Tonkotsu Ramen Soup
Quite possibly the best soup we have ever eaten
Introduction – Chicken – Pork – Beef
Authentic Ramen is something of legend that has a cult following, is viciously debated, and is quite possibly the best soup I have ever had/made. So much goes into this soup, it is very much a labor of love and something you have to have a passion for if you want to make it. Just making Pork Stock is already out of bounds for a lot of people. Making Ramen means making Pork Stock, a separate Pork Broth, and then preparing some time-intensive garnishes and proteins.
Why would anyone do this?! ….. Because it’s that good!
The Holy Grail: Tonkotsu Ramen
To make Ramen you must complete the full and extended version of making Pork Stock and make a differently flavored, and fortified, broth in tandem. There are no deviations in the pork stock method, you can follow it verbatim.
My only note here is that Ramen is known for its white, opaque, and creamy broth that contains no dairy. I find that sometimes in the 72-96 hour mark when trying to squeeze in a last wash or trying to fortify the stock, it will break. When I say break, I don’t mean curdle like how a custard or hollandaise will overcook the protein. What happens is that the creamy white stock will clarify like when you cook down and clarify butter. The protein and the solids will separate from the fat and the stock will become a translucent amber color. Flavor-wise there is no difference here, it is still perfect taste-wise, but it changes in color and appearance.
|Opaque and cream-colored Stock||Clarified Stock|
If you are looking to make a traditional Ramen where aesthetics are important, then there are two extra steps. If it doesn’t need to be picture-perfect, then skip this.
All your initial stock parts that are bones, which are the chicken and pig feet, need to be covered in water, brought to a boil, and then the water immediately discarded while it is hot. The pot is then filled with the rest of the stock ingredients and filled with water and brought to a boil to follow the recipe accordingly. Any little bits of blood or dark matter you can see needs to be rinsed off of or manually scraped out of the nooks and crannies. A chopstick is a good tool for this.
The reason for this is that it forces the impurities out of the bones and joints and clears them right away rather than skimming a lot of them out. There is negligible flavor loss here since we have to boil extensively to get what we are really after anyway. You will still have to skim your stock, but a lot of the color altering impurities, like blood, will be washed away and not cooked into the final product.
Even though we didn’t really cover it since I don’t use this method anymore, you cannot fortify your stock at a boil to make picture-perfect Ramen. Initially, I would remount the first couple of washes of stock onto the stock bones to double down, but over boiling your stock will cause it to clarify. Likewise, if you simmer your stock for too long or too hot it will eventually clarify and there is no undoing that unless you have a considerable amount of unclarified stock to blend it with to regain the creamy opaque color. I don’t fortify stocks anymore either because I discovered that the water just reaches a maximum saturation point and won’t continue to leach and absorb the collagen and gelatin we are after as easily in less dense water, hence doing the multiple washes with fresh water for maximum absorption and then combing and reducing the resulting product.
*Rendering the salt pork in the pot that is simmering the stock helps the stock not clarify. The release of fresh fat and protein into the mix helps bind everything together so it does not clarify.
*Having a clarified pork stock could make one hell of a Velouté sauce where you are looking for a clear white stock that is thickened with roux. You could make what looks like a silky white chicken gravy, but has the depth and flavor from actually being pork-based.
If that classic white pork stock is not important then you just do whatever you need to get the flavor right and disregard the minute aesthetics of this method.
So you’re making Pork Stock, it will take you 96 hours, you know how to do it already, you’re good to go.
If you are only making Ramen and not making a year’s supply of pork stock then cut the stock and broth recipes in half. You will have plenty for soup and some leftovers to can or freeze.
The Ramen Broth is made the same way, but the ingredients are different. Here’s the lineup for:
3.5 lbs of meaty pork neck bones.
3.5 lbs of meaty poultry neck or back bones.
3.5 lbs of thin pork chops or any budget pork cut with a lot of surface area.
3.5 lbs of bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs.
6 pounds Mirepoix divided into two sets of: 1.5lb onion, .75lb carrot, .75lb celery.
All divided into two batches
6 whole bulbs of Garlic
3 fist-sized pieces of ginger( unpeeled , but well washed and diced.)
4 Leeks, long and slender with more white than green preferably ( all parts go in)
6 bunches of Green Onion (White parts go in the broth, green parts save for soup)
2 lbs Oyster or Maitake mushrooms ( If you can’t find any good fresh mushrooms then double the amount of shitakes below and only use half now and half later.)
2-3 handfuls of dried Shitake mushrooms ( Don’t add this at first, keep aside!)
* Dry mushrooms should always be given a quick rinse to remove any possible dirt or debris.
Wildcards: Daikon radish, regular red radishes, mustard greens, novelty mushrooms, and Galangal root. * All optional
Chicken Base, Garlic and Onion powder. These are all adjustments after you are to the reduction stage of the broth. Other adjustment options are: Dashi flakes, Magi Sauce, Ponzu Sauce, Rice Vinegar, Soy Sauce, and Mirin.
To make the broth:
Follow the same method of a fortified broth with 2, 48 hour rounds of searing, mirepoix, and the timeline of multiple washes, straining, and reducing. You are making a fortified broth for sure here so split the total amount of meat into two batches. Do all the neck and back bones of each in the first batch and the pork chops and chicken thighs in the second batch. You may want to pull the bones from the chicken thighs after 12 hours, which would be at the 36 hour mark, so you can get those in the pot of stock with enough time left to fully render.
