Chile Relleno Casserole for Christy

Tribal Sister and avid follower Christy sent me this a while back –

Can you enlighten me about ratios/proportions in a dish I make? I frequently make a chile rellenos casserole because I have lots of poblanos and it’s an easy dish that can be spicey or mild. Every time I look at various recipes I can never decide what I should do about ratios in the egg-milk part. Basically, it’s a layer of poblano, topped with a protein, cheese and then covered with a mix of eggs, milk, and flour. Sometimes baking powder is added and usually additional cheese is added to the mixture before pouring over. I am looking for that sweet spot where it’s not too eggy–not a quiche or frittata–but not too watery. The poblanos need to shine through. Maybe you can explain the dynamics of this to me so I can fix some proportions in my mind – an inquiring mind wishes to know!

Chris further related that the ratios she’d found varied from 1/2 cups to 2 cup of milk, anywhere from 2 to 8 eggs, and 2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of flour – She happens to be a Phd Archeologist and a hell of a fine cook, so no wonder that wild a statistical swing rocked her boat a bit!

I gave her letter another read, and doing so revealed more problems with this potential recipe than just the egg/milk ratio. I’ve made plenty of rellenos in several regional styles, but had never tackled relleno casserole, so naturally, I was hooked. What followed was an interesting lesson in recipe development that I thought would be fun to share here.

The exercise begins with the problem Chris wants fixed – 1. what ratio of egg/milk/flour will yield a relleno casserole that most closely duplicates a solo relleno, and 2. One that’s not too watery, and 3. one that lets the chile be foremost in the taste profile.

Next comes the further issues I identified in her notes, namely – 1. Why are some cooks adding baking powder, and 2. Why is the egg/milk/flour mixture being added last? Those two things needed to be thought out and addressed as well.

A look at a bunch of recipes revealed exactly what frustrates Chris – All over the place, and generally very eggy – way more of a frittata/quiche-like thing than any relleno variant I’m aware of. Why that happens is anyone’s guess – either preference or an assumption that things need to be done that way to work out, is mine.

To decide what to do took some reflection on the parent dish, the noble chile relleno. While there are variations in filling and coating, one thing remains true – Virtually all variations honor the chile and make it forward in the overall taste profile of the dish. Fillings might be anything from just cheese, to meat, meat and cheese, veggies, and combinations thereof.

Rellenos are shallow fried, and coatings vary from none to fairly fluffy mixes reminiscent of tempura. In between, you might find just egg and cornmeal, egg and flour, and the well known three stage dredge of egg/milk/flour. The fluffy coating variants explain where the baking powder option in some casseroles comes from – it’s deployed to help produce a light and airy coating – as such, it really has no place in a casserole – it’s not going to do what it’s intended to in this dish.

Next question for me was, is some form of egg/milk/flour mix necessary? My immediate answer was yes, because there is a place for the flavor note, and maybe just a hint of crunch that a proper mix and volume would offer, if deployed properly – and pouring whatever coating mix is used on top of a casserole is not the right place to deploy it. What that leads to is permeating everything throughout the casserole with an eggy mix, yielding exactly what Chris and I don’t want.

The coating mix should be on the bottom of the dish, where direct and latent heat will allow a thin layer to crisp up a bit, emulating the solo relleno. And the rest of the mix should go atop of the poblano layers, right where it should be for taste and effect, and about midway through the casserole. Finally, the volume of coating mix shouldn’t be excessive – it should be just enough to coat the poblanos.

As for watery casserole, the culprit there is going to be meat and veggies that don’t get properly prepared to work in the dish – the poblanos need to be thoroughly blistered, which does take appreciable moisture out of them without drying them out. Any other veggies need to be sautéed long enough to reduce their moisture content as well. I think milk of any kind will add too much water to the mix, so issued cream. Eggs needs to be fresh, or they too will add excess moisture. Finally, crappy chorizo and/or cheese will add water to the mix, so avoid those outright.

So, what else to put in there? To me, just meat, cheese and chiles is kinda pedestrian in a casserole – I want veggies, too. I settled on onion, garlic, some hot chiles, and tomato – all of those show up in various relleno recipes, so they’re spot on here, too.

Initially, I told Chris I was going to think of the proper ratio as a gravy, and as fate would have it, that was wrong. Working this recipe up to the point where everyone in the house said ‘damn,’ and the leftovers were better than the first night took three tries to get right.

