It got cold of late so it seemed like a good time to try to make tonkotsu ramen.
Tonkotsu is a pork-based broth ramen popular in the island of Kyushu, Japan. It seems recipes are secretive, as each ramen restaurant has their own tweaks. Most of the time it is just the garnishes added to it. The Chow Times blog had a video interview with the owner of Kintaro’s Tonkotsu Ramen in Vancouver, B.C. He says he uses 36! ingredients in his recipe. He used konbu (kelp) from Hokkaido. I meant to use some in this attempt, but forgot. You should never boil konbu, as it would slime up the broth. So you could probably add it in the beginning and pull it out before it boils. It would add a nice umami taste. (I wonder if the taste imparted by the konbu would survive a long boil? Perhaps add it at the end? I will test on some leftover broth I have.) UPDATE: I reheated some broth with konbu. It tasted a little ‘fuller.’
- The broth is kind of basic, as it is meaty pork bones, an onion and some garlic. This is boiled for as long as you have patience for. A Youtube video of a Japanese TV show at one ramen place says it takes 60 hours to make!
- I used some pork bones from pork belly slices I used to make rafute and some from pork chops and pork shoulder. I rinsed the bones, making sure no blood remained on them. It made for less foam and stuff floating on the broth and probably helped the taste. Some of the bones were just small pieces of cartilage and I think this was quite helpful. Neck bones, unsmoked, or shanks/feet would be good. The broth is unabashingly fatty.
- The bones filled a little more than half of my 4 quart pot. Add water to cover plus an inch or two, one half a large peeled onion and about 4 crushed garlic cloves. Boil for about 4 hours. Add water as needed and skim the foam of the top. About two hours in, I added half an apple just because I heard some places do add one. I left that in there for about an hour, as I did not want it to break down and sweeten it up too much. Also about half way through I took the bones out, stripped the meat for a tasty treat for the dog and returned the bones to the broth.
- If you are doing it right, the broth will be almost white, as the bones break down a bit, adding collagen to the fat and pork base. It should be almost creamy, at least in appearance. You should have about 2 quarts. (The glass lid on my pot was covered with a sheen of fat! I've never seen that before.) Salt to taste.
- After about 4 hours, when your broth is near the desired consistency remove the bones. Time for more meat - chashu. Any fatty pork will do. I used about four 3-inch pieces of boneless country style ribs, which of course is basically sliced pork shoulder. I used the thicker parts of the 'ribs.' Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the fatty pork until tender. (About an hour for me.) Skim as needed.
- In a smaller pot, add 1/2 cup of soy sauce (shoyu), 1/2 cup of broth from bones or water, 3 tablespoon of mirin and about six slices of ginger. Add the pork pieces and gently simmer for about 20-30 minutes, occasionally turning to allow the sauce to seep into the pork. Remove and slice thinly.
- While waiting for the chashu pork to simmer, strain the broth. I just used a fine-screen strainer to remove the gritty particles and the occasional onion and garlic bit. You can strain through cheesecloth or paper towel, but it will clog with the fat and take a while. If you don't want the fat clogging your arteries, go ahead and use a cloth to strain it. But the broth should be fatty and if you are on a low-fat diet you probably stopped reading by this time anyway ...
- Cook ramen or thin chinese style noodles according to directions until just al dente. Do no overcook. In a pinch, just use instant ramen noodles. Use the best you can find. (Don't use Top Ramen. You spent all this time making this, don't ruin it with subpar noodles.)
- Add a tablespoon or two of the soy-ginger sauce you seeped the chasu in to a bowl. This is optional. But it adds a nice salty, gingery base to the soup. Add large portion of noodle to bowl, some chasu pork slices, a mound of bean sprouts, some pickled ginger and sliced green onions. Add the broth to about an inch or so over the noodles. The noodles will absorb some broth. Salt and pepper to taste.
Other garnish options are half a boiled egg, toasted sesame seeds or nori.
The verdict: Oishii. Keiko came in from work and looked at the broth and seemed pleased that it was almost white in color. We sat down to eat and all I heard was slurping. Keiko finished well before I did, and near the end exclaimed ‘oishii!’ (Delicious) I must be getting closer to making a good bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
Learn more about ramen at rameniac.