It’s no secret that ramen dishes are some of the tastiest meals on the planet and that it’s very likely you’ll find the meaning of life at the bottom of a bowl once you’ve finished slurping up all the noodles and broth. This deliciousness comes from the heart and soul that ramen chefs put into their craft.
Using a wide variety of techniques and tools, the chefs elevate ramen making into an artform and one of the most intriguing skills that’s put into practice is yugiri. This technique involves ‘cutting’ hot water in a strainer, producing some of the most elegant moves that you’ll ever see in a kitchen.
The tools of yugiri
Before getting into the movement of yugiri, it’s worth looking into the tools that ramen chefs use to carry out the act. Chefs use specific strainers and the two most common utensils are a tebo and the hirazaru strainer.
The tebo is a narrow, deep strainer that allows a chef to boil noodles for multiple customers and more than one can be used at the same time. Another advantage of a tebo is that a chef doesn’t have to waste time separating cooked ramen into different bowls, as one bowl’s worth of noodles fits perfectly into one tebo. But due to a tebo’s narrow shape, there’s not a lot of room for the noodles to move around in the boiling water, which runs the risk of the noodles getting stuck.
By comparison, a hirazaru has a flat, wide shape that makes it easier for ramen to move around freely. This can give the noodles better texture and flavour because heat has been distributed evenly. Yet a hirazaru is usually considered to be less efficient than a tebo because chefs need to spend more time separating cooked noodles into separate bowls.
Why do ramen chefs cut hot water?
Ramen cooks are workhorses. They spend hours boiling their broth, getting it down to an exact science until everything is perfect. Residual water is the bane of their existence and they need to avoid it at costs to stop their efforts from going to waste. There’s always a risk that the water from the noodles will be added into the broth, so it’s vital that it’s drained properly to stop the broth from being diluted.
Another benefit of yugiri is that it stops ramen from being sticky. Flour is usually added to noodles to stop them from sticking together, but this process is a double-edged sword. When the noodles are boiled, the flour can make the surface of the ramen slimy, which affects the taste. Draining off the water is the best way to stop this from happening.
Slam dunks and samurai strikes
What’s really awesome about yugiri is that there are so many styles and they are unique to each chef. There’s an excellent documentary series on Amazon Prime called Prime Japan that showcases different yugiri styles. This ranges from finesse based dances to aggressive kitchen combat.
One example is the Air Jordan, a powerful, basketball-like downward motion named after Michael Jordan. Another technique is called Kegon Falls, which involves the chef tossing a flat strainer up into the air and letting the noodles dangle from a pair of chopsticks like the waterfall of the same name. Then there’s the epic Swallow Gaeshi, a movement inspired by a classic samurai technique that comes down in downward katana strike.
Making ramen truly is art in motion and it’s techniques like yugiri that highlight this fact in beautiful detail.