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Chicken Paitan Ramen Inspired by Totto Ramen

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As published on Dorchester Reporter on December 4, 2019 by Daniel Sheehan

*photos also by Daniel Sheehan

Totto Ramen South Bay is the latest eatery with a local connection to open up at the shopping complex’s budding Town Center commercial district.

The owner of the noodle shop — a New York-based franchise that already has locations in Allston and Somerville — is Nghi Nguyen, a Dorchester native who grew up in the St. Mark’s neighborhood and owns the other two Boston-based shops as well.

Still, the 37-year-old Nguyen said in an interview at the eatery site, opening one near to where he was raised is special.

“Before all this came, this used to be a giant Super 88 supermarket,” he said, gesturing to the buildings around him. “And then when the landlord approached me about coming back here, I saw that […] Dorchester’s sort of evolving.

“To be able to be a part of that growth, and to bring a different type of cuisine to the community was a big deal for me. And, you know, everybody wants to go home in some way. So, coming back here, literally at a place where I went grocery shopping at as a kid, it’s pretty cool.”

Many restaurateurs are food service veterans who fulfill a life-long dream when they open up an establishment. Nguyen’s path to becoming an owner has been a bit more circuitous: After graduating from Suffolk Law and moving to New York with his wife, he became a regular customer at the famous Totto Ramen in Hell’s Kitchen, often waiting over an hour in line for a bowl of the Japanese noodle dish. A short time later, after work brought him to Singapore, Nguyen realized it was time for a change.

“I was miserable,” he said. “I was doing contract law, so I was reading like hundred-page contracts, sitting behind a desk all day. It wasn’t me.”

On a whim, he sent an email to Bobby Munekata, founder of Totto Ramen, asking if he had considered expanding his franchise to Boston. Munekata told Nguyen no “for two years” before finally relenting. In 2014, Nguyen opened Totto Ramen’s first Boston location in Allston. “I kind of just happened to luck into it,” he said, chalking up the turn of events up to “dumb luck.”

I never thought of opening a restaurant. I didn’t know how to do anything. The first time I ever worked in a restaurant was when I built it. I was never a dishwasher or a waiter or a cook or anything. So, it’s been a learning experience. I’m making mistakes on the daily, but I’m learning from them.

Nghi Nguyen Owner of Totto Ramen South Bay

The streamlined layout of the restaurant space on Lucy Street in South Bay’s Town Center is similar to that of the franchise’s other locations, and the menu is essentially identical, offering a handful of meat-based and vegetarian ramen options.

The secret to Totto Ramen’s signature recipe is its homemade Paitan chicken broth, which, Nguyen says, takes hours to make every morning.

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In honor of their grand opening, we’re recreating their signature Paitan chicken broth with our own twist, featuring a pressure cooker that will drastically cut your time by half — though no pressure if you don’t own one.

Ingredients:

  • Leftover strained chicken carcass and vegetables from chintan shoyu ramen broth (see note) or One 4-pound (1.8kg) chicken, cut into parts
  • 1 leek (about 10 ounces; 300g), including dark-green parts, sliced crosswise very thinly and washed well of sand
  • 1 onion (about 11 ounces; 310g), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium carrot (about 6 ounces; 170g), peeled and diced
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • One 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 ounce kombu (7g; about one 7- by 2-inch piece)

Directions:

  1. If Using Spent Chicken Carcass and Vegetables From Chintan Ramen Broth Recipe: Place spent chicken carcass in a pressure cooker and cover with 6 1/4 cups (1.5L) water. (No matter what, be sure not to exceed the max-fill line of your cooker.) Bring to high pressure and cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally.
  2. Using an immersion blender, blend contents of pressure cooker into a porridge-like slurry (see note). Alternatively, transfer contents of pressure cooker in batches to a high-quality countertop blender and blend. You can also use a wooden spoon or potato masher to break up and crush the chicken parts in the pot into small bits; however, you will then need to boil the mixture over high heat, stirring periodically, for 30 minutes in order to emulsify the broth.
  3. Working in batches, pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer directly into mixing bowl filled with spent vegetables and kombu from chintan broth. Press firmly on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard strained chicken solids.
  4. Let broth steep for 30 minutes. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean mixing bowl, pressing firmly on vegetables to extract as much broth as possible. Discard vegetables. Transfer broth to airtight containers and refrigerate.
  5. If Using Fresh Chicken and Fresh Vegetables: Place chicken in a pressure cooker and cover with 6 1/4 cups (1.5L) water. (No matter what, be sure not to exceed the max-fill line of your cooker.) Bring to high pressure and cook for 2 hours. Allow pressure to release naturally.
  6. Using an immersion blender, blend contents of pressure cooker into a porridge-like slurry (see note). Alternatively, transfer contents of pressure cooker in batches to a high-quality countertop blender and blend very briefly, just to break up larger bones. You can also use a wooden spoon or potato masher to break up and crush the chicken parts in the pot into small bits; however, you will then need to boil the mixture over high heat, stirring periodically, for 30 minutes in order to emulsify the broth.
  7. Working in batches, strain chicken mixture through a fine-mesh strainer directly into a large heatproof mixing bowl, pressing firmly on the mixture to ensure that all the liquid has been extracted. Discard chicken solids.
  8. Add broth to a pot and bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Turn off heat and add leek, onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger. Stir mixture once and add kombu. Let steep for 40 minutes.
  9. Pour broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean, large heatproof mixing bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables. Transfer broth to airtight containers and refrigerate.