As you can tell from my ramen eating tour through Toronto, ON, and New York City (see my reviews here), I was kind of obsessed with ramen for a little while. It’s been a longer while since I’ve last eaten some, haha. Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish in broth. Traditionally, you are supposed to finish the entire bowl of noodles, including the soup, but I would never drink more than a few spoonfuls of the soup served in a restaurant (unless they specifically claimed that they do not use MSG). Although I was loving the restaurant served MSG-laden bowls of ramen, I still wanted to be able to enjoy ramen with controlled sodium and fat levels, so naturally, I made my own. I happily drink every drop of my home-made ramen broth. It is very easy to make and you could make a large batch and freeze some for quick and easy future meals. My favourite ramen broth is tonkotsu, which is made with pork bones. For those that prefer a lighter broth, see my chicken ramen broth recipe here. Once you’ve made the base stock, you can tailor individual bowls of ramen broth with seasonings such as shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, mayu (burnt garlic oil), etc.
Tonkotsu Broth Base Recipe
Note: This is the basic stock recipe for tonkotsu broth. Seasonings such as shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, or hot sauce should be added to individual servings, not to the broth base. See below under Tonkotsu Ramen Recipe for further details.
2 whole pig trotters, cut in half lengthwise (Note: It is important to use a combination of pig trotters and leg bones in order to achieve a creamy white coloured broth.)
3 pounds of pork leg bones, cut into several pieces
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
1 large onion, sliced thinly
coarse sea salt
1 lb slab pork fatback (Note: This will give the broth a rich and creamy consistency that won’t seem greasy, but for health and waistline concerns, I did not use this.)
The first step is to wash the bones well. To do this, place the bones in a very large stock pot and fill with enough water to cover the bones. Then bring to a boil over high heat. Once a rolling boil has been achieved, allow the bones to cook for 10 minutes. You will see dark coloured gunk floating on the surface of the water. Discard the water, scrub off any gunk from the bones under cool running water, and wash the pot well.
Place the clean bones and, if using, pork fatback into the clean pot and add water until the water level reaches 1.5 inches below the top of the pot. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Then reduce the heat to maintain a medium to strong boil. You will see foam or more debris floating on the surface. Skim this off and discard periodically. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed, medium sized sauce pan, heat 1/2 an inch of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the ginger and head of garlic and fry until browned and shriveled up. Do not allow them to burn. Remove the ginger and garlic from the oil and add them to the stock pot. Then add the onions to the hot oil and fry until caramelized and browned. Do not allow the onions to burn. Remove the onions from the hot oil and add them to the stock pot as well.
Boil the stock for a total of 12 hours. Four hours into it, remove the fatback. It should still hold its shape but be soft and almost liquidy in texture. Remove it from the stock, chop it into very fine pieces and set aside until ready to serve the ramen. While you are boiling the stock, you will need to check the stock periodically and add water as needed. Most of the bones should be covered with water. By the end of the cooking time, the stock should be creamy and whitish in colour, slightly thickened, and full of pork flavour. Add salt to taste, but ideally, you want the soup to be underseasoned at this point, as you will be adding more seasonings to individual bowls of ramen prior to serving. Using tongs, remove and discard the bones. Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a different pot or bowl. Skim off the fat from the surface of the soup.
See the tonkotsu ramen recipe below for instructions on how to assemble and serve individual bowls of ramen. Leftover tonkotsu broth should be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. If you allow the broth to chill in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify at the top of the broth and will be easier to remove. The frozen broth can be defrosted and then reheated or reheated from frozen.
Tonkotsu Ramen Recipe
To assemble a delicious bowl of tonkotsu ramen, you need to boil the ramen noodles (preferably fresh noodles), prepare your toppings, and heat up and season the tonkotsu broth. See below for details.
Toppings vary greatly, so use whichever combination of condiments, vegetables, and meats that you like. Some examples include mayu (black garlic oil), finely minced fresh garlic, pickled bamboo, pickled ginger, black fungus, thinly sliced green onions, bean sprouts, corn, mushrooms (my favourite: enoki), toasted sheets of seaweed, ground white pepper, marinated soft boiled egg, thinly sliced pork jowl, sliced chasu (Chinese BBQ pork), fish cake, etc. This is a great way to use up leftovers.
To cook ramen noodles, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, prepare and season the broth. Individual portions of tonkotsu broth (recipe above) should be heated in sauce pot(s). I recommend one and a half to two cups of broth per serving. Seasonings of your choice should be whisked into the hot broth to taste. Options for seasonings include, but are not limited to, shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, hot sauce, or tahini. Traditionally, approximately 1 tablespoon (add to taste) of finely minced fatback (pork fat) is whisked into the hot broth prior to serving. For the sake of my family’s health and waistlines, I chose to omit the fat. Note that this fat gives the broth a creamy, rich consistency that doesn’t feel greasy.
Once the pot of water has reached a rolling boil, drop the ramen noodles gently into the boiling water and cover the pot with its lid until the water returns to a rolling boil. Then remove the lid, reduce the heat slightly to maintain a strong boil, and cook the noodles until the desired texture is achieved. I personally prefer my noodles to be softer than al dente, but still slightly chewy. See the packaging of the noodles for cooking time guidelines. Drain and place into individual bowls for serving.
Pour the seasoned tonkotsu broth over the noodles. Then add the prepared toppings of your choice. If desired, add a very light drizzle of mayu (burnt garlic oil) to each bowl as well. Serve immediately.