If you are using all dry shitake mushrooms, try your best to save the mushrooms and set them aside when straining the first time at the 24 hour mark and again in the second half at the third reset at the 36 hour mark. These make an amazing garnish if you can save them.
Once you have fully strained both your stock and broth and they are simmering to reduce in one pot each you are on the home stretch. I will wait until the salt pork is done rendering in the stock simmer pot to call it a day on that.
For the broth that is strained and all final washes done you now want to add your shitake mushrooms. Simmer the mushrooms for a few hours until they are fully hydrated and the salt pork is done rendering in the stock.
The broth you can stop simmering whenever it has reduced enough for your needs and you’ve adjusted the final flavor to taste how you like. Strain out the shitakes and save them for making the soup. Add them to the other Shitake’s you saved if you used double Shitake instead of any fresh mushrooms.
If you haven’t done it incrementally yet both the stock and broth need to be thoroughly strained and take a nap in the fridge overnight to have the fat cap removed. Remember to save the Lard!
Normally I would eat the salt park that was rendered in the stock glutinously like a fat kid left alone in a candy store, but for this soup I save it to use as one of the garnishes.
Make the soup
Once you have the fat cap removed and set aside you want to decide how much broth you are making soup with and store the extra broth however you want.
Incrementally add to the designated soup broth the stock that you have made and taste as you go. This is just a personal preference on how thick and rich you want it.
Some recipes call for adding pork fatback to ramen broth because they aren’t making a stock in conjunction. Fatback is what salt pork is made from, but tends to be just fat with little to no meat and it is very tender fat that melts easily.
Adding some of the rendered lard fat cap to the soup can emulate this, but I would only use the fresh lard you made. I would not use storebought lard in this way. Either way, fresh fat at a ratio you decide on can add a lot of weight and viscous texture as you are blending your bone broth since we removed most of the fat off the top. This is optional but very tasty. I would try a small bit, just a few sips worth, to see how you like it before committing the batch to it.
Likewise, you can blend your stock and broth into bone broth in a baby test batch to get your ratio down. Once you know your ratio you can blend the rest wholesale. The first time this really helps so you don’t accidentally add too much stock or fat to your broth. There’s no reset button here!
There are lots of garnish options for Ramen including the famous soft boiled and marinated egg as well as the ultimate protein, Chashu Pork.
I’ll show you pictures of how we made it, the garnishes we chose, and provide some links to recipes on Chashu Pork. This blog is already epic in length and I can’t do a full rundown on Chashu, that would be a blog unto itself.
The sauce/marinade that accompanies Chashu Pork is important though and is great no matter what protein route you go for your soup.
Buy quality Udon Noodles for this soup, fresh noodles in the refrigerated section are best if you can find them.
This marinade is almost identical to the one on the link below, but is an adaptation of a few recipes. If you cannot find Mirin then you can use the extra sugar the recipe calls for.
¾ C Soy Sauce
1 Cup Sake
1 Cup Mirin (A sweetened cooking wine, gonna have to hit an Asian market for this)
1 C water
½ cup sugar
6 Green onions (roughly chopped)
10 whole garlic cloves
Ginger (a 2” knob, roughly sliced)
The reason this marinade is important is it is a great flavor pairing with the Ramen that can be used on many types of meat and is also the same marinade used to marinate the soft boiled eggs. Both Chashu and the eggs need to marinate overnight so make the pork a day ahead and soft boil your eggs and marinate them both, but separately. When I make this marinade I usually make a double batch because it is so delicious to have extra on hand.
My trick with the shitake mushrooms we saved is that those cooked mushrooms should be marinated, also separately, overnight just like the eggs and pork.
On soup day you should chop up that leftover salt pork into bite-sized pieces and saute that in a skillet until crispy like bacon. I will use a large wide skillet and do the salt pork on one side and use the resulting drippings to lightly saute the marinated mushrooms. These cooked, marinated, and crisped shitake mushrooms are one of my favorite original Ramen toppings. You can also thinly slice shallots and/or daikon radish, marinate them raw and crisp them at the same time during this process.
The rest is mostly just assembly. Bring your finished soup up to temp in a pot then slice and sear just what you’re going to eat of Chashu with that glorious lard we made and using some marinade to keep it moist. Have all your other garnishes chopped and ready before you heat that pork and cook your noodles.
This is the best and most complete blog I’ve read on making Chashu Pork. It is thorough and well-illustrated, I would only be ripping him off if I tried to transpose that to here. Take what you have learned about stock and broth and use that to make Ramen soup, but you should follow @justonecookbook for his excellent method on preparing the Chashu Pork.
This was our Tonkotsu Ramen:
|Adjusted Ramen Mirepoix||Ramen Broth Reducing|
|Uncured Pork Belly||Rolled up and tied|
|Seared in Lard||Set to Braise|
|Halfway point of braising||Fully Braised|
|Seared again on soup day||and||sliced|
Our garnishes included:
Marinated soft boiled eggs, marinated and crisped shitake mushrooms, marinated and crisped daikon radish, raw daikon radish, rendered and crisped salt pork, wood ear mushrooms, green onions, Nori/Dry Seaweed, baby corns, butter sauteéd leeks, sliced bamboo shoots, and blanched baby Bok Choy.
|His & Hers Ramen|