I think back to the first time I had ramen. No, I mean the first time I REALLY had ramen. It was not out of a Styrofoam cup. I did not make the broth from powder. I did not rehydrate small pieces of scallion and shitake. It was a cool fall day in New York City. I met my coworker for lunch at Hide-Chan Ramen on 52nd and 2nd before going in to work dinner service. He was a regular so I took his recommendation and ordered the Hakata Kuro Ramen. To say that the meal was mind-blowing is an understatement. The ramen was firm and springy, the broth was rich and creamy, the chashu melted in my mouth as any well braised piece of pork should. But what really stood out was the roasted garlic oil called ma-yu that differentiated the Kuro Ramen from the rest of the ramen on the menu. Taken on its own, the ma-yu was bitter and unpalatable. In fact, burning garlic, in my experience, has always been an accident, typically followed by a snarky comment from a coworker like, “Ron, I think your garlic is done.” But the bitterness here was tamed by the salt and fat in the broth and what I was left with was an intense smoky, garlicky flavor that added layers of complexity to the dish.
After lunch, my coworker and I went to work where I (speaking only for myself) promptly fell into a food coma and had a hell of a lousy service. But all I was able to think about was learning how to make the garlic oil. Enter Internet.
There are a few recipes online but all revolve at least two of the following three ingredients: garlic, a neutral oil, and sesame oil. One recipe would slice the garlic while another would mince. One recipe would only use a neutral oil, such as canola, while the next would use only sesame oil. Still others suggest using both.
I ruled out a couple of things right off the bat. It would not be sesame oil only because sesame oil is very strong and I did not want it to overpower the garlic. Secondly, I ruled out sliced garlic because the small the garlic is cut, the quicker and more even it will cook. After several trials, I feel that a 3:1 ratio of neutral oil to sesame oil tasted the best. The sesame is there but it doesn’t steal the show. Also, I ran the garlic through a Microplane which made for a more even cook and a finer finished product. The following recipe yields about two cups.
60g garlic, grated through Microplane
150g corn oil (or other neutral oil)
50g sesame oil
– mix garlic and corn oil in a small sauce pan and cook over medium-high heat
– when garlic is golden brown, reduce to low-heat
– once garlic is blackened, remove from heat and pour mixture into heat resistant container to cool
– when cool, add sesame oil and blend mixture in a blender until garlic is grounded fine
– store in refrigerator
Results – I was very happy with this batch. Its the right amount of sesame for my taste. I have done 50/50 in previous batches and found the sesame to be overpowering.
Afterthoughts – I use this in many things. It adds a bit of mystery and complexity to sauces. I sometimes drizzle it onto my scrambled eggs for breakfast. Salt naturally offsets bitterness so use sparingly in less savory applications.