On a warm winter evening, nothing can beat a warm bowl of noodle and soup, and one of my favorite noodle dishes is Japanese Ramen! The flavorful broth matched with the chewy but tender noodle with toppings like Tempura or Char Shu is just the perfect combination. Even though the wildly popular soy & miso broth are amazing with the curly, thick ramen noodle, my favorite on a cold winter night is a very special ramen, known is the west as Tonkotsu Ramen.
Tonkotsu ramen is a ramen dish that’s from Fukuoka, on the Kyushu island (southern end) of Japan, and it is a specialty in the region. Like many amazing dishes, like Pot-au-feu, Barbacoa, Mujaddara or Gumbo, it has a humble origin, and it is famous for the long preparation time. Invented as an affordable fast food for workers on the harbor and fish market, the soup broth is used cheap pork bones and affordable other ingredients, which is typically boiled for several hours. The dish is traditionally served with thin ramen noodles so they can be served quickly during the short breaks, and topped with sliced Char Shu, braised pork belly. In Japan, Tonkotsu ramen is also known as Hakata ramen, so when you are they, give it a try!
Today, we will make a version where most ingredients can be easily gathered in the western world, since a lot of ingredients are hard to find outside certain countries, so if you are a ramen snob or purist, please understand that even though this is not exactly the same as how they make it in Fukuoka, the flavor is similar, the ingredients are affordable and easy to find, and the most important thing of all is that it is DELICIOUS. Let’s make it! (Also, this takes about 24 hours to make, so be prepared.)
Here’s how to make one of the most iconic toppings for ramen: Cha Shu
- 1.5 kg or 3.3 lb pig trotters (if you can’t find it, don’t worry, just use the same weight of pork soup bone (*ask your butcher), plus about 0.45 kg or 1 lb of chicken wings)
- 1 kg or 2.2 lb chicken backs and carcasses
- 1 large onion
- 12 garlic cloves
- 1 knob ginger
- 2 dozen scallions, white parts only (save the greens for garnishing)
- Optional: 1 pound slab pork fat back
How to make this:
- Cut the pig trotter crosswise into 1-inch disks (or ask your butcher to do it for you), bring a large pot of water to a boil, then place pork and chicken bones (and wings) in the boiling water to blanch them for about 2 min. Strain and wash all bones under cold water, removing as much as the dark marrow (actually coagulated blood).
- You now need to char the aromatics, if you have a blow torch, you can just char the surface of the onion, garlic, and ginger. If a blow torch is not available, heat the vegetable oil in a medium cast iron or non-stick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking, then add onions, garlic, and ginger, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, which takes about 10 minutes total.
- Place the bones in the pot with charred vegetables, scallion whites. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears, then reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.
- Cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of cream, which takes about 14 to 16 hours, add a little bit of water to keep the bones submerged at all times, which is about once an hour after hour 4. (If you must leave the pot unattended for long period of time, top up the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting while you are gone. Return to a boil when you come back and continue cooking)
- Once broth is pretty much done, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer, then strain again through cheesecloth. Skim liquid fat from the top.
All you need to do after the broth is completed is to cook some thin straight noodles, which is traditionally used at ramen shops in Fukuoka, add a couple slices of Cha Shu, Ajitsuke Tamago (Japanese pickled eggs), and enjoy!
Ps. These are the Ajitsuke Tamago (Japanese pickled eggs), I soft boiled the egg and pickled it in a soy-mirin-sake marinade for about 24 to 72 hours in the fridge.