Guide to Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu ramen takes 2 to 3 days to produce and is an involved multi-part process. It's not exactly hard if you are careful and thorough. However, there is a lot to manage and a lot of time involved monitoring/checking things. Make sure to read this through completely to understand the process of everything before starting. When going through the directions make sure to measure out the amounts exactly as specified. Once you learn the whole process then you can start to adjust things more to your preferences. Expect 3 days until you're comfortable with the process and can multitask efficiently. You can minimize your work and time investment by buying pre-made noodles of course, but these instructions are comprehensive to make everything yourself.

The main bulk of this recipe/process is from Adam Liaw for a shio gyokai style tonkotsu, meaning that it is salt-based and contains seafood. The most complicated and important part of this recipe is the noodle making portion from Sho Spaeth of Serious Eats and the Alkaline Salt solution creation process by Alex (FrenchGuyCooking) on YouTube.

There are 3 videos to watch for Adam Liaw's portion which are great for visual reference. They cover how to make the chashu, how to make the ajitama, and lastly a video that covers the tonkotsu broth base, tare, aromatic oil, and the process to bring everything together. The links for these are as follows:

Chashu - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83zf7vHiXUo

Ajitama - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9IepMO2DIc

Tonkotsu Ramen - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TQjevcOf4&t=0m1s

For the noodle making portion (way more involved than you think) you can read Sho's in depth guide here if you want deeper insights:

https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/11/the-ultimate-guide-to-making-ramen-noodles-at-home.html

You can also learn about the baking soda transformation for an alkaline salt solution by Alex (FrenchGuyCooking) watching from 1:17 to 4:51 here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnrW4oan_Mo&t=1m17s

This recipe makes about 10-12 portions of broth, 10-12 portions of chashu (using 2-3 slices per bowl), lots of aromatic oil, lots of motodare, 2 servings of noodles (you can adjust for more), a variable amount of ajitama. You can freeze your raw noodles and any portion of this recipe except the ajitama. Therefore, any part of this can be made individually and held until all parts are ready. This recipe assumes you want everything ready as fast as possible for maximum flavor.

So, what do you need? The short answer is A LOT. The longer answer is this rather exhaustive list which covers specifically what I personally used/needed since I don't cook often. Many people who cook may already have quite a few of these items. Some items are repeated from one section to another. I list all items used per section in case you want to work on learning just one section at a time. I strongly recommend this when you are initially learning this process. I have listed each section so you have an efficient overall flow for the entire process, but getting things like noodle creation down before moving on to chashu creation is a good idea. The noodles are the hardest part in my opinion.

 

Noodle Items

  • Marcato Design Atlas 150 Pasta Machine

  • Rolling Pin

  • Measuring Cup

  • Teaspoons/Tablespoons

  • Gram Scale

  • Baking Soda (or kansui if you can find it)

  • Baking Pan

  • Kosher Salt

  • Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten Flour (70-80% Protein)

  • Zip lock bag

  • Water

  • King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour (12.7% protein)

  • Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch for dusting

  • Food processor for mixing (or bowl if you do it by hand)

  • Ramen Cooking Basket (optional)

  • Pot to boil hot water in for the noodles

Broth Items

  • 4 kg pork bones (backbone and/or trotters cut into 2 inch slices are recommended. The ratio between these or the bones themselves are up to you. Trotters, aka pigs feet, are richer)

  • 8 kg water (8L). Ratio of water to bones is 2:1 so both of these items can be adjusted as long as they stay in the proper ratio for your broth

  • 2 stock pots (10 to12L is a good size) with lids

  • Long wooden spoon to reach all the way to bottom of big pots (to keep the bones from burning, particularly at the beginning)

  • Fine mesh skimmer (for removing scum layer at the beginning)

  • Measuring ruler

  • 1 Bag of Ice

  • A Large fine mesh sieve for straining and separating bones from broth when transfering to your second broth pot before the ice bath

Motodare (Tare) Items

  • 10 G Dried Scallop

  • 10 G Dried Fish Maw

  • 10 G Dried Sardines (cleaned)

  • 2 Pieces kombu (dried kelp)

