Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

The Goal: Creamy, flavorful broth with depth and flavor.

The Source: Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

***

I would like to issue a disclaimer. Hedging, you call it? Maybe. I know I have touted my totally realistic expectation of absolute perfection. I am happy with the end product I achieved, and I followed the recipe to the best of my ability. However, I had to make a number of substitutions in this recipe, due to the inability to find the ingredients. Yes, I called everywhere! So… Perhaps it’s a new, separate creation, inspired by the original recipe. Yes, that’s what it is. See below for a list of substitutions, along with a healthy dose of my own doubt.

7/30/17

Notes before starting: I was unable to locate pig’s trotters, so I bought pork bones and also got some chicken feet to hopefully get more depth and texture to the broth. I also got pork belly instead of pork fatback so I’m curious how these substitutes will work out. 

For the chicken backs/carcasses, I just bought a couple of rotisserie chickens and stripped the meat off the legs and breasts to save for sandwiches throughout the week.

The only thing I’m really unsure of is the whole “blood” issue… The recipe mentions it’s very important to get rid of all dark marrow and blood bits. I’m not sure if this will be easier or more difficult with various pork bones instead of the trotters. I guess this whole thing is just going to be a huge experiment since I’m having to substitute almost every major part of the broth. Well…

Here we go!

The first step was to pile all the bones into a pot, and bring the whole thing to a rapid boil. It was difficult to fit everything in one pot, and I think it would have been easier to have a truly enormous one with more room, but I made do! After they boiled for a bit, I strained them all out of the water and washed them clean of any scum, blood, and dark bits I could find.

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First bones, bubbling away.

As the bones were boiling their way clean and getting rid of that first bit of grime, I went ahead to the next step and charred all of my veggies, onion, ginger, garlic, etc. I kept them all fairly chunky because I knew they would be boiling for many hours.

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Once the bones were all washed clean, it was time for The Long Boil. I piled in leeks, mushrooms, onions mixture, washed bones, and the pound of pork belly into the cramped pot, and cranked up the heat. According to the recipe, during the first twenty minutes dark scum would continue appearing on top. I didn’t have too much of a problem with this, but whatever did appear I skimmed right off.

After twenty minutes, I reduced it to a slow, rolling boil, and covered. Due to its large size, it held heat very well and I was able to keep the stove on the lowest setting and still maintain a good bubble the whole time. Another uncertainty was how the pork belly would react as opposed to back fat. I left it in for the same amount of time, the first four hours.

7/30/17

I think I should have gotten a bigger pot. I thought it would be plenty but it appears there was barely enough room for everything. I also think having pig trotters instead of the larger slabs of pork bones would help.

The great thing about long cooking recipes like this is being able to work on my book while it simmers! 

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4 hrs later…

I pulled the pork belly out of the pot. It has created the absolute tenderest piece of meat I’ve ever seen, it was literally falling apart under my spoon as I lifted it out. Eventually at the end I’m supposed to chop it finely and whisk it through the broth, and I’m now seeing how this is possible, it’s so damn tender.  It is now covered in the fridge, and the rest of the soup is bubbling away once more.

I don’t have to top it up with water that often, as it’s covered, so this is actually a pretty low maintenance recipe at this point.

After pulling the pork belly out of the broth, I let it continue boiling, covered, topping up with water as necessary, for about seven more hours. In the meantime, I went to the store to get a fine strainer. As usual, I had managed to get about halfway through before realizing I was missing something as necessary to a broth as a strainer.

 

3 hrs later…

Wow – Just got home from being out. It’s fairly sunny and warm today, but it still felt like a damn sauna as soon as I walked into my house. This would be a great recipe for a chilly winter weekend, keep your house toasty warm and humid all day. As it is, I’ve opened all my windows and cranked a fan on high!

The broth even now is looking creamy and rich, I’m fascinated to see what another five hours of cooking will do.

 

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Finally, at around midnight, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to remove the bones and strain my broth. I fished out a few of the bones first, to make it easier to lift, then placed a large bowl in the sink and poured it through a strainer. It was still a little murky, and there were bits that got missed and splashed, so I rinsed out the pot and strained it back into the pot a second time.

The taste of the broth is amazing. So full of depth and flavor, so delicious, and a creamy feel in the mouth. I did follow the instructions and chop the pork belly to add it in, but I didn’t actually like the texture. I made a judgment call and strained it back out, leaving a only its delicious fatty flavor behind.

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I am curious how differently it might turn out with the exact ingredients from the recipe, but I still feel it was an 18 hour day well worth the work. I ended up with plenty of delicious broth, enough for dinner all week.

The broth also completely congealed and solidified as it cooled, but once heated it melts back into a delicious broth immediately. I think this recipe is not that difficult, it’s simply a matter of finding the right ingredients, and putting in the time. Don’t be intimidated, though… Most of the time in this recipe is spent feeling like a benevolent witch watching your cauldron, and being proud of yourself for giving it a go.

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***

The Recipe: 

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-inch disks (as your butcher to do this for you)
  • 2 pounds chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • One 3-inch knob ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 dozen scallions, white parts only (reserve greens and light green parts for garnishing finished soup)
  • 6 ounces whole mushrooms or mushroom scraps
  • 1 pound slab pork fat back
  • 3 pounds pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-inch disks (as your butcher to do this for you)
  • 2 pounds chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • One 3-inch knob ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 dozen scallions, white parts only (reserve greens and light green parts for garnishing finished soup)
  • 6 ounces whole mushrooms or mushroom scraps
  • 1 pound slab pork fat back
  1. Place pork and chicken bones in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as boil is reached.

  2. While pot is heating, heat vegetable oil in a medium cast iron or non-stick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, about 15 minutes total. Set aside.

  3. Once pot has come to a boil, dump water down the drain. Carefully wash all bones under cold running water, removing any bits of dark marrow or coagulated blood. Bones should be uniform grey/white after you’ve scrubbed them. Use a chopstick to help remove small bits of dark marrow from inside the trotters or near the chicken’s spines.

  4. Return bones to pot along with charred vegetables, leeks, scallion whites, mushrooms, and pork fatback. Top up with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears (this should stop appearing within the first 20 minutes or so). Use a clean sponge or moist paper towels to wipe and black or gray scum off from around the rim of the pot. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.

  5. Once the lid is on, check the pot after 15 minutes. It should be at a slow rolling boil. If not, increase or decrease heat slightly to adjust boiling speed. Boil broth until pork fatback is completely tender, about 4 hours. Carefully remove pork fat with a slotted spatula. Transfer fatback to a sealed container and refrigerate until step 7. Return lid to pot and continue cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of light cream, about 6 to 8 hours longer, topping up as necessary to keep bones submerged at all times. If you must leave the pot unattended for an extended 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, topping up with more water as necessary.

  6. Once broth is ready, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard solids. For an even cleaner soup, strain again through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Skim liquid fat from top with a ladle and discard.

  7. Finely chop cooked pork fatback and whisk into finished broth. To serve, season broth with condiments of your choice (salt, soy sauce, miso, sesame paste, grated fresh garlic, chili oil or a mixture of all, for instance) and serve with cooked ramen noodles and toppings as desired.

 

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