Puerto Rico via Japan: Mofongo Ramen from Chef José Mendín

By Hipolito Torres

By

Hipolito Torres
Chef José Mendín Mofongo Masterclass at the 12th Annual International Chefs Congress
Chef José Mendín Mofongo Masterclass at the 12th Annual International Chefs Congress

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Chef José Mendín earned his chops in Asian restaurants and then some serious ramen cred as part of Nobu’s opening teams in Miami and London, as well as at SUSHISAMBA. His Pubbelly Noodle Bar on Miami Beach reflects that training and his heritage, offering Asian flavors with Latin embellishments. Soon after opening, Mendín introduced mofongo ramen to the menu. “I had to find a way to let people know that there was a Puerto Rican chef in the kitchen,” he said, while lifting a fryer basket filled with golden plaintains and crispy pork belly. Mendín presented the cultural mash-up dish and its origins at StarChefs 2017 Congress. 

“Mofongo is an anytime of the day dish. I didn’t pair the two, at first, because it sounded wrong, but people loved it,” he says. Dating back to the 1800s, when Africans boiled and mashed root vegetables to eat with broth, the dish was given the name fufu, referring to the sound the vegetables made as they were mashed. It evolved several offshoot preparations: Dominican mangu, Peruvian tacacho, and Puerto Rican mofongo. 

For the Puerto Rican version, green plantains are a must. If you find them difficult to peel, do it like Mendín: remove both ends and trace slits down the plantain lengthwise, allowing them to sit in warm water so the skin loosens up.

After frying, a large mortar and pestle are essential to making a masterful mofongo. Not only will they last you forever, according Mendín, but using the ancient tool also helps develop the mofongo’s flavor and structure. 

Although pork shoulder is more common, Mendín prefers to use pork belly. The extra fat keeps the mofongo moist. Using a 2:1 ratio in his Mofongo—two parts plantain to one part pork belly—and adding butter, garlic, and salt to the mortar, Mendín twists and mashes with the pestle to combine the mixture.

He garnishes his mofongo with a boiled egg (Mendín likes his eggs soft-hard), udon ramen noodles, and crunchy salt-and-pepper chicken. The heart and soul of Mendín’s mofongo ramen is the broth made with a base of chicken feet and Puerto Rican sofrito.

PB Ysla is Mendín’s outlet in Puerto Rico, which, much like the rest of the island, suffered greatly from destructive forces of Hurricane Maria in the summer of 2017. “Puerto Ricans are strong, and they can and will overcome anything,” says Mendín.

To donate to Puerto Rico hurricane relief and reconstruction, follow this link.  

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