Ramen. It wasn’t really until our trip last year to Kyushu that G and I truly understood what the craze was all about. There is a local favorite, Taiho, that serves up a slightly greasy and salty tonkotsu ramen with pork rinds… mmm. Craving some noodles at home, I decided to learn just how difficult it would be to create a bowl from (mostly) scratch. Since I lack the patience to fry up rinds, I went with the next best thing- bacon. As luck would have it, the Momofuku ramen recipe happens to include this tasty internet meme as a key ingredient. In total, this dish took 3 days to make, but that was only because I also wanted sous vide crispy roast pork as well.
For a party of 8, I made roughly 3 liters of broth based on the Momofuku recipe (in the book). Ingredients are as follows (slightly modified):
- 3″ by 6″ of konbu
- 2-3 cups of dried shitake mushrooms
- 2kg of chicken (whole)
- 3kg of pork shanks/bones
- 2 carrots
- 1 large onion
- 4-6 sprigs of green onions
- bacon (to taste)
Taking the biggest pot that I could find, I infused the water with konbu and shitake mushrooms for a 1/2 hour. Don’t be afraid to steep for a longer time as the chicken and pork will dominate the flavor profile. Remove the konbu and shitake. Next, boil the chicken pieces for about an hour and roast the pork shanks at 200ºC until brown (approx 30-45 min). The soup should be flavorful and the chicken meat nice and tender. Remove the chicken. Now comes the fun part: add the bones into the broth, turn the fire on high and boil away.
A rolling boil agitates the oil, water, and marrow from the bones to create the creamy emulsion that is characteristic of the tokotsu ramen broth. Be sure to check on your stock periodically. If the water gets too low, add enough to cover the bones. Traditional tonkotsu stock can take well over 12 hours. For home purposes, a 6 hour boil is sufficient.
Once the broth has achieved the desired consistency and creaminess, add the carrots, onions and green onions to soften the flavor. The one significant change that I made to the original recipe was to add the bacon at the end. It has such an overpowering taste, that you almost want to measure the flavor, based on your own preferences. When finished, strain the broth. In the end, I didn’t add any “taré”, only some salt to taste. This stock freezes very well. In fact, I made it a week before serving.
Ramen assembly is simple: heat up broth, boil the noodles, and add toppings. The noodles were not homemade. I blame a lack of a pasta machine at home plus poor knife skills. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to get fresh ramen noodles in Singapore. I also made some half boiled eggs the day before (recipe).
And the coup d’grace – the crispy roast pork (recipe):
Tonkotsu ramen broth isn’t hard to make; it just takes a bit of patience. You could even omit everything but the pork bones and still come out with a reasonable soup base. Despite the obsessive perfection of the Japanese when it comes to ramen – at the end of the day it is an everyday food consisting of soup, noodles, and toppings. If you’re looking for “authentic”, you can work your way through this top 10 list (G and I have 3 more left to try). Or be inspired by David Chang and create your own variation. Good luck!