While everyone else learned how to make sourdough during the pandemic, Weems Pennington taught himself how to make ramen noodles from scratch. Pennington’s affinity for Asian flavors began when he worked in the kitchen at Jack of Cups Saloon on Folly Beach while attending the College of Charleston from 2013-2017. One year after graduating, he moved to England where he continued to experiment in the kitchen, namely with Indian cuisine.
“I lived next door to an Indian market, and I would buy stuff then go watch YouTube videos of people cooking Indian food and try to make it myself,” Pennington said. “I was learning how to cook more so creatively rather than in a kitchen where someone is telling you how to do everything and you’re just kind of replicating it.”
While Pennington has plenty of experience cooking in a restaurant setting, he does not consider himself a trained chef, but more of a serial hobbyist. Before he made ramen, he went through a phase of brewing beer. The process of brewing beer involves precise measurements and science, but creativity comes into play with the flavors. Pennington gravitated toward making ramen because it was a similar mix of experimentation with the broth and exactness with the noodles.
“The part that I was really wanting to do was the noodle-making side of it,” Pennington said about his shift to ramen. “This seems cool. It’s something that is apparently hard to do, so I bought a hand crank noodle maker, and I kind of still use it today.”
Pennington explained that traditional ramen noodles are made with water, flour, salt and alkaline solution. Sometimes eggs are added to the dough, but Pennington omits them so the noodles are vegan. It may sound simple, but the self-taught chef has a notebook filled with failed recipes to prove that it is not.
“I’ve had some crazy methods to get the dough to form,” Pennington added. “When I was making it for myself, I would put it in a plastic bag, then in a paper bag, and while I was doing other stuff I would put it under my feet and stomp on it to form it into a sheet.”
Rest assured the ramen aficionado would never use this method when serving it to other people, plus he has an electric sheeter to handle most of the grunt work now. Once the ramen is formed into a sheet, he uses a pasta machine to cut the noodles.
While the noodles are a more precise and scientific process, Pennington enjoys flexing his creativity in the broths. The flavors at Weems Ramen pop-ups vary every week, but he always has three staple recipes to fall back on. One of the flavors Pennington has been making since the beginning also happens to be the most popular flavor thus far: garlic miso.
“It’s salty and the consistency of it is thicker. It’s savory and kind of sweet,” Pennington said. “I usually make it with a good bit of confit garlic and there’s the option to make it spicy with chili oil and garlic and chopped pepper mixture soaking in oil.”
The garlic miso ramen is topped with seasonal local mushrooms, greens, plenty of green onions and furikake (a mixture of sesame seeds, dried seaweed, herbs, fish flakes and salt). There is also the option to add a soy and mirin (rice wine) marinated egg to the mix. Without the egg on top, all of Weems Ramen’s creations are vegan by default.
Meat is often used as the base of ramen
broths to impart richness, but since Pennington is vegetarian, he wanted to create a broth satisfying enough for carnivores and vegans alike. Pennington uses olive oil in place of animal fat and utilizes aromatics like kombu (seaweed), mushrooms, onions and garlic to build a flavor base.
Other popular flavors of Weems Ramen include shoyu and tantanmen. The shoyu ramen utilizes four or five different soy sauces (light soy sauce, light soy sauce with mushrooms and kombu, mushroom dark soy sauce, aged soy sauce, sweetened soy sauce) to achieve a balance of salt content and umami. Tantanmen is a Japanese take on Dan Dan noodles and Pennington’s creation was further inspired by the mapo tofu at Xiao Bao Biscuit. The result is a spicy sichuan broth with tofu, napa cabbage, green onion, chili oil and optional marinated egg.
“I still want it to be ramen and I don’t want it to be viewed as vegetarian ramen,” Pennington explained. “I hope people would come in and just say ‘Wow, that’s really good ramen,’ and not worry about the fact that it’s vegetarian.”
To get your hands on Weems Ramen, head to Cutty’s at 227 St. Philips St. Mondays and Thursdays from 6-9:30 p.m. or Estadio at 122 Spring St. on Sundays from 6-9 p.m. Before you go, you can get a sneak peek of the menu on Instagram @weemsramen.
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