I am excited to share this because this is one of my favourite Japanese dishes that I have had umpteen number times in different Japanese restaurants here in Hong Kong. This dish is one of my comfort foods too. AN and the kids love this as well! So last Friday, I made up my mind to gather all the ingredients and make this ramen soup at home. And here it is!
A traditional Japanese meal is simple and well-balanced. According to an old Japanese saying, an ideal Japanese meal should comprise ingredients derived from both the mountain (vegetables, fruits and rice) and the sea (seafood or kelp). Japanese food, according to me, is one of the most aesthetic cuisines in the world. The food is served in such a creative and colourful manner that the moment you see it, it makes your gastronomic juices flowing; not to mention the beautiful Japanese tableware which gives the food a different level of sophisticacy and authenticity!
Before I begin, I’d like to thank Manuela Zangara of Manu’s Menu, a blog with delicious Italian and Indian recipes, for this wonderful award:
The base of this is the soup made with pork bones and chicken bones (tonkotsu stock). The soup is the essence of the dish and preparing this requires a lot of meticulousness and patience. The process is very easy, though. You have to simply boil the bones with salt and water (and half an onion and some crushed ginger, if you wish) for a minimum of 8 hours (yes, you read it right) over a low flame. The soup had a wonderful white, milky look, if done correctly. If you try the shortcut of boiling the bones in the pressure cooker, the soup will be quite watery and will score comparatively quite low in flavor, thickness and aroma. The concept is that when you boil bones for such a long time over slow fire, all the collagen in the bones and the meat sticking to it will melt completely and slowly turn into gelatin. So, finally, you’ll get something which resembles a whitish jelly. I could never imagine a soup turning into a jelly on keeping, until I did it myself!
One important thing in making the tonkotsu is that you have to clean the bones really well under running water to get rid of all the extra blood, which can make the soup brown. To get a whitish soup, when the soup just starts boiling, give it a good stir and wait for five more minutes. After that, throw the water and replace with the same quantity of fresh water. Boil this for atleast 8 hours, removing any brownish scum obtained during the process.
The next step is to make the rolled and juicy accompaniment called chashu: the most tempting part of this dish. For this, you need a thick and long pork belly without skin. Now the trick to get perfectly round and succulent chashu is to roll this pork belly up and tie it with threads, so that the rolled pork belly doesn’t open up. Now, simply boil this over a low flame, lid covered, in a mixture of dark soy sauce, sake, mirin, chopped spring onions and water, along with some sugar. I also added 1 tsp ginger in this and cooked it until almost done. Then I grilled the chashu in the oven for 5 min. I cooled the whole rolled pork belly at room temperature and then in the refrigerator for just 30 min. Then the threads were carefully removed and the roll was cut into circles to get beautiful and succulent chashu for tonkotsu ramen. For stepwise pictures on making chashu, here is a wonderful link: How to make chashu.
Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork Ramen in Soup)
Ingredients for tonkotsu broth:
- Pork trotters: 2 or 3
- Pork meat with bones attached (less meat and more bones): 500 g
- Chicken legs (chopped): 2
- Onion (medium-sized): ½
- Ginger (crushed): 1 tbsp
- Salt: Adjusted at the end, according to taste
- Water: 2.5 l, plus extra
Ingredients for chashu (Japanese style braised pork):
- Boneless pork belly without skin (thick, long and rectangular): 400 g
- Soy sauce: ½ cup
- Sake: ½ cup tbsp
- Mirin: ½ cup
- Sugar (not honey): 1 tbsp
- Spring onion greens (roughly chopped): ¼ cup
- Ginger: 1 tsp
- Water: 4 tbsp
Ingredients for browned eggs:
- Soft-boiled eggs: 2
- Leftover chashu-braising liquid: 6 tbsp
Ingredients for the ramen and assembling the dish:
- Good-quality ramen: 1 pack
- Oil: few drops
- Shiitake mushrooms: 2
- Enoki mushrooms: handful
- Sprouts: handful
- Crispy seaweed or laver: few
For the tonkotsu broth, clean the bones thoroughly to get rid of the extra blood. Now add water, just enough to cover the bones and pressure cook for 10 min. Throw this water completely and clean all the cooked bones under running water once again. Now add these bones, onions and ginger to 2.5 l of water and boil under slow flame for 8 hours, stirring once after every 15–20 min. At the end of 4 hours, you would see all the meat has almost melted into the soup and the soup has become thick and whitish. Remove any brownish scum obtained while boiling the bones. Switch off the gas and strain the soup, which is necessary to get rid of tiny pieces of bones, big bones and threads of meat. Continue to cook this strained soup on slow fire for another 4 hours, till the soup is gelatinous. Add salt to taste.
For making chashu, roll the pork belly and tie it properly with threads, so that the roll doesn’t open up. Now, put this roll in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, spring onion greens, ginger and water and braise it under slow fire (in a pan), until the meat is cooked. This takes around30 min on a slow flame. Finally, grill in the oven for 5 min.
Remove the chashu and let it cool at room temperature. Now remove the threads and cut the roll into circles of desired thickness.
For making browned eggs, just soft-boil the eggs, peel them and let them rest in the leftover chashu marinade for 1 hour, turning them from time to time. Finally, switch on the gas and let the marinade-egg mixture darken a bit by increasing the flame to medium (just for 2 min). Coat the eggs thoroughly and cool these to room temperature in the same liquid.
Assembling the tonkotsu ramen dish: Once the tonkotsu broth, chashu and browned eggs are ready, the rest of the process is a matter of a few minutes. Readymade ramen noodles have to be plunged into boiling water (along with a few drops of oil) and kept for 2 min or until just soft. This ramen is then strained and passed under cold water.
To assemble, place a hearty amount of ramen in a bowl and add the tonkotsu broth to immerse the ramen. Top this up with shiitake and enoki mushrooms, sprouts, seaweed flake or laver, chashu, browned egg (halved) and chopped spring onion greens. You can also sprinkle some garlic-infused sesame oil (mayu) at the top.