that, replacing flour with instant ramen in a pâte à choux (the same pastry as that used for eclairs)? It's insane. It's perverse. And it's awesome.
Into the pot!
Here's how it works. After a quick dip in some hot milk, the ramen get whirled in the blender with a bit of that milk and a few egg yolks. There's your glorious ramen pâte à choux--simple as that. Then, it all gets loaded into a pastry bag and piped into one-inch morsels, cut with a butter knife straight into a pot of boiling water. A minute later, the gnocchi come floating to the top, ready to be scooped out and chilled. Then, the royal treatment: a quick sauté in butter, a sprinkling of herbs, parm, and lemon juice. Just perfect--gnocchi with crisp, buttery crusts, creamy centres, and that wonderful savour that only instant ramen lend. (My parents couldn't place it, but they did enjoy the gnocchi--shhh, don't tell.)
2011-08-19 - Having finally had the chance to read through the first issue of Lucky Peach cover to cover, I have to say that, Chang's genius aside, the real gems of this issue are (1) Todd Kliman's piece, `The Problem of Authenticity' in which he does a fine job of reminding readers that cuisine is a dynamic, living, ever-changing thing, that traditions always undergo re-interpretation with the coming of different cooks and different contexts, and so that we shouldn't put too much stock in the idea of authenticity, and (2) Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's wild, weird, and fantastic short story, `The Gourmet Club'. I adore Lucky Peach and can't wait for the next issue.
Instant-Ramen Gnocchi Parisienne
Adapted from Lucky Peach, vol. 1
Note: if you have a garden spilling over with herbs, you might want to try Chang's intended finish for these gnocchi. Once the gnocchi have been sautéed, melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan, pour it over them along with the lemon juice and divide between two plates. Then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, thinly sliced, and 1 tablespoon picked tarragon. Dust with parm and serve.

Pâte à choux:
2 cups milk
2 packages instant ramen, seasoning packets reserved for another use
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter

The finish:
lemon juice
grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons gremolata butter (see below)

Make the pâte à choux. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan and remove from heat immediately. Break up the ramen noodles and add them to the milk. Let them steep and soften in the milk for about 1 minute. The noodles should still be pretty firm.
Strain the noodles, reserving the milk. Combine the noodles and 1 cup of reserved milk in a blender and purée for half a minute. Then add the egg yolks and process until the mixture is smooth, homogenous, and has the consistency of loose toothpaste. (If for some inexplicable reason the mixture is dry, add more milk a tablespoon at a time to loosen it. This shouldn't happen.)
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch wide tip (try an Ateco no. 806). (Avoid spillage by first tucking a portion of the bag into the pastry tip--this blocks flow--and then twisting up the open end to push the batter towards the tip. Stand the bag up in a tall drinking glass for easy storage.) Put it in the fridge to chill for the amount of time it takes to bring a large pot of water to a steady boil. Lightly grease (olive oil, butter, or spray fat are fine) a half-sheet and set it aside.
Cook the gnocchi. Working in batches, pipe the dough out directly into the water, using a butter knife or small spatula to cut one-inch logs as dough comes out of the bag. After about a minute, the gnocchi will rise to the surface of the pot. Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the greased half-sheet. At this point, you can cool the gnocchi and store them, covered in plastic, as long as overnight in the refrigerator.
Heat a tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a wide sauté pan. When the butter foam subsides, add the gnocchi in batches and them, stirring occasionally, until they're golden-brown and delicious looking, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add butter to the pan as needed for the remaining batches.
To finish. Heat the herb butter in the pan just until melted and pour it over the gnocchi. Toss to coat and divide between two plates. Finish with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of the remaining herbs, and a dusting of parmesan.

Gremolata Butter (Snail Butter)
Adapted from Melissa Clark's column, A Good Appetite

4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 generous handfuls of parsley (about 1/8 cup, packed)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 small shallot, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

In a food processor, combine parsley, garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Pulse until minced. Remove half the mixture and reserve for garnish.
Add softened butter to food processor and pulse until mixture is smooth and tinged with green. (You can make butter a few days ahead and store it in refrigerator.)


  1. I have to admit, when I first saw that picture of the gnocchi up at the top I was so impressed and excited for the recipe. Then I saw the next picture of the ramen noodles and thought... oh man, this isn't about the gnocchi, she's featuring a different recipe with those top ramen noodle things. How disappointing.
    And then I read your text-- How wrong I was! I would have never expected a pate a choux dough made from TOP RAMEN noodles! It looks awesome, and I'm definitely curious to try it now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Yeah, instant ramen as an ingredient in gnocchi parisienne--only something that a mind like David Chang's could have conceived. Chang is all about elevating humble things to briliance. Do give them a try--they're fantastic, and the ramen, as Chang notes, with their weird instant-noodle properties, actually make the batter easier to work with than traditional pâte à choux. It was a fun recipe to work with.

  3. So cool. He's like a mad scientist. And I love the tub! Please show us once it's done okay?

  4. Thanks, Oana. The tub, thank goodness, is done. My boyfriend finished re-painting the feet a couple of days ago, but it was way too dark to snap a good shot at that point, and then we left for Toronto early the next morning. The "after" photo will have to wait until we get back!