For this "haphazard wine pairing" I thought I would tackle ramen. The obvious pairing choice, and the one that I imagine will be hard to beat, is beer. There really is nothing better than a piping hot bowl of ramen and with a good pilsener or lager. Beer does a perfect job of complementing the deeply savory, earthy and complex flavors of ramen without overwhelming the delicate subtle harmony of it. There's also the salt issue. I generally make the soy sauce based shoyu style broth, and with this salty broth, the thirst quenching quality of beer is hard to beat. But this isn't "a blog about beer and music," after all...
With all this in mind, I decided Champagne might be a good choice. It has bubbles like beer, it can have yeasty flavors like beer, and it can have savory umami type flavors which might nicely complement the savoriness of the soup. I'm definitely not the first person to come up with pairing Champagne with Japanese food, but I've never heard of anyone drinking it with Ramen, specifically.
Here's the wine I chose:
Jose Michel et Fils NV Champagne Brut Tradition
I had never had a predominantly Pinot Meunier based champagne, but I had read that Pinot Meunier imparts fruity flavors in a wine as well as some earthy components. With that in mind, I figured it might be a particularly food-friendly choice. Meunier based champagnes can also be great values which is important because even the most affordable Champagnes cost more than I can generally spend on a bottle of wine. At $35 this wine is expensive but a steal for good Champagne.
I've been trying to perfect my ramen for a while now. I don't stress too much about authenticity, and I've accepted that it will never taste like it does from a good ramen shop. Instead, I just try to make a noodle soup using the basic techniques and ingredients of ramen that is similarly delicious and complex. It takes a lot of time, but it is not particularly difficult and very rewarding.
I start by making a Dashi:
I soak kombu (a type of seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried and shaved bonito) in water for a few hours, then simmer the mixture for a few more hours, strain out the resulting broth and put it aside.
Meanwhile, I made the pork stock in a separate pot:
I simmered a piece of slab bacon in a pot of water with some green onions and crushed ginger at a very low temperature for a very long time (I think as a general rule, every element of making ramen making should take an absurd amount of time). Remove the pork, ginger and onions and put aside.
To make the broth, I mixed these two stocks along with some lamb stock I had made and frozen after another meal a few weeks before, seasoned with soy sauce and a dash of mirin and sesame oil.
For the toppings I used spinach, snow peas, thin slices of the pork from the broth, radish sprouts and a soft boiled egg. After making the broth the only cooking I did was frying slices of pork in a pan, parboiling the peas and spinach, and soft-boiling the egg.
When you're ready to assemble, get each of the broths piping hot and combine them in the bowl, add the cooked noodles and then arrange the toppings on top. Here's the result:
The soup turned out well and the wine was great, but sadly the pairing left something to be desired. There was nothing horrendous about it but the the wine failed to elevate the flavors of the meal and vice-versa. Instead they awkwardly spoke over each other, with the substantial acidity of the wine obliterating the complexity of the broth, and the rich flavors of the soup overshadowing the focused and surprisingly subtle and mineral flavors of the wine. The pairing worked best with the bites of pork, where the obvious, fatty bacon flavors found a counterpoint in the focused lean quality of the wine. But, on the whole, the pairing was nothing more than two delicious things next to each other on a table. And the saddest part of all this is that I'm not totally sure why it didn't work or what would have been a better option. I suspect that this is why wine generally isn't paired with ramen. But I'm not giving up quite yet, I think sherry might be the answer...
I finished the wine the next day and I don't think I've ever had an experience where a wine changed so dramatically one day after opening. On the first day the wine was mineral-y, lean and austere without much in the way of fruit at all, and on the second it was ripe and fruity and full of vibrant strawberry and apricot aromas while retaining a savory mineral core. I couldn't help but wonder if the ramen pairing would have worked better with the wine open a day beforehand, but, oh well. Instead I decided to try it with a makeshift carbonara using the leftover pork.
I cooked the bacon slowly at a low temp melting as much of the fat as I could (I know it's heresy to use bacon instead of guanciale in a carbonara but I didn't have any guanciale lying around and, you know, I'm a rebel), added the cooked spaghetti along with some of the cooking water, added a ton of cracked pepper some parmesan cheese, and the egg. I mixed it all together over extremely low heat, adding more of the pasta water and cheese until it reached the right level of creaminess.
I have to say the Champagne actually paired really well with this dish. Who knew? I think the main merit of this pairing is that the simplicity of flavor in the carbonara allowed the wine to take center stage, which was so open and expressive on day 2. And the fruitiness and acidity of the wine provided a nice contrast to the fatty richness of the carbonara, all with this umami sort of thing going on with the yeasty elements of the wine and the parmesan and bacon.
To be honest I'm a little perplexed that the carbonara pairing worked so much better than the ramen. The two dishes are both noodle based, and actually have somewhat similar flavor profiles. I wonder if it has to do with how differently the wine was showing on day 2, or if soups require different considerations, or if it's just that simpler foods make simpler pairings.
Anyway, for something different this holiday season, when the clock strikes midnight, make sure to have a nice plate of carbonara to accompany your champagne toast.
And if you're going to try and tackle some ramen make sure you have some entertainment. I recommend "7 Days of Funk" the new collaboration between Dam Funk and Snoop Dogg who is now calling himself "Snoopzilla."
Dam Funk's singing is unquestionably mediocre but I've always found its mediocrity kind of charming. Let's just say his singing and songwriting always played second fiddle to his production. But with this effort Dam Funk does what he does so well on the production side, and lets "Snoopzilla" take care of what Dam Funk doesn't do so well. The result is funky.