The first swing suffered from too much batter, and lousy chorizo. The second one was OK, but watery – it suffered from old poblanos, and too much water in the veggie mix. All this was solved in v. 3.0 with fresh, local chorizo seco, proper pre-sautéing of most of the veggie mix, and physically squeezing excess juice out of the fresh tomatoes.

For chorizo seco, (the drier, often spicier cousin of the regular stuff), and good Mexican cheeses, (I used a 50%-50% blend of Oaxaca and Asadero cheeses for the dish), I’ll bet dimes to dollars there’s a good Latin grocery or two near you. If that’s not the case, I’ll recommend 90%-10% ground beef with homemade chorizo seasoning, (also provided herein) – that’ll give you the flavor without excess grease. For cheese, I’d go with 50%-50% Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar. Finally, your poblanos gotta be fat and sassy – a thick, juicy chile is an absolute must for this dish.

Urban’s Chile Relleno Casserole

5-6 large, fresh Poblano Chiles

1 Pound fresh Chorizo Seco (or alternative- see above)

1 Pound Melting Cheese Blend, (see above)

1 small yellow Onion

2-3 hot Chiles (Jalapeño, Fresno, or Serrano)

3 cloves fresh Garlic

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

2 Roma Tomatoes

1/2 Cup 1/2 & 1/2

2 Eggs

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil

Kosher Salt

Ground Black Pepper

Place poblanos on a baking pan under a broiler, 2 rack spots from top.

Blister poblanos, turning regularly to make sure they’re evenly seared.

Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Peel, end trim and dice 1 packed cup of onion and the hot chiles.

Peel, end trim and mince garlic.

Slice tomatoes in half, end trim, gut, and dice.

Uncase chorizo, or prep alt. beef (see below for seasoning)

Grate cheeses and combine.

Combine cream, eggs and flour in a small mixing bowl, and whisk vigorously to fully incorporate.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of avocado oil and allow to heat through. Add onion, hot chiles, garlic, and oregano, a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper.

Sauté until onions start to turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Remove veggie mix from heat and transfer to a small mixing bowl to cool.

Gently remove blistered skins from poblanos, then cut poblanos in half down the natural sides, leaving nice big slabs of chile.

In sauté pan over medium heat, add chorizo or beef and sauté, stirring steadily, until roughly 3/4 cooked through. If you’re using beef, add 2-4 tablespoons of chorizo seasoning to 1 pound of beef and cook. Transfer to a mixing bowl, discarding any excess liquid.

Set up your mise en place in prep for assembly.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack with a baking sheet in the middle slot.

In a large casserole dish (9” x 11” or thereabouts), pour a thin layer of the coating mix, and swirl to evenly cover the bottom of the dish.

Lay down a solid layer of poblanos over the coating mix.

Add the chorizo or beef and spread in an even layer.

Add about half the cheese blend and spread evenly.

Add second layer of poblanos, covering completely.

Pour the rest of the coating mix onto the second poblano layer, to even;y cover the filling.

Add the sautéed veggies and spread evenly.

Hand squeeze any excess juice out of the diced tomatoes, and spread evenly.

Add the rest of the cheese blend and spread evenly.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes, until topping cheese is bubbling and nicely browned.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Serve over a bed of cabbage and lettuce, and maybe a few other renegade veggies, with ice cold cerveza Mexicana, and maybe some fresh tortilla chips to chase the naughty bits with.

Urban’s Go To Mexican Chorizo Seasoning

2 Tablespoons Granulated Garlic

2 Tablespoons Red Hatch Chile Powder

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

2 teaspoons Sweet Paprika

2 teaspoons Mexican Oregano

2 teaspoons Smoked Salt

1 teaspoon Cumin Seed

1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Grind any and all whole spices to a smooth powder, then combine all ingredients.

Store in clean glass with a airtight lid, out of direct sunlight.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I’ve often said that I’d write about food and cooking even if nobody read it. While that’s true, people do read what I write, and then they go onto make what I’ve written about. Some faithfully reproduce my recipes, and some, be still my heart, go on to make them their own – that seriously floats my boat.

To those why find mistakes and point them out to me, thank you – I’m my own editor, and sometimes I miss – I genuinely appreciate the help!

So here’s to the folks who make my stuff and let me know – especially during these trying times, y’all make me very happy indeed.

If you’ve cooked from this site, show your work, please! If you find something that works better or you like more, share that too.


Nancy Swenson did up Chicken ala Diane, prompting her Hubs, Steve to say, ‘you can make that again!’

