What is Tsukemen ramen and how to make tsukemen noodles
For those of you who are not familiar with tsukemen, this is a whole new category of ramen. Like tonkotsu ramen, which may still be the most popular type of ramen in the world, it's been around in ramen industry in Japan for a while. And, it has revolutionalized how people eat ramen and developed a whole new genre of ramen. Here's a trivial information for you. "Tsuke" means dipping, and "men" is noodles in Japanese. So, tsukemen is literally dipping noodles. Noodles and soups are served in separate bowls, and you dip the noodles into the soup. This is what tsukemen is, but it is dipping ramen. Zaru soba or other dipping noodles are not tsukemen.
How tsukemen was born
Tsukemen, a new category of ramen is said to have first been served in 1955 by Taishoken (a ramen shop operated by Mr. Kazuo Yamagishi). It was initially made as a board meal for the shop staff. It was leftover noodles and soup with soy sauce added. And, they ate it like zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodle dish – noodles dipped in sauce). Noodles are cooked and washed (rid of starch off noodles). Then, you dip noodles into sauce that's flavor-intense and eat them.
Some shops also serve a version of tsukemen, called "atsumori", which serves unwashed, hot noodles.
From mid 1990s, Mr. Yamagishi started having apprentices and allowing others to use the shop’s name and serve tsukemen. Then, the popularity of tsukemen rose, and the number of tsukemen shops increased as well as its variety.
Infinite versions of tsukemen ramen
Now, around Kanto region (including Tokyo) where ramen competition is intense, a ramen shop has to be unique to survive. Now, there are a increasing number of tsukemen specialty restaurants that serve distinctive tsukemen dishes (different ingredients, soups, noodles, toppings, etc.). Size, texture, and even flavor of noodles. Soup taste/flavor, texture, and density. Different toppings and ganishes. With these ingredients/components, you can create infinite versions of tsukemen.
Noodles matter a bit more than soup in tsukemen dish
For tsukemen, the main player is the noodles because the quantity of noodles is bigger than the soup quantity. (Depending on the restaurant’s decision, the quantity varies from 160 grams (before cooked) to 400 grams even to as big as 600 grams. (Noodles weigh 1.6-1.8 times heavier after they are cooked, absorbing cooking water)
Thicker noodles means that noodle texture is more important
Because noodle size (thickness x width) tends to be larger, the noodles texture matter more for tsukemen than standard noodles. Tsukemen noodles should be softter, chewier, and more elastic than hot soup ramen noodles. Because when eating hot soup noodles, you taste more of the soup than the noodles, noodle texture doesn't matter that much. But, when eating tsukemen, you care a lot more about noodle textures. Good and unique noodle textures are critical when developing a good tsukemen dish. Because we chew tsukemen noodles many times, we want to enjoy chewing them. So, we want to make great textures in our tsukemen noodles.
Then, here's a question.
What makes good and unique noodle textures in tsukemen?
Ingredients of tsukemen noodles
You can create good and unique textures using certain ingredients. Especially, wheat flour is the main and most important component in creating the texture. Refer to the following article to learn more about flour for noodles.
Because the noodle size of tsukemen is bigger, if the noodles are hard, they would be unpleasant to eat. So, we should make them softer. But, if they are only soft, they would not be fun to eat. There should be some resistence when biting them. Some say, the noodles are bouncy or elastic, but thick noodles should be soft and chewy at the same time. The quality of wheat flour, especially high viscosity brings chewiness to noodles. One good practice we recommend is to blend more than 2 different types of wheat flours. Dough made from a mix of ramen flour that's high in protein and low in viscosity and udon flour that's low in protein but high in viscosity is good. Noodles from this kind of dough carries good textures for tsukemen.
Again, referring to the texture correlation chart, tsukemen noodles should be high in hydration. As we know, the higher the hydration, the softer the noodles texture. For noodles as big in size as tsukemen, hydration should be as high as at least 38%. This high hydration, combined with 1st resting makes good dough for tsukemen noodles.
Noodles size (thickness x width)
Noodle size has a big impact on the texture.
Proper size and texture of noodles depend on what kind of soup the noodles are dipped into. Density, texture, richness, flavor, and etc. The typical noodle sizes vary from 1.6mm to 3.0mm. In case of flat noodles, the width may be bigger. Tsukemen noodles tend to be large, giving customers a lot of bite. For good texture, noodles need to be soft. (please refer to this page for ideal noodle texture for tsukemen)
Noodle making methods
How you make noodles also affects the texture of finished noodles. For example, tsukemen noodles are medium to high hydration. The mixing time should be short. More on mixing in this article.
Then, dough should be rested at ambient temperature for some time. (more on 1st resting in this article)
We process the dough into a sheet of dough, which we compound through a set of rollers on a noodle making machine. After that, we thin the dough sheet step by step. (more on sheeting of dough in this article)
Using a slitter cutter, we cut and portion dough into individual servings of noodles. Tsukemen oodles are thick. If portioning them to the same length as regular noodles, one serving would be very big. And, customers would slurp them up hard from a typically dense soup. Then, customers may get an unexpected splash of the dense soup on their shirt from slurping the long noodles. The longer the noodles, the higher the chances, so we should consider the lenggh and serving size.
Standard tsukemen noodles are often served with dense soup (tonkotsu or rich chicken broth with seafood dashi. For this type of noodles, the typical size is 2.2mm in thickness x 3.0mm in width. From this size, they could be larger or smaller, depending on the preference. More on noodle sizes in this article. Though hydration is high, it would still be difficult to make good tsukemen noodles without proper ramen noodle making machine.
What's important is the balance
So, what makes great tsukemen noodles great? A short answer is the balance. As with any type of noodles, there's a strong correlation between size (thickness x width) and hardness/elasticity for good textures. The bigger the size, the noodles need to be soft, but if they are just soft, they wouldn't be fun to chew. So, they need to be soft but bouncy or elastic at the same time. To achieve the right balance, we may need to mix different flours to make dough. For example, blending ramen flour (high protein/medium viscosity) and udon flour (medium protein/high viscosity) makes unique texture in dough. Taking a balance between protein (which makes dough hard) and viscosity (which makes dough elastic) is important. If you find good udon flour and ramen flour, we recommend you try different blending ratios to find the right texture for your noodles.
Tsukemen has become so popular that it is now definitely one type of ramen. And, there are many specialty ramen shops that only serve tsukemen in Japan. We are not sure if tsukemen gets this popular in your region, but if you want to make and serve them at your restaurant, feel free to consult with us. We can help you make great tsukemen noodles. And, you can learn how to develop your own tsukemen dish (noodles, soups, toppings from scratch), we teach at our school. Or, you can model your ramen after some famous ramen shops you love.
Either way, please feel free to contact us.
Though his is fairly new instructor at Yamato Noodle School, his background and passion for making of great noodles helped him rise up as an ace. He now teaches the whole curriculum at Yamato Noodle School Japan. He tends to share the fundamentals of noodle making techniques.