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The science of ramen

The science of ramen

Discover how to prepare a delicious tonkotsu ramen in your own kitchen. Did you know that it's not a Japanese dish but a Chinese one?

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Any description of ramen, at least on the menu, is a simple matter: broth, noodles and other ingredients which may vary according to the chef, tradition or place of origin. But it is precisely the variable nature of ramen that makes it one of the most complex dishes to prepare and enjoy. Besides, one deeply rooted conviction - that ramen is a Japanese dish - is actually incorrect because it originally came from… China.

So, let’s focus on one of the most popular and widespread recipes for this dish, tonkotsu. This version of ramen consists of a meaty pork broth, which is rich in flavour and smooth on the palate with an intense and delicious aroma. An ideal comfort food for cold winter evenings. So, let’s start with the broth which, for Europeans like us who are more accustomed to chicken stock, is an act of faith (and courage): the best broth is obtained from pig’s trotters.

Pork tonkotsu ramen

Rich in collagen and fat, with the extra bonus of being extremely cheap, they regale a thick and tasty meat stock. The secret lies in adding them to water that is already boiling and salted, so that the lipids emulsify more evenly, before leaving them to cook for no less than six hours from when the liquid comes back to the boil. A word of advice: before using the pig’s trotters, burn off any hairs over the gas flame and wash them meticulously. While the broth is cooking, you can prepare the meat.

What you need here is pork belly. Season with salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary before rolling it up and tying it with cooking twine. Now roast the meat slowly in the oven at about 160 °C for three hours, if your piece of rolled up meat weighs around one kilo (give it five hours if it weighs two kilos). Tradition also demands the addition of a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and chopped shallot but, if you like the flavour of the meat itself, you can do without the sauce. Cooked in this way, the meat becomes tender and succulent and, when done, all you have to do is leave it to rest for half an hour before cutting it up into fine slices.

Tonkotsu ramen broth recipe

Now comes the tricky moment of cooking the egg. Less expert cooks inevitably come up with simple hard boiled eggs but the secret of an authentic dish of ramen lies in the use of eggs with a soft yolk. How can you achieve this? Heat the water to 87 °C (exactly), lower the eggs into the water for a time that varies between five and a half and six minutes (if the eggs are large). Then immediately plunge them into cold water. What you should aim for is an egg with a firm white and an almost runny yoke. Remove the shells and place them in a small quantity of the (warm) broth you are making, “borrowed” from your stock pan. How many eggs are required? One for each bowl, but those who put pleasure before tradition may even like two!

Finally prepare the other ingredients you intend to add, for using all together or simply choosing those you like best. Fine slices of shallot, rehydrated nori seaweed, sweet corn.

Now is the time to put all the ingredients together so it is essential at this point to have your noodles ready too. It is too complicated to make them yourself so just buy the fresh ones or at least, the ones that are sold “moistened” in a preserving liquid. If you really have to use the dry ones, make sure to soak them in some of your meat broth in time for when you need them.

When everything is ready, pour the boiling broth into a bowl, followed by the noodles and then the other ingredients you have prepared, and finally the egg sliced in half lengthwise. Wait for at least four minutes before finally tucking in to this succulent dish, ready to seduce your taste buds one by one.

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