Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Tonkotsu ramen. Photo from Serious Eats.

Forget the instant ramen that comes in a cellophane package with seasoning packet. That originated in 1958 with Momofuku Ando of Nissin Food Products in Japan.  

We’re talking homemade ramen here, a dish that seems to be simply noodles and broth and extras, but one which is based on the complex flavors of a long-simmered stock, which comes in as many variations as there are cooks. In Japan, the dish is often sold in small shops called ramen-yas.

Of the four basic kinds of ramen broth, the one made with pork bones – tonkotsu -- is a favorite of many. Its intense pork flavor and opaqueness comes from boiling (not simmering) the bones – a lot of them -- for a very long time (6 hours or more).

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director of the online site Serious Eats, developed this version of the classic. He recommends cutting the bones (or having the butcher do so) into cross-wise disks rather than to split them lengthwise for better flavor extraction during the boiling. He also uses a chicken carcass to mellow out the flavor.

To arrive at the clean color he wants in his soup, he “washes” the bones by putting them in water and then boiling them. Then he rinses the bones and cleans them off before starting the actual cooking process. 

His recipe is strictly for the broth. You can find fresh ramen noodles at United Noodle in Minneapolis or make your own with this recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of “Japanese Farm Food,” which is part of her simplified version of ramen in a chicken-based broth.

To find out more about Kenji's process for deducing the best broth, read his article in full: http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/02/how-to-make-tonkotsu-ramen-broth-at-home-recipe.html

For Kenji's step-by-step recipe, go to:http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/02/rich-and-creamy-tonkotsu-ramen-broth-from-scratch-recipe.html

Kenji has also recently posted a vegan version of the broth. 

How good is homemade ramen? It just might change your life. For my tale of eating ramen in Tokyo, read this.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Makes about 3 quarts, serving 6 to 8.

Note: This broth takes a full day or at least overnight to make (about 2 hours of active attention, 12 to 18 hours total). Plan accordingly. Unused broth can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for up to three months. This recipe is for the broth only. For a full meal, you will need ramen-style noodles and toppings of your choice, which could include sliced braised pork belly, soft boiled eggs, sliced green onions, raw enoki mushrooms and blanched baby bok choy leaves. Recipe from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Seriouseats.com.

3 lb. pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-in. disks (ask your butcher to do this for you)

2 lb. chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped

12 garlic cloves

1 (3-in.) knob ginger, roughly chopped

2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped

2 dozen green onions, white parts only (reserve greens and light green parts for garnishing finished soup)

6 oz. whole mushrooms or mushroom scraps

1 lb. slab pork fatback

Directions

Place pork and chicken bones in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as boil is reached.

Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions, garlic and ginger. Cook, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, about 15 minutes total. Set aside.

Once pot has come to a boil, dump water down the drain. Carefully wash all bones under cold running water, removing any bits of dark marrow or coagulated blood. Bones should be uniform grey/white after you’ve scrubbed them. Use a chopstick to help remove small bits of dark marrow from inside the trotters or near the chicken’s spines.

Return bones to pot along with charred vegetables, leeks, whites from green onions, mushrooms and pork fatback. Top with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears (this should stop appearing within the first 20 minutes or so). Use a clean sponge or moist paper towels to wipe black or gray scum off from around the rim of the pot. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.

Once the lid is on, check the pot after 15 minutes. It should be at a slow rolling boil. If not, increase or decrease heat slightly to adjust boiling speed. Boil broth until pork fatbck is completely tender, about 4 hours. Carefully remove pork fat with a slotted spatula. Transfer fatback to a sealed container and refrigerate until broth is finished.

Return lid to pot and continue cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of light cream, about 6 to 8 hours longer, topping up as necessary to keep bones submerged at all times. If you must leave the pot unattended for an extended period of time, top up the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting while you are gone. Return to a boil when you come back and continue cooking, topping up with more water as necessary.

Once broth is ready, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard solids. For an even cleaner soup, strain again through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Skim liquid fat from top with a ladle and discard.

Finely chop cooked pork fatback and whisk into finished broth. To serve, season broth with condiments of your choice (salt, soy sauce, miso, sesame paste, grated fresh garlic, chili oil or a mixture of all) and serve with cooked ramen noodles and toppings as desired.

For another variation of the classic ramen dish, this is from Kris Toliao, a cook at Luce in San Francisco.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This home version of tonkotsu comes from Kris Toliao, a cook at Luce in San Francisco. He uses bones from three parts of a pig and hard boils them at length to achieve the broth's milky texture. Marrow, which is essential to this broth, can be found in large pork bones, such as the feet. The bones can be found at Asian markets or meat markets. From the San Francisco Chronicle.

Broth:

2 pounds pork neck bones

2 pounds pork back bones

2 pound pork marrow bones (see Note)

3 large yellow onions, halved and peeled

8 garlic cloves, peeled

3 gallons water

About 1 1/4 ounces dried kombu (kelp)

Shoyu, to taste (soy sauce)

Pork topping

1 pound pork loin

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup mirin

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed or grated garlic

Pinch red chile flakes

1 tablespoon canola oil

Additions:

Store-bought fresh ramen noodles, cooked

Toppings, as desired: sliced green onion, nori (dried seaweed), sliced store-bought fish cake, bean sprouts

For the broth: Place the bones, onion and garlic in a large stockpot, and add the 3 gallons water. Bring to rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil 6 hours, stirring and skimming frequently to clear away the impurities that arise. Start the pork marinating (see below) while the broth is cooking.

After about 6 hours, wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and add it to the broth; boil for an additional hour.

Turn the heat off and let the broth cool a bit. Carefully strain the broth through a large mesh strainer - you should get about 8 to 9 cups broth. Discard solids, and season broth to taste with salt.

For the pork topping: While the broth is cooking, combine the pork loin, soy sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic and chile flakes in a heavy-duty self-sealing plastic bag, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing. Let marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours, turning a few times.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Remove the pork loin from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Place on the baking sheet and roast until the pork is slightly firm to the touch, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and move to a cooling rack; cool to room temperature before slicing, about 1/4-inch per piece.

To serve: Pour about 2 cups of hot broth over the desired amount of noodles; refrigerate or freeze extra broth. Top as desired, finishing the bowl off with a few slices of roasted pork.

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