Slow-Cooker Japanese Pork and Ramen Soup
The dog days of summer can also be the dog days of television. With many of our favorite shows on haitus or running seemingly endless re-runs, “there’s nothing to watch” is a common refrain around our house these days. When all else fails, we can almost always count on Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations” for entertainment, even when it’s an episode we have previously seen, and especially when it involves one of Bourdain’s trips to an Asian country. Of all the different cuisines from all over the world featured on the show, it’s the noodle bowls from Asian regions that always seem most appetizing. With rich steaming broth, thin slurp-worthy noodles, succulent pork (or other protein) and fresh indigenous greens and vegetables, watching Bourdain enjoy the heck out of these noodle bowls like it’s his job (it is!) always makes us want to travel immediately to that location and eat what he’s eating. In the meantime, we’ll make do with this substitute, adapted from a recipe in the book “Slow Cooker Revolution.” It’s easy to make with the following ingredients — onion, garlic, ginger, chicken broth, shiitake mushrooms, pork, ramen noodles, white miso, soy sauce, mirin (rice wine), sesame oil, spinach, green onions and sesame seeds — and consuming it involves zero jet lag.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute the onions (with a dash of salt) until soft — about 5-6 minutes.
Add the minced garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Transfer the onion mixture to the slow-cooker.
Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and discard them, then slice the mushrooms into thin pieces.
Trim the fat from the pork and season both sides of the pork with salt and pepper. The original recipe calls for boneless country-style pork ribs, but if you can’t find those, boneless pork chops would also work well.
Add the chicken broth and the sliced mushrooms to the slow-cooker, then nestle the pork into the mix. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board, allow it to cool a bit, then shred it into small pieces.
Add the ramen noodles to the slow-cooker, stir them around a little, then cover and cook on high until the noodles are slightly tender — about 3-4 minutes. Check the liquid level at this point and add more chicken broth if necessary. No need to visit a specialty Asian market for ramen noodles — use the single-serve, boil-and-eat variety (the very same ramen noodle soup packages we all lived on in college — possibly even some of the same exact batches available back then, don’t they last forever?), but be sure to throw out the flavor packets.
What gives this dish its unique Asian flavors (and makes it WAY better than the flavor-packet-seasoned “soups” we
could afford enjoyed in college) is the combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin (also called sweet rice wine) and white miso (which might be tough to find — we got ours at our local Central Market. It will be located in a refrigerated section if your store has it.) Add these ingredients and the shredded pork to the slow-cooker, stir it all together and cook on high until heated through — about 2-3 minutes.
Place a handful of spinach in a bowl and ladle the noodle/pork soup mixture on top to wilt the spinach.
Garnish with chopped green onion and sesame seeds, and drizzle with a little sriracha chili sauce if you want to spice it up. It’s no Laksa served by a street vendor in Penang, but it’s healthy, Asian-flavored comfort food nonetheless.
Slow-Cooker Japanese Pork and Ramen Soup
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4-5 cups chicken broth (plus more as needed)
- 1 package (8 ounces) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
- 1 lb. boneless country-style pork ribs, fat trimmed
- salt & pepper
- 2 (3 ounce) packages ramen noodles (discard the flavor packets)
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons mirin
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2-3 cups baby spinach
- 2-3 chopped green onions (green parts only) for garnish
- sesame seeds for garnish
- sriracha for garnish (optional)
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onions (with a dash of salt) and saute until soft — about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Transfer the onion mixture to the slow-cooker.
- Trim the fat off the pork and season both sides of the pork with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and chicken broth to the slow-cooker, then nestle the pork into the mix. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board, allow it to cool a bit, then shred into small pieces.
- Add the ramen noodles to the slow-cooker, stir to break them up a little, cover and cook on high until slightly tender — about 3-4 minutes. Check the liquid level and add more chicken broth if necessary. Add the shredded pork, miso, soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil to the slow-cooker and cook on high until heated through — about 2-3 minutes.
- Place a large handful of spinach in each serving bowl, ladle the noodle/pork soup mixture over top, garnish with green onions, sesame seeds and sriracha, and serve.