  • 750 ml water

  • ~100 G Salt (1:5 ratio – 100G salt to 500ml dashi)

  • 1 tsp Rice Vinegar

  • Saucepan

  • Cutting shears for the kombu

  • Container for overnight cold storage

Aromatic Oil Items

  • 300 grams/ml pork fat/lard (which you will render)

  • 200 ml Vegetable Oil (I used soybean oil)

  • 70 G Spring Onion

  • 30 G Garlic

  • 1 tbsp bonito powder or flakes (bonito is skipjack tuna, Japanese name is katsuobushi)

  • Saucepan

  • Knife/cleaver and cutting board to chop up your pork fat

  • Fine strainer

  • Container for storage

Toppings Items

    • Chashu pork to use

  • 1kg pork belly to roll

  • 1 piece kombu

  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms

  • 1tsp salt

  • 100 g sugar

  • 250 ml soy sauce

  • 125 ml mirin

  • 125 ml sake

  • Cooking twine to wrap the rolled pork

  • Large pot to cook pork belly in and store the final simmered braising liquid afterwards

    • 6-8 Large Brown Eggs (for your Agitama, aka: Ramen Eggs)

  • 1 cup of your chashu braising liquid

  • Pot to soft boil eggs

  • Needle to poke hole in base of egg shell

  • Tongs for gently moving eggs

  • Ice

  • Water

  • Pot for ice bath

  • Marinating container

  • Menma (bamboo chutes that are seasoned, pickled or fermented)

  • Kikurage (wood ear mushrooms)

  • Spring onion, finely sliced

  • Nori (seaweed), cut into squares

  • Bonito powder or bonito flakes (bonito is skipjack tuna, Japanese name is katsuobushi)

Serving Items

  • Sized ladles (10ml for aromatic oil, 20ml for tare, 120ml for soup) to use for consistency

  • Ramen Bowls, chopsticks, and spoon

 

I'm going to give an easy flow for how I would prepare the entire meal through the successive days so you've got everything streamlined. You can totally modify parts of this to make it quicker once you've comfortable with everything.

  1. Day 1 - Making Noodles

  2. Day 1 - Soaking Pork Bones

  3. Day 1 - Making Chashu

  4. Day 1 - Making Ajitama

  5. Day 2 - Cooking The Broth

  6. Day 2 - Starting The Motodare

  7. Day 3 - Making Aromatic Oil And Finishing The Motodare

  8. Day 3 - Final Plating

 

DAY 1

Making Noodles

First, make sure you are working in a warmish room tempurature for making your dough or this process will be difficult at best.

Next, if you can manage to find Kan Sui (either at a local Asian market or online via Amazon) then it is quicker and more consistent to use than cooking baking soda. Kansui is a potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (lye water) solution used for making noodles in Asia.

 

If you can't find kansui, then you will have to make sodium bicarbonate (a kansui alternative) using the following directions. Take a baking pan and spread a -thin- layer of baking soda to cover the whole pan. You need a pan large enough where you will get at least 2 grams of baked baking soda at the end. Cook the baking soda in the oven at 300 degrees for 1 hour.

Cooking the baking soda converts it to sodium carbonate (an alkaline salt) if done correctly. By cooking baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), you convert it to sodium carbonate + water + CO2 and this changes the pH from around 8 to about 10-11 which is a much more alkaline solution. If you really want to check you have done it properly there's two ways. The first is to weigh the difference before and after the baking process. The second is to use pH paper. We don't have to get that technical though, just make a thin layer or the chemical reaction will only occur in part of your baking soda. Also, since this is a strong alkaline salt now, it is a skin irritant. Avoid touching it if you can. Definitely avoid getting it in your eyes.

Now let's get into making the dough. If you have kansui, measure out ½ teaspoon. Otherwise, if using baked baking soda, measure out 2 grams. Add either one to 40ml (the same as 40 grams) of hot water in a measuring cup and stir until completely dissolved. 2 grams is roughly the weight of a penny. The nickel shown in the following pictures is just for size reference.

If using baked baking soda, store the remainder in an airtight container so it doesn't absorb any more water. Next, add 1 gram of kosher salt to this solution and mix until it is completely dissolved.

