When you think of ramen toppings, certain ones usually come to mind. Chashu, menma, green onions, nori seaweed or perhaps a naruto fish cake. But if you want to level up your ramen bowl, there’s nothing like an Ajitama seasoned egg. A soft-boiled, properly seasoned egg cut in half is more than just delicious; the bright, jelly-like yolk also makes your ramen a feast for the eyes as well.
Though seasoned eggs are popular today, it’s believed they were first invented at "Kanchin-tei" in Ogikubo, Tokyo. Before that, most eggs were not seasoned.(Boring!) Kanchin-tei was a longstanding ramen shop in Ogikubo established in 1949, but unfortunately closed in 2013. Kanchin-tei's seasoned eggs were seasoned with hard-boiled eggs made by boiling shelled eggs in a sauce. (By the way, the town of Ogikubo is known for other legendary ramen shops like Harukiya, Marucho and Juhachiban.)The ramen from this region, often called “Ogikubo ramen”, is usually made with a combination of seafood-based soup stock such as dried bonito, dried sardines and dark soy sauce.
Though hard-boiled eggs had become the norm, a ramen shop called “ Chibakiya” in Kasai, Tokyo decided to do things differently. The owner preferred soft-boiled eggs because the yoke from hard-boiled eggs made the soup cloudy and less appealing. More and more customers started requesting their Ajitama that way and ramen shops everywhere started doing the same. The rest is Ajitama history.
So is there a right way to prepare and enjoy Ajitama? Well, it depends on the shop. Different shops will use different types of eggs which will affect yolk taste and color. Egg seasoning also varies from shop to shop, some using dried bonito to add umami whereas others will opt for chashu pork sauce. Fortunately finding your favorite seasoned egg is a pretty delicious journey.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could make your own Ajitama seasoned eggs? Well, you can by following three basic steps : 1) boiling the eggs, 2) peeling the eggs and 3) soaking the eggs. Though incredibly easy, there are some tips along the way to ensure ramen shop results.
Let’s go through the entire process below. Or if you prefer, just follow the video recipe found here.
First, let’s discuss the seasoning sauce. In this recipe, dried bonito is added because the synergistic effect of glutamic acid in soy sauce and inosinic acid in dried bonito enhances overall umami. It’s very important to add inosinic acid because the umami component contained in eggs is primarily glutamic acid. If you don't have dried bonito, use meat broth or soup stock instead of water. Inosinic acid is often found in meat and bones.
Now, let’s talk about eggs. Always use eggs that are not too fresh because they may contain too much carbon dioxide making the shells hard to peel and affecting the egg white texture. It's also a good idea to take the eggs out of the refrigerator and let them get to temperature before boiling. If you boil an egg that’s too cold, the inside will expand too quickly and break the shell.
When boiling eggs, it’s recommended you use a basket rather than to put them directly in the pan. Especially in boiling water, the egg moves around and may hit the bottom of the pan and break. The basket also makes it easier to remove the boiled eggs from the water.
Also, when boiling eggs, stir the eggs lightly in a pot for a few minutes first. By rotating the egg, the yolk is brought to the center via centrifugal force. Be sure to do this before the eggs have hardened.
Rapidly cooling the boiled eggs with ice water makes them easier to peel. By quenching,water droplets condense between the eggshell membrane and the egg white. This makes it possible to prevent both from sticking and to achieve a cleaner peel.
Quenching the eggs also stops heat from affecting the yolks. The temperature at which egg whites and yolks cook and coagulate is different. (Whites at 70-80℃, yolks at 65-70℃.) In soft-boiled eggs, the whites are solid while the yolk is soft because the heat of the water is transmitted from the outside in. A soft boiled egg occurs when the heating is stopped before the yolk solidifies. If the boiled egg is not cooled, the heat will transfer to the yolk and cook it more than desired.
When cracking the soft-boiled egg shell, be careful not to crack the white. Knocking the boiled eggs against each other should prevent this from happening and the whole egg can be cracked and easily peeled off. Obviously, you’ll have to crack the last egg on its own, so do so carefully.
Once you've cracked the shell, it's time to peel it off. If you don't do this well, you could ruin the clean look of your Ajitama. For best results, pell the shell in a bowl filled with water or under running water. This will increase the gap between the shell and the egg as mentioned earlier.
The strength of the seasoning sauce that pickles the eggs is also critical. If the salt concentration is too high, the osmotic pressure will dehydrate the egg surface and harden its texture. Also, it prevents the seasoning from fully permeating the egg. It’s important to let the seasoning sauce soak into the inside by diluting the taste a little. If successful, the yolk will dehydrate slowly and become jelly-like. It takes about 48 hours for this to happen.
Follow these simple steps and you’ll have the perfect Ajitama egg topping! However, this is just the beginning. Mix things up with different kinds of eggs and seasoning sauces. Play with the boiling times a few seconds here or there and find your preferred hardness. The possibilities are endless. For example, add turmeric to a seasoning sauce to make a yellow seasoned egg or add brandy to make a fragrant Ajitama. There’s no wrong or right way to season your eggs, just keep experimenting till you find the Ajitama that’s right for you!