John Joyce did the low and slow cook on a rolled roast – here he’s slicing that up for French Dip sandwiches – Looks stunning, yes?

Jenny Lynn Talton-Proulx rain with the Clafoutis et Flaugnarde post and turned out her own amazing blueberry version – Here’s what she had to say about it – “Today’s flaugnarde. Local fresh-picked blueberries. Changed the recipe slightly: Used 4 cups of blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, put cast iron pan in oven to pre-heat while I pulled together the ingredients. When ready to assemble, pulled pan out and added 2 T butter and a layer of organic corn meal, then the layer of chopped pecans, the blueberries, and the custard mix. Put in oven for 25 minutes. Switched around and baked for another 25. Let it cool completely then ran a knife around the perimeter onto a plate. Then flipped it right side up onto another plate and dusted with powdered sugar. It is so freaking good and Mario loves it. Made a stabilized whipped cream to top it all off!”

As Monica said, ‘that looks sooooo good!’

Spare Ribs with a Citrus Fennel Glaze

We love ribs, especially when M does them up. This time around, we decided to do something we don’t do very often –  a wet treatment, as opposed to a dry rub – Our usual go to. A citrus fennel glaze is what we came up with.

Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs
Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs

The sauce is the star here, and for good reason. It’s a grade A example of the organic way M and I arrive at a dish, based largely on what we’ve got on hand, and often initiated by a single thing – In this case, a left over blood orange was the spark –  a leftover that had given up its zest for an earlier meal.

Initially, we were leaning toward a Chinese style rub, then veered off on a tangent. M found that blood orange and wondered aloud if we couldn’t do something with that. A short brainstorming session yielded what you see herein. This sauce could be used on a lot of things, from chicken or beef, to Brussels sprouts or carrots.

While this might seem like alchemy, I assure you, it’s not. Often, when we’re brainstorming things, I’ll whip out our copy of The Flavor Bible, a book that you aughta have in your kitchen, if you don’t already. You’ll find a wealth of parings and affinities therein that truly can and will spark your imagination and creativity.

And I can’t stress enough to be bold in endeavors like this – If you like stuff, and you think that stuff might go well together, then try it. If you’re at all nervous about committing to a full blown recipe, then cut off a little piece of this and a little piece of that,  pop them your mouth, and see what you think. If it’s good, go with it. If it’s not, search elsewhere.  That, in a nutshell, is how you build your own ideas into culinary reality.

We used a rack of spare ribs, but you can do any cut of rib you like, (Baby Back, St. Louis, Rib Tips, County Style, or beef ribs.)

Preheat oven to 250° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

Season ribs with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, (we use our go to seasoning salt for pretty much everything).

Wrap the ribs tightly in aluminum foil, fat side up and dull side of the foil facing out.

Set the package on a baking sheet, or the bottom of a broiler pan, and cook low and slow for about 2 hours, until the rib meat is very tender.

Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes
Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes

Citrus-Fennel Glaze

Juice from one fat and happy blood orange.
1/4 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/3 Cup chopped fresh Fennel bulb
2 small cloves Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco chile flake, (Use any chile variety you like here)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot.

Remove ribs from oven, set a rack on a high slot, and increase temperature to 375° F.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add fennel and sauté for a couple minutes until it has notably softened.

Add garlic and sauté another minute until raw garlic smell dissipates.

Reduce heat to medium low.

Add orange juice, marmalade, and chile flake, stir well to incorporate.

Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is quite liquid, (that’d be the marmalade relaxing a bit.)

Add half the arrow root and stir to incorporate. Allow the sauce to cook for another minute or so. Sauce will thicken slightly – Add the rest of the arrow root if you want things a bit thicker.

Unwrap the ribs, and flip them meat side up onto the pan. Baste or pour sauce liberally onto the ribs in an even layer.

Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing
Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing

Return the ribs to the oven on the high rack, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and starting to caramelize.

Beautiful salad!
Beautiful salad!

We served ours with an gratin potatoes, a lovely green salad, and fresh, crusty bread. They were falling off the bone tender, and the sauce was a perfect foil to the richness of the meat.

Happy Day to… Me!

So this writing day falls on my birthday – number 59 in fact.

It’s been an incredibly weird and stressful week at work, not in a bad way, but because of just mind blowing circumstances. That topped off today with a long visit from my boss and his boss – Which turned out to be a ‘Great visit’ according to both of them, and therefore, according to me too.