In a separate bowl (or food processor – which I personally recommend because it's way faster) mix together 99 grams of your King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour (12.7% protein content) with 1 gram of Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten Flour (70-80% Protein).

Slowly add the prior warm liquid solution into your bread flour/vital wheat gluten mixture while blending/stirring (with a spoon in a bowl or use a food processor to blend thoroughly). Once mixed appropriately you should have your noodle dough base. It will be somewhat dry for a dough, but this is what we want. Just make sure you have mixed it all together well and then form into a large ball. Work the ball around a bit to ensure everything is mixed well.

Make a roughly rectangular shape with the dough and then use your rolling pin to flatten it out to about a quarter of an inch thick sheet so it can feed easily through your pasta machine's rollers. You also don't want this sheet too wide as eventually you will be putting it through smaller and smaller rolling settings on your pasta machine which will need room for the pasta dough to spread out. I would recommend a width of ⅓ the roller section of your pasta machine.

Now, fold this dough sheet in half and roll out to a quarter inch again. By keeping the same direction, this process flattens and works the gluten chains into a linear array which is important for the texture, strength, and elasticity of your noodles. You will likely need to fold the sides inwards to prevent ragged edges and your sheet from becoming too wide. This is fine. Fold it like an envelope where the sides come in and overlap each other as much as possible in the attempt to keep your sheet ⅓ the roller width of your pasta machine. Refer to the photos below carefully for this process.

After any folding, making small presses with your rolling pin at the “bent” fold of the sheet, the open ends of the sheet, and a few presses every several inches will help keep the rolling process from making your sheet misaligned. You can see where presses have been made by the rolling pin in the last photo of this set taken from a side view. The concave areas are where you would roll to the next concave area working carefully to keep the sheet together in one pressed form. Again, this is important for your linear gluten chain formation.

After you have rolled out your sheet to a quarter inch in width, feed it through the roller portion of your pasta machine at its widest setting (for my machine that is zero) with the “bent” fold of the pressed sheet going in first. Make sure your sheet is centered between the rollers and apply gentle tension upward on the sheet as you roll it downwards through the rollers. This mild tension helps keep the sheet aiming straight to keep it an even width, prevents it bunching up (if done correctly), and makes it easier on the rollers.

Now change the roller setting to the next thinner setting (1 in my case) and roll the dough through again. Do the same for roller setting number 2, 3, and eventually 4. Afterwards, fold your dough in half (and envelope style with another pre-flattening to a quarter inch if needed) and run it through the pasta machine at the widest setting again. You will again work your way back up to roller setting 4. Remember to keep steady mild tension and ensure the dough sheet is centered.

At this point your dough sheet should be rather long and as even from side to side as possible. It should also be rather soft and pliable. Cut the sheet in half and set one half to the side in a zip lock bag pressing the air out before sealing so it won't dry out. With the other dough sheet, do one last fold in half and follow the same process again from the widest setting of 0 working your way up to 4 like previously.

After you have done all these rollings of the dough, place it in a zip lock bag (press the excess air out) and let the dough rest for 30-60 minutes in a warm (not hot) environment to let the gluten network relax and allow the water to spread more evenly through your dough. Do the same process above with the other half of your dough that you had set aside previously.

After the resting period, roll your dough through at the 4 setting one more time, then lightly dust the dough on both sides with a little Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch.

You can now cut your noodles using the pasta cutter attachment of your pasta machine. If done correctly with a dough sheet at even width, you should have very little loss. After cutting, lightly dust the noodles with Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch again in a pan to thoroughly coat all surfaces.

At this point you can place the noodles in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator or freezer. The texture of the noodles will improve markedly if you allow them to rest for 24 hours.

 

Soaking Pork Bones

 

This part is easy and is the start of your broth base. Take all of your pork bones and place them in a large 10-12L stock pot.

Cover the bones completely with water. Add as much water as you can to the pot while still being able to move and carry it when covered afterwards.

Place this pot in the fridge and let rest for 24 hours. What you are doing here is drawing the blood from the bones to help provide a nice white clean looking tonkatsu broth. It also helps loosen up the bones for the next step of the broth process the following day.

