Breakfast chronicles – Tonkotsu Ramen

Japanese Ramen, the real stuff, is one of those food items that people generally think they cannot cook at home. There are now Ramen in the form of instant noodles, and there are also pre-made soup base, but you’re very far from the real thing when you take short-cuts such as these.

Well, for the longest time, i thought i would not do this, but then, why not. It may seem like a lot of effort, but it proved to be otherwise after all. I mostly followed Marc’s recipe, because his seem most authentic. I did deviate from the recipe in a few ways.

In terms of the ingredients, i skipped the pig trotters. It was not available when i was looking for them, and i figured, aren’t pig trotters just bones, meat and skin? I think it’s mostly included in the recipe for the amount of gelatin it would generate, and i was wondering, wouldn’t it be the same if i substituted them with more bones (which would also come with some meat) and pig skin, which is almost pure gelatin? The bones and skin are much cheaper than pig trotters. I spent in total S$4.20 on pig bones and skin plus chicken bones. One set of pork trotters would have cost $4 already.

In cooking the Tonkotsu broth, i used the pressure cooker for about an hour of cooking (Update: skipping the pressure cooker makes little difference, might as well skip it), followed by overnight cooking in a slow cooker. As you know, the longer the cooking time, the richer the broth you would be able to extract. The slow cooker also has the advantage of retaining liquid. The Tonkotsu broth represents one third of the effort in assembling a bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen.

The broth after more than 8 hours in the slow cooker. It was a little watery as the slow cooker did too well in retaining liquid. This can be easily remedied by boiling in a pot for a little while.
The broth after more than 8 hours in the slow cooker. It was a little watery as the slow cooker did too well in retaining liquid. This can be easily remedied by further boiling in a pot for a little while.

Another one third of the effort goes into making Chashu. I did it Kenji’s way, cooking via Sous Vide. It was easy. The slab of pork belly i used had a very thick layer of fat beneath the skin, so thick i wouldn’t eat it. Note to self: choose pork belly carefully. Torching the Chashu slices helped improve the taste.

Torched Chashu slices
Torched Chashu slices

The final one third of the effort goes to preparing the soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, slicing spring onion, preparing soup seasoning and cooking the Ramen noodles. Oh yes, i also added a bit of minced pork fat as is customarily done, though i don’t notice if it actually helped improve the soup.

Minced pork fat
Minced pork fat

Overall, i was still satisfied with the result. I guess you can call any bowl of noodles Japanese Ramen if you so wished. I don’t think mine was close enough to be honest, but at least it had some resemblance. I will take up the challenge of making the Ramen noodles myself someday, like Marc did.

Update 29 Nov 2016

Tried making this again and got much better results this time. I saved even more on the cost by using frozen pork soft bones and pig skin shaved from frozen pork belly which i would otherwise have thrown away. The resulting soup was fantastic, mostly because i did the caramelizing of onions properly this time, and I added the fried garlic as suggested in Marc’s recipe, which i didn’t the last time. Also, having enough salt in the soup is important for the taste.

Pig skin and pork soft bones
Pig skin and pork soft bones

I also attempted a shortcut method of making the chashu – using the microwave. The proper way of making chashu is detailed here by Nami. I seared the pork as is necessary for flavour, then I sliced the pork belly and had it marinated overnight in the fridge. Prior to serving, I cooked the pork belly in the microwave oven using the low setting for 5 minutes. Well, the result isn’t melt-in-your-mouth, but it was tender enough, especially if the pork belly was thinly sliced.

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