That said, I was the only manager in café until after well after 3 pm, and it took about that long to find somebody else to shut ‘er down tonight – Like I said, very weird circumstances indeed.

In any event, I just got home at around 5, finally got a shower, and am now sitting on the couch with a dog, a cat, and a very nice glass of red wine.

I’m gonna ask M to bring us some dinner home from in town, and watch some baseball on the tube with my family.

I’ve had happy birthday wishes from literally hundreds of folks, and I need to get down to saying thank you for those.

Therefore, in so many words, this is all y’all get from me this week! Cook well, love one another, and I’ll be back next week.

Are Home Cooks an Endangered Species?

Steve Sando runs Rancho Gordo, our go to bean purveyor. He also speaks his mind in a way I particularly enjoy.

His most recent newsletter included a ‘rant’ which resonated with me – he wrote,

‘You may not realize it but as time marches on, we home cooks are becoming rarer and rarer. The fact that we get excited about a new bean, a cooking pot, or even a new wooden spoon, puts us in the minority. Most of us think of cooking as fun and a great way to bring people we care about together. We see a pound of beans and we imagine how we’ll be cooking them, how we’ll be serving them, and maybe the smiling faces that will be eating them. I have a constant vision of leaving the kitchen and walking towards the dining room table with a huge pot of something good between my hands as I ask for help finding a trivet. This is possibly my favorite moment of the day. I try and do it most nights. 

A meal kit is fine. A frozen dinner is an emergency. A dinner out is fun and sometimes inspirational. But a refrigerator full of cooked beans, roasted vegetables, stocks and broths, pickles and condiments, is like a palette waiting to be put to use to create something new.’

Notice that the title of the newsletter was, You Are Not Normal – So I gotta ask, do you think that’s true? Does Steve’s rant resonate with you, too? The thought that struck me most was his first line, ‘You may not realize it but as time marches on, we home cooks are becoming rarer and rarer.’ Do you think this is true? If so, it’s a very sad state of affairs.

It was also not lost on me that this mornings check of social media found an unusual volume of politics, doom and gloom news, and general negativity. When that’s the case, finding something positive, something genuinely wholesome and good to focus your energy around is a critical process – If we don’t, we drown. As far as I’m concerned, that really aughta be cooking great food at home for those we love – If not doing that is ‘normal,’ I want nothing to do with normalcy.

If that last thought seems shallow to you, I respectfully disagree. When I do orientation for new hires in the café, I tell them a story about how they’re going to be at work one day, and they’ll come back to the line and exclaim, ‘man, I don’t see how somebody can get that worked up about a sandwich.’ Then I tell them why it happens – it’s because people deal with overwhelming waves of crap all day, and they think, ‘I’m gonna go to the café and get my favorite thing to eat, and for a time, all will be right with the world,’ – And if we screw that up, it cuts deep. Food is closer to the heart for humans than dang near anything else.

get your hands in there and squish those roasted ‘matoes!

Secondly, what we eat has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, spiritually, mentally and physically. We must eat well to thrive, and that’s especially so when times suck. Highly processed food, fast food, junk food – All that is poison when you’re feeling down. What’s called for is healthy, fresh stuff, made with love, at home.

A friend posted this on FB, ‘When you notice your mental health declining, do one small thing that brings you peace. Take a shower, text a loved one, step outside. One little step is all you need to remind yourself that this is not permanent.’ And that’s key – Sure, grilled cheese is just a simple sandwich – But when you’re feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed, the process of making and sharing a delightfully crunchy, melty creation with family or friends, in the warmth and comfort of your own home, is exactly what’s needed to reestablish balance.

Teaching love for cooking

And what are we teaching our kids and grandkids, if we don’t cook at home, regularly and with love? That sustenance is just a thing to be shoveled down, and nothing more? What a sad thought. Food is life, sharing great food is love, and without that, we perish, literally and figuratively. When schools no longer teach Home Ec, who will if we don’t? Who will pass on family favorites, comfort food, and the will and desire to explore exotic culinary worlds? If we don’t do it at home, Steve’s right, and a critical skill and joy in life is extinguished. It’s already happening in this country, more so than most others, and that trend absolutely must be reversed.

I don’t think it matters what you make, or how often you make it. It certainly doesn’t matter if it’s simple or complex. It probably won’t be ‘restaurant quality,’ and that’s likely a very good thing. What matters is that you come home, decompress for a bit, maybe have a glass of wine – And then you go see what’s what in your fridge and pantry. I hope that, when you check out that palette, you find stuff that makes you think, ‘I dunno if that’ll really work or not, but… what the heck, let’s take a swing at it.’ 