 

Making Chashu

 

Take your 1kg cut of pork belly, with the fat side facing downward and roll it into the size cylinder you wish to use for making cuts once finished. If the roll is too large, mark off the portion you need to trim away. Also, make sure your roll length isn't so long that it barely fits in your pot.

Use your cooking twine to tie up one end of your pork belly and then make wide spirals until you are at the other end and tie off. Alternatively you can do individual ties, but it takes longer to cut off at the end. If you want the easiest method you can watch the Adam Liaw video on chashu in the link at the beginning of this document.

Once your pork belly is tied off, place it in your pot, cover it with cold water, and then bring it to a soft boil. Make sure to move the pork belly around so it does not stick to the bottom of the pot during this period. After boiling for 20 minutes, remove from heat and run cold water over both the meat and the hot water until the meat is cool and rinsed clean of any scum/debris from the cooking process.

Set the meat to the side and clean your pot out completely or exchange for a new pot. Place your pork back in this clean pot and add cold water until the meat is covered. Add 1 whole piece of kombu (you may have to cut it in half to fit the whole piece into your pot easily) and 6 dried shiitake mushrooms to the water.

Warm this mixture slowly using medium heat and make sure to remove the kombu once it is soft and the water starts to steam. You should be able to tell when to remove it since the kombu gets slimy and you should be able to make a pinched thumbprint into the kombu and it remains.

Once the kombu is removed, bring the mixture up to a low simmer. Once at a low simmer you can add in 100 grams of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt then cover with a drop lid or an object to keep the pork submerged to braise evenly. I personally just used one of my pots. Allow the mixture to simmer for 1 hour.

After simmering for an hour you can then add in 125 ml of sake, 125 ml of mirin, and 250 ml of soy sauce then let that braise for another hour and the pork should be tender.

After the final hour of simmering, let the whole mixture cool down then remove the pork to a container to place in refrigeration.

Lastly, strain the braising liquid through a sieve into a new container to refrigerate as well. This chashu braising liquid is excellent for creating your ajitama.

 

Making Ajitama

 

Creating ajitama, the marinated/cured ramen eggs is a pretty painless process. Take 6-8 large brown eggs (room temperature, not directly from the refrigerator) and poke a very small hole in the wide base of the eggs using a needle. This allows water to be drawn into the hole during the cooling process to separate the membrane of the shell from the egg inside. This will make it much easier for the peeling process which is the most difficult part.

Next, fill a pot with enough water where it should cover your eggs completely. Bring this pot of water to a boil.

Off to the side, have another bowl of ice water prepared and ready for when you finish boiling your eggs.

Gently place your eggs into the boiling water using tongs, but try to get them all in the pot as close to the same time as possible.

Boil the eggs for exactly 6 minutes total, very gently rotating all of them at once along the bottom of the pot in a clockwise direction while they boil. This rotation helps to keep the yolks centered and the membrane separated from your shell.

After boiling for 6 minutes, immediately transfer your eggs gently into your ice water bath. Again, very gently rotate all your eggs at once in the pot while they cool to keep the yolks centered. Do this for 6 minutes (or longer if needed) for your eggs to cool completely.

Once cooled, crack your eggs very gently on the base where you made the hole in the egg. Do not crack from the side or you may split/rupture the egg within.

Very carefully peel away the egg shell from the egg itself. This is the hardest part of the process but with the needle hole and the gentle stirring/rotation during the boiling and cooling process the peeling should be much easier now.

Gently rinse the egg off with water and then place in your marinade, cover, and store in refrigeration until you are ready to make your completed bowl of ramen on day 3.

For ease of this recipe I used the chashu braising liquid left over from earlier as my marinade liquid. Adam Liaw recommends 1 cup of chashu braising liquid to 2 cups of water. I personally prefer a stronger flavor without any addition of water because more of the flavor penetrates the egg. His mix was good, but just a bit weak for my personal taste. If you prefer to make a marinade using different items watch his ajitama video which I linked above as he discusses it plus also shows this whole process visually.

At this point you have now completed day 1 of the process. Congrats!

