Ivan Orkin may be the world's most unlikely creator of two small ramen shops in Tokyo, where the Japanese were bowled over by his homemade rye-flavored noodles and the bold, nuanced flavors of his ramen. In the most unexpected of stories, this affable American interloper from Long Island became a star at producing a Japanese cultural icon. Inside the last two years, Orkin returned to the U.S. – just in time for an East Coast ramen boom – wrote his first cookbook, and opened his casual Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in Manhattan. Soon afterward, he launched his art-filled sit-down Ivan Ramen restaurant on the city's Lower East Side.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Orkin paid his dues at culinary lights like Lutèce and Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, and as a corporate chef for Restaurant Associates. So he took note when he realized that in Japan "most ramen shops are not run by trained cooks; they're run by guys who learn on the job from their master." These days, he says, more chefs and ramen cooks are collaborating on new ramen shops and raising the bar.

RELATED: Ramen's Surprising History

Japanese home cooks have found time-saving ways to make ramen mainstays like shoyu (soy sauce-flavored) ramen and the dashi broth central to most ramen. But in a professional environment like Ivan Ramen, shoyu ramen can take a couple of days to prepare so the delicious umami flavors develop fully.

Here, Orkin shares his recipe for a less brothy, "more achievable" style of ramen called mazemen, a style key to putting him on Japan's culinary map. Orkin's mazemen, which can be made in an evening, taps into his parallel love of Latin flavors with the addition of sofrito. Source the ramen ingredients from a good Asian market and look for fresh ramen noodles. Orkin can't do without Sun Noodles, which prepares fresh artisanal noodles for him and for most ramen establishments in New York and L.A. – and is considered the backbone of the U.S. ramen revival. After all, the men in ramen stands for noodles.

Chili Eggplant Mazemen (Ramen)
(Makes 3 bowls)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup eggplant sofrito (or tomato-corn sofrito)
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp mirin
  • 4 tbsp sake, boiled for one minute and cooled
  • 2 tbsp rendered chicken fat
  • 1 1/4 cup half chicken stock and half dashi, or vegetable stock
  • 4 1/4 cups fresh ramen noodles, or 1 1/2 packages (2-serving-size packages)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, cut into generous slices
  • Garnish: shredded scallions, chipotle powder

Instructions

  1. First, make the sofrito (recipes below). Then mix together the sofrito, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and rendered chicken fat. Warm slightly, and distribute evenly among the bowls. Boil the chicken stock–dashi mix or the vegetable stock. Keep hot.
  2. Cook the noodles in boiling water. Thin noodles take about 40 seconds; thicker ones, up to 2 minutes or more. Test noodles for slightly chewy texture.
  3. Pour steaming hot broth into the bowls. Using a strainer, drain noodles very well, shaking out as much water as possible to avoid diluting broth. Distribute noodles among bowls, and slightly agitate to mix them with broth. Place two or three slices of warm rotisserie chicken on top of noodles (on one side).
  4. Top with shredded scallions and dust with chipotle powder. Note: Sofrito can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week.

Chili Eggplant Sofrito
(Makes about 2 cups)

  • 1 2/3 yellow onion (small dice)
  • 1/2 cup Japanese or other eggplant (large dice)
  • 1 1/4 canned whole tomatoes (rough chop)
  • 2 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil

Instructions

  1. Add oil, onions, and eggplant to pot and bring to gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours.
  2. Add canned tomatoes and simmer for another hour.
  3. Add chipotle and simmer for 1 more hour. Cool.

Variation: Tomato-Corn Sofrito
(Makes about 2 cups)

  • 1 2/3 heaping cup yellow onion (small dice)
  • 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes (large dice)
  • 1 1/3 cup fresh corn, kernels sliced off the cob
  • 2 1/2 tbsp plus 2 tsp sliced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil

Instructions

  1. Add oil and onions to pot and bring to gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours. 
  2. Add tomatoes and simmer for 1 more hour.
  3. Add corn and garlic, and simmer for another half hour. Cool.