Do that with love. Repeat same the next night, and the next, and so on for most nights. Find some peace, share a meal, teach your kids and grandkids those passions. That’ll do much to bring the balance back.

Vancouver B. C. – Chinatown and Serious Ramen

M and I are on our second year of a tradition I’m liking very much – Since we live within rock throwing distance of the Canadian border, we go up for a few days the week before Christmas. It’s a good time, sort of a ’tween holidays lull. Last year was just a quiet trip to Harrison Hot Springs, which is lovely and quaint and very relaxing indeed. This year, we chose a different route, one that was guided by food as much or more as any other criterion.

Sure, we all eat when we travel, and often enough, it’s a focus, but what came to mind for us was going to Vancouver B.C. specifically for two things – First, to eat some great Asian food (and spark our own creativity thereby), and secondly, to do a recon cruise through Chinatown, maybe pick up some supplies.

The Hotel Listel in Vancouver’s West Side

We chose a nice hotel, smack in the middle of the West End, a relatively bohemian chunk of the city. Rents and incomes are middle of the road here. Roughly bordered by Stanley Park to the northwest, Chinatown and Gastown to the east, Vancouver harbor to the north, and Granville Island to the south, the West End is home to lots of art, great food, and plenty of sidewalk entertainment, (as in, just soaking up the vibe). There is marvelous, flowing diversity in the people, food, commerce, and art.

The Hotel Listel prides itself on great art.

Our hotel was the Listel, which was remarkable affordable given the obvious quality therein. They pride themselves on abundant art throughout the place, their environmental concern and awareness, (which is palpable – No plastic anything in the room, recycling containers, solar power generation, to name but a few), and their food, which for us was hot and cold. We ate at the Timber restaurant, where the staff and service were once again excellent, but dishes were hit and miss. The calimari and chicken wings were delightful, while the cheese dip and shore lunch were not so much – The dip itself was great, but the crackers and potato skins provided there with were not done at all well, and the fish, while obviously quality, came to us soggy and a bit tired. That said, room service breakfast was truly excellent – The eggs were obviously top notch, and I’d be excited about the Benedict wherever I was eating, but especially so in bed on a lazy Monday morning!

Our room in the Listel was seriously cozy

Our room faced an adjoining high rise apartment building, which initially might seem disappointing, but the fact is, this is how and where people live here, so it should be embraced – Families doing their thing, a hairless kitty in the window checking out the gulls – it was all rather nice. The staff and the people in general were remarkably friendly. The rhythm of the area varied from absolutely hopping when we arrived on a rainy Sunday afternoon, to comfortably relaxed on a weekday. The Listel has valet parking for an additional fee, (about $30 a night), which includes unlimited access when you want your ride. Staff were happy to offer good honest advice on destinations, including where not to park in Chinatown, (avoid parking garages where your vehicle isn’t in plain sight of the street). 

Vancouver Chinatown

Neither M or I had been in Vancouver for literally decades, so some broad exploration was in order. We started with Chinatown, which may have its share of touristy kitsch, but is still vibrant and genuine for the folks who live there. There is plenty of great food and some wonderful shops throughout, (like the original Ming Wo Cookware building, a truly scary place, in a good way). We sought advice from a knowledgeable resident, with an eye toward food that the locals buy and eat – He strongly recommended T & T Supermarket. There are three of these in Vancouver – we chose the one smack in the middle of Chinatown, at 179 Keefer Place, (there was ample street parking nearby on our weekday visit). 

T & T Supermarket is an absolute delight

First off, yes, this is a grocery store, but it’s certainly not your average one. We’re used to seeking out high quality ingredients when we shop at home, and to do that we visit a litany of smaller specialty shops and markets. This place has it all under one roof, (and our guide had been absolutely correct – we were part of a very small handful of non-Asian shoppers.)

T & T Supermarket is an absolute delight

The differences here lie chiefly in variety and quality. From staples like noodles, rice, flour, and oil, to incredible varieties of very fresh seafood, meat, and produce, T & T is stunningly good – If I lived here, this is where I’d shop, and in light of that, we’re already planning for our next stay to have cooking facilities so that we can do just that. On this recon trip, our purchases were kept to Christmas treats for the granddaughters, some wonderful dried noodles, and a bottle of aged black vinegar – You can bring quite a variety of personal use food items back to the States, and there’s a good resource for that here.