 

DAY 2

 

Cooking the Broth

 

First, remove your bones soaking in water from the refrigerator and discard the slightly blood tinged water portion. Your bones should be very clean at this point, but rinse them thoroughly under running water with manipulation to help remove any clinging artifacts. Also clean your pot thoroughly as you will use it shortly.

Weigh your bones on a scale. Mine were 1.897 kg. This number is important. Multiply your weight by 2. This gives you the L of water needed for the proper ratio. I needed 3.794L of water. Convert this into gallons. Google can make the calculation easy for you. In my case, 3.794L = 1 gallon of water (I totally got lucky).

Place your bones in the clean pot and add the amount of water you calculated.

Measure the distance from the top of your pot to the level of water. Write this down, it will be an important tracking tool. My particular initial measurement was 12.5 cm.

Bring your water to a simmer while stirring the bones occasionally with a large wooden spoon that reaches the bottom of the pot. This is to keep the bones from burning/sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Once at a simmer, you have now entered the scum skimming phase. Use a fine mesh skimmer to remove the grey scum floating to the top of the water. This is an important part of Adam Liaw's video linked above and I highly recommend watching it for visual reference. You will continue with grey scum removal for a period of roughly 30-60 minutes. Stirring every couple minutes will also help remove any scum that is trapped underneath/around bones. Once you get to white bubbles and not grey scum then you should be ok. Continue to monitor until at least the 30 minute mark though. Also, make sure during this period to check your water level about every 10-15 minutes. If the number is larger (water level lower) than your initial measurement then you need to add more water to get it back to your initial measurement.

Once you are past the scum skimming phase you will move on to the extraction phase. In the extraction phase you will cover your pot and have the water active and bubbling, but your heat doesn't have to be high. My stove was set on the lowest setting. You are drawing out the protein and fats from the bones during this phase while stirring the pot about every half hour or so. This phase lasts 3 hours long and doesn't require constant maintenance once you have the boil at the rate you want.

After the extraction phase is complete you will move on to the final phase of reduction/concentration. In this phase you do not add any water and will leave the lid off of your pot. This will help concentrate your broth as the volume is reduced. The time for this phase is variable and dependent on the results you want. I wanted at least what Adam had or maybe more concentrated since I like a powerful flavor. His period was 2.5 hours so that is what I did. The more you reduce the volume, the thicker and stronger your soup base flavor will be.

Once your extraction phase is almost complete you should prepare an ice bath to shock your stock down to cold temperature as fast as possible to prevent bacteria. I used a sink filled with ice water and once the heat was turned off I immediately moved the pot to the ice bath. Once in the ice bath I stirred the pot gently to ensure it would cool as quickly as possible. The following photo shows what your broth should roughly look like at this point.

Note: if you taste this solution it will most likely be rather bland pork flavored water. That is normal! Your motodare and aromatic oil will enhance this stock to an incredible degree and draw out it's flavor.

When your broth is cool to the touch, you can pour it through a large strainer into a new (preferably cold) holding pot for your broth. Cover and place this pot in the refrigerator to wait until it is needed on Day 3. After refrigeration your stock will look extremely gelatinous. This is exactly what you want. The following photo shows the broth after it has been refrigerated and is in the gelatinous state.

This stock recipe is a basic recipe. You can of course add vegetables, chicken and other ingredients to the soup base if you prefer.

For ease of use/visualization here is a handy little chart I made to give a brief visual overview of steps in this phase. The first one is filled out with my values as an example. The second is blank so you can fill in your own.

Weight of Pork Bones =

1.897 kg

Bone Weight x 2 =

3.794 L of water needed

3.794 L of water =

1 gallon of water needed

Initial depth measurement =

12.5 cm

Process Started at:

04:30:00 PM

Stage 1 (30-60 minutes) ends at:

05:00:00 PM

Stage 2 (3 hours) ends at:

08:00:00 PM

Stage 3 (variable) ends at:

10:30:00 PM

Total Cook Time:

6 hours

 

Weight of Pork Bones =

kg

Bone Weight x 2 =

L of water needed

3.794 L of water =

gallon of water needed

Initial depth measurement =

cm

Process Started at:

Stage 1 (30-60 minutes) ends at:

Stage 2 (3 hours) ends at:

Stage 3 (variable) ends at:

Total Cook Time:

          hours

 

Starting The Motodare

 

Fill a container with 750 ml of cold water and add the following:

  • 10 grams of dried scallops.

