Twelve-Hour Tonkotsu

Since I moved to Chicago and made my first tentative explorations of the city’s Asian food scene, I knew that ramen was going to be an issue.

Don’t get me wrong. There is respectable ramen in Logan Square. There is hipster ramen in Wicker Park. There is ramen served along side chirashi at nice sushi restaurants and ramen brought to a rolling boil at hole-in-the-wall suburban joints. There is shoyu, miso, shio, tonkotsu (sort of).

But there is no Shin-sen-gumi hakata umami-sucker-punch-to-the-metaphorical-nuts ramen. That is to say, for me and Jay, there’s really no ramen at all.

So what’s a girl to do? Make it at home, of course.

It took me a few months to build up the courage to attempt tonkotsu, the kind of recipe that demands loving attention and, above all else, patience. If you too feel the need to enjoy hours of solitude with a stockpot of hooves, try assembling a bowl of ramen from scratch, starting with these ingredients –

For the tonkotsu (pork bone) broth

  • 2lbs of pig trotters (sliced into 1 inch disks by your butcher)
  • 1lb chicken backs and carcasses
  • 1lb slab pork fatback
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 12 cloves of garlic
  • 1 finger-length knob of ginger, roughly chopped
  • 12 scallions, whites only, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms and mushroom scraps
  • 2 leeks, chopped

For the chashu (marinated pork belly)

  • 2lb slab of skin-on pork belly
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 1 cup sake (substitute: shaoxing wine)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • light green parts of scallions (from above), chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 small knob of ginger, chopped

For the ajitsuke tamago (soy eggs)

  • reserved marinade from chashu (above)
  • 6 eggs

For the noodles

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda, dehydrated

Step one: Start the broth

Place the pig trotters and chicken bones in a large stockpot, cover with water and heat on high. As soon as the water boils, remove from heat.

While the water is heating, add olive oil to a cast-iron skillet and saute the onions, garlic, and ginger until nicely charred on all sides.

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After boiling the bones, rinse them under cold water and remove excess skin, coagulated blood, and marrow. The clean bones should be grey and white.

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Return to the pot and add the charred vegetables, leeks, scallions, mushrooms, and fatback. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil uncovered. Skim the scum from the top and sides of the pot as it forms. After scum stops forming, cover the pot with a heavy lid, bring to a gentle boil, and let cook until the fatback is meltingly soft, about 3 and a half hours.

Step two: Start the chashu

While the fatback cooks down, start the chashu. Preheat the oven to 275 F. Roll the pork belly into a log, skin side out, and secure with butcher’s twine.

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Heat the remaining ingredients in a sauce pan. When the marinade boils, remove from heat and add the pork belly roll. Cover and bake for 3-4 hours until the pork belly is tender throughout, turning every 30 minutes.

Step three: Start the noodles

While cooking the chashu, spread 1/4 cup baking soda on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour. Then, dissolve 2 teaspoons of the baking soda in warm water. Add to 3 cups of bread flour. Mix thoroughly for 10 minutes, until the mixture forms a loose, dry dough.

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Use your hands to press this dough into balls.

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Flatten and run through a pasta roller on the widest setting, folding after each pass. Wrap the flattened dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour up to overnight.

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Step four: Work the broth, finish the chashu, start the eggs

After 4 hours, remove the fatback from the pot and refrigerate until ready to serve the broth. It will be very soft and easily disintegrate. Return the liquid and bones to a gentle boil and continue to cook for 6-8 hours until the broth is creamy, opaque, and viscous.

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When the chashu is ready, remove the pork belly to a separate container and let cool completely. When ready to serve the ramen, reheat slices of chashu in hot broth.

Set aside the marinade in a shallow dish to cool. Meanwhile, bring 2qts of water to a rolling boil, gently add 6 eggs to the water, and boil for exactly 6 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a bowl of ice water immediately to stop the cooking. Peel the eggs and add to the chashu marinade. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

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Step five: Roll and cut the noodles

Remove the noodles from the fridge. Run each flattened disk of dough through the pasta roller starting at the widest setting and getting thinner (to about setting 3 or 4). Then run through the spaghetti cutting attachment. Store the noodles in an airtight container until ready to serve the ramen. Boil for 1 minute in water before adding to hot broth.

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At this point, you should have chashu, eggs, and noodles in the fridge, waiting for the broth to be ready. These can all hang out overnight if needed.

Step 6: Strain the broth

When all the veggies have cooked down and the broth has a creamy consistency, scoop out the solids with a slotted spoon. Strain the broth through cheese cloth or fine mesh, into a clean pot.

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When ready to serve, bring to a boil. Add in diced fatback until the fat melts into the broth. Add a spoonful of shiro miso if broth needs more umami. Serve with chashu, soy eggs, and noodles. Add your favorite toppings: seaweed, chili oil, diced scallions, mushrooms, and more, to taste.

Step 7: Enjoy!

Because it’s been a long day of cooking.

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Recipes adapted from:

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