Our T & T stash

On the way out of Chinatown, we decided to cruise Gastown, and thought about stopping for a beer and a bite, but despite the outward charm, we found it all a bit too trite and decided to head back to the West End. Across from our hotel there was a little hole in the wall noodle place, Ramen Danbo, that always had a line in front of it, and often, a really long line. When we arrived, there were only four people out front, so we decided to go for it. There are two in Vancouver, one in Seattle, and one in NYC, augmenting the 20 shops throughout Japan. This one has only 28 seats, which explains some of the constant line, but not all – The lions share of that is due to the fact that this is really good ramen – Fukuoka style Tonkatsu, from the southern end of Kyushu, to be precise.

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Naturally, good quality, fresh noodles are critical to ramen, and these guys certainly have those, from thin to thick, and soft to firm, as you please. As with all great soups, though, it’s more about the broth and the base. Tonkatsu is considered by many to be the ne plus ultra of Japanese ramen variants – it’s a complex, involved dance, indeed.

Ramen Danbo, Vancouver

First off, there’s the all important broth, that sublime elixir. It tastes simple as can be, and it may be, in terms of ingredients, but it’s sure not in terms of preparation. Traditionally, this is made from is pork trotters or knuckles, either split lengthwise, or whacked with a hammer to release the marrow, along with a few chicken feet, which add some serious protein, calcium, collagen, and cartilage to the mix, (AKA, some stuff that’s good for you, and some serious unctuousness). Add aromatics, (onion, garlic, ginger, leek, scallion), and finally, some fresh fatback, and then boil the shit out of it – In traditional circles, for as long as 60 hours, and you get this stock – Well, sort of anyway. Fact is, there is some seriously finicky cleaning called for to get broth as pretty as the stuff we ate at Danbo. Everything from those bones that isn’t white or beige has to go, or what you’ll get is a mud colored, albeit tasty broth, so some serious washing and nit-picky cleaning is in order. Unlike French stocks, this stuff is not clarified and filtered extensively before it’s served. With a bone broth cooked for as long as tonkotsu is, not only do you generate a bunch of gelatin, but virtually every other constituent gets into the act as well – fat, marrow, calcium from the bones themselves – All this stuff is why it’s so stunningly good.

Next comes the soup base. There are several primary Japanese variants – Tonkatsu, miso, shoyu, and shio – and Danbo does versions of all of those. Their signature base is ‘ramen-dare’, and they’re tight lipped about what’s in it – They say, and I quote, ‘our ramen-dare soup base is imported from Japan, made from select natural ingredients, and despite having low sodium, is filled with umami extracts.’ This apparent obfuscation is neither nefarious nor unusual, by the way. Like many signature ingredients, soup bases are closely guarded in Japan, so it’s next to impossible to discover exactly what’s in there. I sure don’t know what fuels Danbo’s dare, but I’d take a stab at kombu, plenty of shiitake, a little bonito, and a little shoyu – The Shiitakes would be the likely culprit for adding serious umami without a lot of sodium. As dark as the stuff looks in their menu pic, might be the possibility of deeply caramelized aromatics as well, (heavy on the onion, garlic, and ginger). The base is generally added to the broth in a ratio of around a tablespoon to a bowl, (or less, given how lightly colored theirs is when it hits the table.) 

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Topping off Ramen Danbo’s offering is a little spoonful of red sauce – They call it tare, and all they’ll tell us is that it’s, ‘Togarashi red pepper powder mixed with Chinese spices and medicinal ingredients, this top-secret mixture brings out the flavour, umami, and full-bodied taste of our ramen,’ which significantly downplays what this stuff likely is – I’d guess that what we have here is a spin on classic Tonkatsu Master Sauce – a complex, heady mix of onion, tomato, garlic, apple, sake, kombu, hot chiles, and most if not all of the warm spices from Chinese five spice – Sort of a Japanese swing at Worcestershire sauce, (and some cooks put that into the mix, too). It is, in other words, seriously concentrated flavors, mouth feel and a decent punch in a very small package – Maybe a teaspoon crowns your bowl. 

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Put all that together and you’ll be staring, glassy eyed, wowed, and very contently, at a mostly empty bowl if you’re me. Or you might be like the guy who sat next to us taking advantage of the kaedama offering – Additional helpings of noodles, which he did for a grand total of five servings – And He was a skinny little guy, too – Some guys get all the luck.