  • 10 grams of dried fish maw.

  • 10 grams of dried sardines, but remove the heads (and discard) before weighing. You remove the heads because otherwise they will add a bitter taste to your motodare.

  • 2 sheets of rausu kombu (about 10-15 grams) after using cutting shears to make them into small pieces.

Place this container in the refrigerator for cold extraction to use on Day 3.

 

DAY 3

 

Making Aromatic Oil And Finishing The Motodare

 

Chop your pork fat finely into small cubes. Take 300 grams of this and place into a saucepan on the stove to render the oil from the fat.

While the fat is rendering, chop finely 70 grams of spring onions and 30 grams of garlic. Also measure out 1 tablespoon of bonito powder.

At this point you can start finishing your motodare. Transfer your cold extraction solution of motodare to a saucepan and add about 100ml of water. Heat this mixture on very low heat for about 30-60 minutes until it is just warm to the touch. The following photo shows what the motodare looks like before going into the saucepan. All the elements are hydrated now.

While your motodare is warming up, monitor your fat being rendered as it should finish first. Once you have rendered the fat, use a fine strainer and pour off 300 ml of oil into a measuring cup. Add 200 ml of vegetable oil to the measuring cup and then pour this 500ml total mixture into a saucepan. Add the finely chopped spring onions and garlic to the saucepan along with your 1 tablespoon of bonito powder. In the following photo you can see my rendered fat. From the 313 grams of pork fat, I rendered about 270ml of oil.

Bring your aromatic oil mixture to a soft boil while gently stirring. Once boiling for 5 minutes, turn off the heat and then strain the mixture into a bowl.

At this point it is time to finish the motodare. It should be ready at this point with the liquid in the heated saucepan steaming very slightly and it should be very gloopy/stringy when you examine it.

Strain the fluid (dashi) into a measuring cup to remove the solids (the scallops, kombu, fish maw and sardines). Measure the volume of the dashi and weigh the amount of salt to add in the ratio of 1:5 (example: 100 g salt for 500ml dashi). Place your dashi in a saucepan and bring it to a boil adding in salt a little at a time while stirring until the salt is fully dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar to this mixture, stir and then set aside.

 

Final Plating

 

It is finally the time where all your parts come together as one. The following assumes you have been following all steps in sequence:

  • Have a boiling pot of water ready for preparing your noodles in the last step.

  • Have your toppings (ajitama, kikurage/wood ear mushrooms, menma, bonito powder, nori, chopped up spring onions) ready and laid out for plating.

  • Have your aromatic oil and 10ml (2 tsp) ladle laid out for plating.

  • Have your motodare and 20ml (4 tsp) ladle laid out for plating.

  • Using a 120 ml (4 oz) ladle, transfer as much of your refrigerated broth (it will be white and very gelatinous) as you think you will need into a saucepan and start heating it on the stove.

  • Remove your chashu from the refrigerator and cut off as many slices as you think you will need. Heat using a microwave or toaster oven.

  • Begin cooking your noodles. They should take around 2 to 3 minutes or so.

  • While your noodles are cooking, heat your ramen bowl (with hot water or microwave) so it doesn't cool down your broth and components during final plating.

  • Add aromatic oil and motodare to your warmed bowl in the amounts you desire, then add the broth.

  • Shake your noodles free of excess moisture and add them to the bowl.

  • Add your chashu pork to the center of the bowl.

  • Add your kikurage (wood ear mushrooms) off to one side (ex: west).

  • Add your menma (seasoned bamboo chutes) off to another side (ex: south).

  • Add your ajitama (seasoned ramen egg) off to another side (ex: east).

  • Add your nori to the remaining side (ex: north).

  • Add your chopped spring onions on top of the chashu and a spoonful of bonito next to it. You can see I used bonito flakes in the photo below.

  • Last but not least, ENJOY!

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