l Who: Head chef Jim Jiang, 42, of Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities
l Where: Red Ginger Sushi, Teriyaki & Ramen, 2230 Edgewood Rd. SW, Cedar Rapids, and 2419 Second St., Suite 1, Coralville
l Chef Jiang’s brother, Red Ginger owner Henry Jiang, translated for him from Mandarin Chinese for this interview. The family, originally from Hong Kong, has opened several Red Ginger locations in Eastern Iowa, including in Coralville in 2015 and in Cedar Rapids in December 2017. They are planning another location for Iowa City’s Riverfront Crossing district, with an aim to open this fall.
Q: What is your background? How did you become a chef?
A: I worked in restaurants starting from the bottom, a long time ago. I learned from my family members, my oldest brothers. All my life, I worked at a restaurant. Everybody in my family worked in a restaurant. I have four brothers. The oldest is almost 15 years older. He taught everyone here; he learned from a Japanese chef. We also have two sisters.
Q: What do you like about cooking?
A: First, at the beginning, I worked in a restaurant for a living. After a couple years, I liked the cooking. Especially when I see the customers like it — when I cook the food and see the customers like it, it feels very exciting and more interesting. Then later, after I met my wife, she liked my cooking. Now my kids like my cooking, too. I have two kids, ages 17 and 16, one girl and one boy.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
A: Beef spicy soup, like a noodle soup.
Q: Do you use any special techniques to cook it?
A: It’s mostly how you control the time and the fire, when you’re cooking beef. Because beef, if you cook it too long, it will be too tough.
Q: How did you come to be here in Iowa?
A: Henry came to Iowa first and asked me to move here, too. He said, ‘We can start a family business, here in Iowa.’ I wanted to go to a new place, and he’s my brother. After I moved here, my family, my kids and my wife, moved here. I’ve been here for six years.
Q: Where can we find you when you’re not here? What do you like to do?
A: When I’m not cooking in the restaurant, I’m at home, cooking for my family. My kids don’t eat that much spicy food. They most like chicken and seafood, they don’t eat that much beef.
Q: Where do you live?
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A: I have two places, here and in the Quad Cities. My family is in the Quad Cities. I split my time between the two places and go home on my days off.
Q: Is that hard?
A: No. If you like the job, it never feels hard.
Q: Anything else you want people to know about you?
A: Ramen noodles, they are my specialty. I boil the broth for 10 hours. It makes the soup taste very, very, very flavorful. I’ve been making this soup about 10 or 12 years. I’ve changed the recipe a couple of times; before it was only beef, then I added chicken. And after the soup is ready, I add a little bit of soy sauce.
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Pork belly ramen
Serves 10 to 12 people.
This pork belly ramen recipe is Chef Jim Jiang’s specialty.
For the broth
4 large beef bones of choice
1 small whole chicken
4 carrots (roughly chopped)
4 celery stalks (roughly chopped)
3 large onions (roughly chopped)
5 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 handfuls spring onions (roughly chopped)
2 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
2 to 3 tablespoons ponzu (or to taste)
2 tablespoons miso paste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
soy sauce to taste
For the ramen
4 pounds bone-in pork belly
salt & pepper to taste
1 fish cake log, sliced 1/4 inch thick
long thin egg noodles, cooked
1 boiled egg per person, cooked to preference (and usually sliced open)
fresh spring onions sliced
fresh spinach leaves (amount to preference)
3/4 cup bamboo shoots divided between each ramen bowl
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rub the pork belly with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 1.5 to 2 hours or until cooked through. Remove the pork from the oven and allow to cool. Carefully slice away the bones and place the belly meat in the fridge to chill completely.
Place the roasted pork bones, beef bones and all the remaining broth ingredients into a large soup pot with 3 to 4 gallons of water. After bringing the broth to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 8 to 10 hours. The broth’s color will deepen and become very aromatic.
Strain the broth, then set aside. (Feel free to debone the chicken, keeping the meat for future recipes.)
When you are ready to serve, slice both the fish cake log and cold pork belly and warm the slices and broth for 5 minutes.
Disperse the cooked noodles, warmed roasted pork belly, warmed sliced fish cake, boiled egg, spring onions, spinach and bamboo shoots into the bowls; top with the hot broth. Serve immediately.