Tonkotsu Ramen at Home

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I wanted to write a post on the Day of the Programmer (September 13th this year), but instead of doing a pure tech piece, I decided to share my go-to comfort food recipe: Tonkotsu Ramen.

What does this have to do with programming? Not much really, except that I came to it doing extensive research, each component was subject to tests and user validation, and a process was finally developed that optimizes for re-usability of the components that make up this dish. In short: lots of initial effort will result on many consecutive days of enjoyment for very little effort in each one of them. Besides, what programmer doesn’t like ramen?

To me, the ideal Tonkotsu Ramen needs to be insanely decadent, creamy, with a mouthful taste, plenty of umami flavor, and enjoyable to the last slurp. I’ve visited dozens of Ramen restaurants in Tokyo, and then many considered good in the US, the UK and Canada. Overtime, I developed a sense of what a good ramen should be. This maybe different than what you may consider ideal for your personal taste. This is for mine, and I’m just sharing my experience.

The equipment

This is what I use to make the dish. Some of these can be replaced, but the timeline and process will be altered as a consequence, and you will need to adjust accordingly. I include Amazon links for the items I consider ideal for the job, which are the ones I use. Feel free to pick whatever else you think is good.

  • A large pressure cooker - I use this 12 qt Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker.
  • A large pot.
  • A fine but sturdy fine mesh strainer (I use this one).
  • An immersion blender (you can use a regular blender, but this is a lot easier for this application. I like this one)
  • Vacuum sealer. You can use the table top versions just fine, but I would not go anywhere without my VacMaster chamber vacuum sealer.
  • Sous vide machine. There are many new brands and models, but I stick to my trusty PolyScience CHEF Series. You can’t beat it, specially for longer cooking times.
  • Cast iron pan. Many choices here, and I have several, but I fell in love with the Marquette Castings 10.5” skillet since it’s super light for a cast iron, and made in the US.
  • Ramen bowls with proper spoons and chop sticks. I like these given the size, quality, and dish washer safety.

The Layers

To me, tonkotsu Ramen us a composition of 3 main layers:

  1. The broth.
  2. The noodles.
  3. The toppings.

Each one requires their own process, so let me deep dive on each.

The Broth

For me, this is how I truly judge a ramen bowl. It must be perfect. I tried many recipes online, and in the end, I mine is an adaptation from at least 3, and it relies on the availability of certain ingredients locally. I’m lucky that I live in an area where I have some Japanese and general Asian stores within driving distance, so I can get these ingredients easily.

I prefer to make a large batch of broth and freeze as needed, instead of having to repeat the process every time. Not because it’s hard, but because one of my goals is to minimize further effort.

The base recipe for me is Kenji’s tonkotsu broth, except that I use the pressure cooker for it. I apply the technique described in this post to compensate for the emulsion using an immersion blender (brilliant in my opinion). Also, I don’t quite care about blanching the bones, since I see no difference in the final result, specially after filtering and emulsifying.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 3 hours unattended, 20 minutes attended.

Ingredients

  • 2 packs of pig trotters
  • 1 lb. of chicken wings
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 Tbsp of whole white peppercorns (I use this brand)
  • 2 whole garlic heads
  • About ½ a cup of finely sliced ginger, unpeeled
  • ¼ cup of Vietnamese fish sauce (I only use this brand since it’s the least “fishy” when added)
  • 4 Tbsp of Japanese soy sauce (for general cooking, I use this one, but for direct tasting, like sashimi for example, I prefer this one)
  • 10 dry shitake mushrooms
  • ½ cup of dry Sake
  • 1 Tbsp of Avocado oil

Procedure

  • Roughly slice the onion, ginger and garlic.
  • Add the avocado oil to the pressure cooker, and heat to smoking point. One of the reasons avocado oil is recommended here is because it’s neutral and has a very high smoking point.
  • Add the onion, ginger and garlic, and cook until charred, about 15 minutes. At the end of that time, add about 1 cup of water and deglaze the best you can, scraping all sides and loosen as much of the dark bits as possible.
  • Add the pig trotters, chicken wings and peppercorns, arranging evenly. Cover with water until about 4 inches over the bones.
  • Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and sake. The sake will help decrease the pH in order to extract even more collagen out of the bones. Close the lid and bring up to 15 PSI and keep it at that pressure level for 2 ½ hours. According to The Modernist Cuisine, that’s the recommended time for maximum extraction for beef and pork.
  • At the end of the process, move to a cold burner, and let it stand until it reaches normal pressure and you are ready to open the lid.
  • Using a second regular pot and the mesh strainer, strain all the liquid into the new pot, discarding all the solids. It’s a good idea to have someone else to help you in this stage.
  • Using the immersion blender, emulsify the liquid until it reaches that familiar white-ish color. It can take up to 2 minutes depending on the blender and speed you use.
  • At this point, you can adjust for flavor, adding more soy or fish sauce for saltiness/umami, keeping in consideration you will likely use some tare as well.
  • You can divide it into batches and freeze accordingly.

The Noodles

Some, geekier than me, will attempt to do their own noodles. I won’t. I hunt for the Hawaiian-made Sun noodles brand, and if I can’t find them, I use these Japanese dried noodles instead. I’ve been very satisfied with the result. I always cook them al dente, so they’re slightly chewy.

Since I low carb often (not always), when I’m doing that, I replace the noodles for the Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles, which I find work very well as a replacement when soaked for 30 minutes on alkaline water (2 tsp of baking soda) and then rinsed thoroughly. I cook them for about 30 seconds before adding them to the bowl.

The toppings

Ramen toppings vary a lot. The ones I like, and I use every time are:

  • Sous vide Chashu (sliced pork belly). I use this recipe, although I finish my slices in the cast iron pan. This is where you will require the sous vide machine and vacuum sealer.
  • Tamago (egg). I use this recipe.
  • Corn – I use just regular frozen corn for this.
  • Mayu (charred garlic on sesame oil blend) – this is one of the most amazing additions to ramen in my opinion. I use the recipe described here for Mayu.
  • Enoqui mushrooms.
  • Sliced scallions, green parts only.
  • Grated garlic – I haven’t noticed any major difference if I just press it.
  • Nori.

Building the dish

The broth will turn into a thick gelatin while in the fridge. I like to take the amount I’m going to use, heat it in a pot, and season it with soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, sesame seeds, or some chili oil. Most Japanese restaurants have their own proprietary versions of Tare, the additional flavoring for the broth. I personally like to keep it simple, so I can taste the broth as it was made, but feel free to experiment. I found this site that has several tare recipes.

  • Take the bowl and put a couple of slices of nori on the side.
  • Cook the noodles according to the instructions, and rinse in cold water. Put them in the center of the bowl.
  • Add the garlic, and cover with the broth.
  • Slice the tamago in half and place in opposite sides of the dish.
  • Add the rest of the toppings.

After this, you can just go enjoy this.

 
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