Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen was the first ramen I ever made – nearly 3 years ago for mine and Burton’s anniversary. It bubbled on the stove for ~7 hours, the irresistible smell distracting us from our Godzilla marathon.
This was actually the first time I’ve been able to make it exactly how I’ve always wanted to. The missing ingredient, which I’ve searched all around Milwaukee for, I finally found in a market on the south side: pork neck bones. Better yet..smoked neck bones. I previously used ham hocks, a little less than ideal but still fine, and a pound of cheap bacon to get the decadent, smokey flavor it needs. I also stumbled across some smoked turkey wings. Finally, after years, I was in the good graces of the ramen-gods (where I intend to stay). Ramen is all about the garnishes. Tonkotsu ramen, specifically, is all about the broth.
Don’t feel like you need to sit and baby the broth. While it takes a lot of time, it’s not a time consuming recipe. I’ve never made it without leaving the house for at least a few hours while it’s cooking. Leave it on a very low simmer and let it do it’s thing, making sure to top it off with water if you’re not going to check on it for a while.
It all begins with steeping dried shiitakes and seaweed (traditionally you’d use kombu, which is kelp, but I’ve never been able to get my hands on any. I substitute with nori, which is made from a different species of algae but works fine). Here’s pictures of kelp, forming underwater forests, because I still can’t believe how cool it is I get to make soup stocks out of this:
While an excellent broth is critical, the garnishes are equally important to a good bowl of ramen. Marinated soft boiled eggs are a must, seriously. The night before, I prepare the chashu pork (Cantonese braised pork belly) and use the leftover liquid to marinate the eggs for 12 hours. I use a tall, slender vase to hold the eggs in and it looks real spooky (sorry I don’t have a picture…). Other garnishes I consider crucial: a piece of nori to accentuate the seaweed in the broth, bean sprouts, bok choy and scallions. Pickled lemongrass, sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, corn and the pork sung (dried, fluffy pork) are almost always included in my bowls as well but don’t make or break it for me like the other garnishes.
(makes enough for 4 servings)
Two 3X6 inch pieces of konbu (sub with nori if needed)
5 quarts of water
2 cups dried shiitakes, rinsed well
1 pound smoked turkey wings
2 pounds smoked pork neck bones
2 large shallots, roughly chopped
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sake or rice cooking wine
4 soft boiled eggs, marinated
garnishes: a piece of nori, bean sprouts, bok choy and scallions, pickled lemongrass, sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, corn and the pork sung
Place shiitakes and seaweed in a large stock pot along with 4 quarts of water and bring to a low simmer. Turn off heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain with a slotted spoon, add the turkey wings and neck bones, then bring to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes then reduce heat. In the first 5 hours, top off with water to make sure the bones stay covered. Remove the turkey wings and simmer just the pork neck bones for the final 2 hours, until the broth is reduced and very thick (leaving about 2 cups of broth per bowl). Remove neckbones, add sake, shallots, ginger and carrots and continue simmering for ~20 minutes. Strain broth completely. Serve with fresh noodles and garnishes.
2 pound slab of pork belly, skin on
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup sake
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
5 scallions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tbsp diced ginger
1 shallot, chopped
Preheat oven to 450. Heat all ingredients (other than the pork belly..) in a saucepan over medium heat, whisk until well combined. Place pork belly, skin side up, in a roasting pan and coat it with the liquid mixture. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 275 and roast for another hour. Let it cool completely in the fridge before slicing into. Save leftover liquid for marinating the eggs.
Marinated Soft Boiled Eggs
1 cup ice cubes
Leftover liquid from the chashu pork, cooled
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a small/medium saucepan. Add eggs once boiling, reduce to a rapid simmer for 6 mins. Fill a cold water and ice cubes. Strain eggs and place in the ice bath for 10 minutes. Carefully peel and place in the marinade, making sure they’re submerged, for 6-12 hours.