Introduction to Tonkotsu
I was asked what was the best ramen and what is the recipe. To answer this question, I did some research on the best, and that is tonkotsu ramen What makes tonkotsu ramen different is The Broth. It is a white, thick, and creamy broth made from boiling pork bones. But knowing how to make the broth is not enough though. Because the broth has no flavor yet and that’s where the other parts come in. Ramen is like a mechanical watch, every part is vital for the overall experience Aromatic Oil, The Tare, The Noodles, and The Toppings. Every part is just as important. So, this is the introduction to the ramen series where I will teach what I have learned over the last month. I am no expert, but I want to share the basics of tonkotsu ramen that you can practice at home and a couple of shortcuts.
Origin of Tonkotsu
The literal translation of tonkotsu is pork bone. But the origin of tonkotsu broth wasn’t so literal. It may have been an accident. Back in 1947 in the city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, a cook at a ramen shop had his eyes elsewhere when he was boiling pork bones. And when it was too late, he realized the broth came out white and creamy and tried to salvage it with seasoning. And that’s the origin of tonkotsu ramen also known as Hakata ramen. Well, I don’t know if this was entirely true. But if it was, it was a welcomed accident that spread like wildfire birthing different styles of ramen like my favorite, tonkotsu shoyu ramen
Components of Tonkotsu Ramen
The broth for tonkotsu ramen is made primarily from pork bones. Like the femur, neck bones, etc. But to achieve that recognizable white pork broth, you must do two things first: Soak and Pre-boil. Soaking will remove the myoglobin which gives it a red color. 4-5 hours is a standard, but I highly recommend soaking overnight. Pre-boiling will extract the impurities in the form of scum, and you will have to skim that off. This part is around 15-30 minutes or until most of it is gone. And make sure to stir the pot because scum could be hiding underneath. Then you have to rinse, and not just rinse, you have to clean very thoroughly. Use your fingers. Rub it well. These two steps are vital if you want that iconic color.
I mentioned that the broth on its own barely has any flavor and that is where the tare comes in. Tare is the main contributing factor in giving the broth the flavor. However, tare can greatly overshadow the nuances of the pork flavor in the broth, so you must understand what type of tare is appropriate to your preference. There are three main types of tares: Shoyu Tare, Shio Tare, and Miso Tare.
Shoyu tare is shoyu based. The main components of shoyu tare include shoyu, mirin, sake, and salt. In my personal experience, shoyu tare is my go-to tare for tonkotsu ramen. It brings out most of the soup and if you add niboshi dashi (anchovy stock), you will have a very rich umami flavor that draws out the likeness of the pork flavor.
Shio Tare is salt/dashi based. The main components of shio tare are salt and dashi which are made from primarily soaking kombu (dried seaweed) and bonito flakes overnight. Then it has to simmer on low heat to make a concentrated broth. Other components such as dried seafood and mushrooms can be added to strengthen the umami flavor of the dashi. Once the dashi has been made, you add salt, mirin, and sake. This is the ideal tare if you really like want that iconic white color to remain the same. I would it’s not as rich in flavor in comparison to shoyu, but it is a good alternative if you don’t like shoyu.
Miso Tare is miso based. The main components of miso tare are miso pastes (fermented soybeans). There are 3 main types of miso paste: white miso, red miso, and yellow miso. Other variations of miso paste vary by the type of ingredient that was exaggerated, but we will only focus on these three types since they are the most available in stores near me. One way to differentiate the amount of saltiness and umami flavor is the color. The lighter the color of the miso, the sweeter it is and the darker the color, the saltier it is. You can probably guess that yellow miso paste has a balance of sweet and salty without losing too much of the umami flavor. In terms of adding this type of tare to tonkotsu, I couldn’t find a balance of flavor since I had to mix white and red miso due to the unavailability of yellow miso. So I had to make use of what I got, but I still couldn’t get the right amount that wouldn’t overwhelm the pork broth. I truly think spicy miso tare is a good addition, but once I have found a good balance, I will update soon!
The Aroma Oil
The aroma oil is fat that has been boiling in aromatics and it is added to the soup giving the ramen that glistening finish. Its functions can vary depending on who’s preparing the bowl like accentuating the flavor or adding an aroma that just pulls the ramen together. But, its most important role is to help the soup stick to the noodles. With each slurp of a noodle, you will get more of the soup. The most simple aroma oil that has been tried and tested is the scallion ginger aroma oil. It is a simple recipe that is composed of oil, scallion, and ginger. It is very easy to make.
So this part of the process was easily the hardest thing to do if you don’t have a noddle maker. So I opted out for instant noodles which may be the best alternative for an average person. I tried to do a recipe from Way of Ramen (Youtube) and it took a lot of effort to fold and knead the dough, so I recommend using J-Basket Chuka Soba (Ramen) Noodle. I hope to get myself a noodle maker and start working on the recipe!
The Toppings - Chashu
There is no definite way of determining which toppings are the best, it simply boils down to your preference or what some may say what’s appropriate to the type of ramen you want to experience. It is your personal preference. There is a wide array of toppings that you add to your ramen to elevate your experience, but there are a select few that are essential in any bowl of ramen.
- Ajitama eggs (Marinated Eggs)
- Naruto (fish cake)
- Menma (bamboo shoots)
- Wood ear Mushrooms
- Green Onions
- Bean Sprouts
- Chili Oil
- Chashu (braised pork belly)