For many Westerners, especially those of us who spent our university years living on instant noodles, trying freshly-prepared ramen for the first time was a revelation we will never forget. The depth of flavor packed into the broth, those chewy, bouncy noodles, and of course, those perfect, barely-set, custardy eggs.
One of the most popular styles of ramen is tonkotsu, a rich, umami-filled broth made from pork bones and chicken carcasses. But tonkotsu is no ordinary bone broth. It takes time and care to make good tonkotsu, with the ingredients left to simmer for up to 18 hours so they slowly release their flavors, and the gelatine thickens the broth to a wonderful, creamy consistency.
Served with noodles, meltingly tender chashu pork belly, soft-boiled eggs and other optional ramen favorites like enoki mushrooms, green onions and sushi nori, it’s easy to see why the Japanese love tonkotsu so much. In Japan, there are many restaurants dedicated solely to this one dish, and chefs can spend their lives mastering the art of making the perfect tonkotsu.
If you want to try making your own at home, you will need time and patience. Making tonkotsu is a real labor of love, and while we can’t promise you’ll become a tonkotsu master right away, taking time to tend to your broth can be a calming, meditative experience, and it’s a great way to learn about flavors and how to make the most of your ingredients.
How to make Tonkotsu Ramen at home
2 ½ lb, cooked according to package directions
For the broth
2lb, cut into small pieces
1, peeled and slit around the edges
1 bulb, cut in half horizontally
2 inches, sliced
15, white parts only, halved (save the green parts to use as toppings)
White oyster mushrooms
For the pork chashu
Boneless pork belly
1 ½ lb
White grape juice
2 cloves, bruised
2 inches, sliced
To season, choose one or a combination of the following
Mayu, or black oil
Garlic and shallot oil
For the toppings
blanched in hot broth
Black fungus mushroom
blanched in hot broth
15, the green parts left over from the broth, thinly sliced
sliced and fried
To make the broth:
Put the ham hocks, chicken backs and feet in a heavy stock pot and add water until fully covered. Place the lid on the pot and bring to the boil over a high heat.
As soon as the pot boils, drain the hocks and chicken and wash thoroughly with cold water, until all dark marrow or blood residue is removed. Use a chopstick to poke stubborn bits of marrow out from inside the bones.
Rinse the stock pot and put the ham hocks and chicken back in, along with all the other ingredients for making the broth. Add just enough water to cover the ingredients and replace the lid. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce to a low heat and simmer. After 15 minutes, check to make sure the broth is barely simmering, and adjust the temperature if necessary.
Simmer for another 10 -17 hours, checking back occasionally to skim off any scum that rises to the surface with a ladle. Add the pork fat to the mixture and cook for another 1 hour.
Remove the pork fat from the broth and dice finely. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into a clean pot.
To make the pork chashu:
Preheat your oven to 250°F.
Lay the pork belly on a clean surface and roll up lengthwise, with the skin facing outwards. Secure with butcher’s twine, tied at ¾-inch intervals.
Put the pork belly in an ovenproof pot, add enough water to cover, and bring to the boil. As soon as the pot boils, drain the pork to remove the scum, and rinse the pot.
Put the pork back into the pot along with the other ingredients for the chashu, and put the lid on the pot. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then transfer to the oven and cook for 5 hours. After the first 2 hours, shake the pan well to make sure the sauce covers the pork evenly. Shake again every hour until done.
After the 5 hours has elapsed, stick a skewer into the pork. If there is no resistance, the pork is cooked. Leave it to cool to room temperature, and start making the eggs. Once the pork is properly cooled, it will need to chill in the refrigerator along with the eggs (see below). This allows the flavors to develop, and also makes it easier to slice.
To make the eggs:
Fill a pot with enough water to just cover the eggs and bring to the boil. Reduce to a medium-low heat and gently lower the eggs into the water using a slotted spoon. Set your timer and simmer for exactly 6 minutes.
Drain, and place the eggs in a bowl full of cold water. Peel the eggs very carefully under the water and then place them in the pot with the chashu, so they are floating in the sauce. Soak some paper towels in the sauce and use them to cover the tops of the eggs poking above the surface.
Place the pork and the eggs in the refrigerator and marinade for around 6 hours.
To assemble the ramen:
Bring the broth to boil and add your seasonings. Use a little, taste it, then add more if required.
Prepare any toppings that need preparing - blanch your mushrooms, fry your garlic.
Remove the chashu and eggs from the fridge and drain, reserving the sauce. Remove the string from the pork and slice into thin rounds.
Reheat some of the reserved chashu sauce and add in the pork slices for 1 to 2 minutes to take off the chill. Add the eggs for a few seconds only. Remove the pork and eggs from the sauce and slice the eggs in half.
When everything else is ready, cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Once cooked, noodles should be eaten within minutes, so make sure everyone is ready to eat.
Pour the broth into bowls. Add the noodles, chashu, eggs, minced pork fat, and your toppings. Serve immediately.