Monday, June 29, 2009

Adventures in Cooking: Tonkotsu Ramen

Since going to Japan I've really had a strong urge to try my hand at making some ramen broth; I've been thinking of trying to make stock of some sort and ramen seems like a good idea (or a bad idea). While there Lyle took us to a place called Daruma Ramen in Haruna, where I had what I think was hands down some of the best ramen I've ever had. When I arrived back in the States I started searching the web for a good recipe and stumbled upon this one. With a recipe in hand, I was ready to try my hand at making some super-unhealthy ramen of my own!

A subset of he meat ingredients unpacked
This time the ingredients are presented in waves; first we have our pork. I used about 4 pounds of pork bones (half were pork necks and half were just labeled pork bones), some pig feet, and some back fat. The first step is to bring a ton of water (about 2.5 gallons) to just below a simmer and throw in the meats minus the back fat.

The pot simmering with meat
I probably kept things a little too cool resulting in a thinner broth, but it did end up working out. While the meat is simmering you'll need to keep scooping off a layer of scum that forms on the surface of the water. I followed some advice from Alton Brown and used a strainer. I let the meat simmer alone for about half an hour before adding the back fat, and then let it simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

The non-meat ingredients
Now for some healthier stuff. I cut the onions and apples in half and threw them in the stock pot and only used about an inch of the ginger. From here it's a matter of letting things continue to simmer for several hours; I took the time to go to a friend's BBQ.

Simmering the veggies too
The recipe says to let things simmer for 5 hours, but since I think I had the heat a bit too low I tried adjusting it after 5 and came back after another 4 hours or so. I put a vegetable steamer in the pot as well to keep as many of the ingredients as possible submerged and to give me a place where I could try to scoop out any scum that might show up on the surface. Very little if any showed up at this point, though sometimes there would be a thin layer of fat from the back fat.

I don't have a picture, but the broth had reduced *quite* a bit after 9 or so hours. It tasted a bit thin, but it was getting late and I went ahead and froze the broth in several Tupperware containers as well as some ice trays (again, straight out of an Alton Brown episode on broth).

This post's booze is nigori sake
A few days later I decided it was time to make my ramen! I decided that sake would be appropriate as something to drink while cooking and eating, and picked up a random nigori at Uwajimaya. It has a bit stronger floral taste than I'd prefer, but it's pretty good.

Ramen and chashu ingredients
Here are the day-of ingredients; noodles and the components for what the website with the recipe calls chashu, but I sort of doubt it's authenticity as chashu after looking it up online. In any event, it has shoyu in it, which I knew to be a vital component to the broth.

After mixing the ginger, shoyu, mirin, sake, and about a cup (6 ice cubes) of the broth, I let them simmer for a little bit before adding some pork belly and letting it boil/simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Towards the end of the boil I started poaching an egg and cooking the ramen noodles, since these both take about 1-2 minutes.

The ramen, ready to eat. いただきます!
When everything was nice and cooked, I took about two tablespoons of the chashu liquid, poured some noodles over it, and then filled the bowl with broth. Then I added the poached egg, some chives, and some of the pork belly. This batch tasted like the broth was a little thin, but was still pretty delicious.

However I poured the chashu into a container to store overnight and attempted to make things again the next day but used about four tablespoons of the chashu and this largely resolved my issues with the thinness of the broth; I don't know if it was the extra time boiling/simmering, the time sitting in my fridge, or what, but the broth was awesome the second time. Not perfect, but delicious; thinking about it makes me wish I was eating some noodles while writing this post.

All in all, this sore into a new dish was totally worth it. I'd like to try it again tweaking some of the broth ingredients to get a deeper flavor without the chashu and see how that changes things. Perhaps I'll try another noodle; udon or perhaps some pho-style dish.

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