What is tonkotsu?
‘Tonkotsu’ literally translates as pork bones. Which is an accurate description of this Japanese dish, which transforms an apparently useless pile of bones into heart-warming, lip-smackingly delicious ramen broth.
A seemingly simple bowl of tonkotsu ramen made by a ramen expert might include six to eight sub-recipes. Ramen masters can spend significant time calculating exact salinity of the tonkotsu broth before adding more clever salt solutions, perhaps made from dried fish, and even sweetening the broth.
However we've simplified all that to create a quick and easy tonkotsu ramen recipe that's a fantastic alternative to eating in one of Tokyo's best ramen joints. The very long cooking time and the rolling boil result in a beautifully creamy tonkotsu broth.
How to make tonkotsu broth
- Choose your stock bones
- Bring to the boil and skim until all scum or foam is removed
- Cook over a rolling boil for 8-10 hours
Any stock bones can be used to make a ramen broth – be it the remains of a Sunday roast or a ham bone stashed away in the freezer. Adding skin and hooves makes it more gelatinous, and bones with meat on them intensify the flavours.
But if you're keen to make a tonkotsu-style ramen but haven't been saving up bones for just that reason, they can be quite tricky to get hold of. And the quantity needed will depend on just how gelatinous and meaty the bones are.
Therefore to make the recipe more repeatable we've specified chicken wings – they have enough fat and gelatin to give the tonkotsu-style ramen its lip-smacking stickiness.
- Use bones in the broth
- Boil the stock until it’s cloudy
- Add sesame paste, garlic or chilli
- Have fun with the toppings
- Serve a nitamago egg
As Ross explains, this isn’t the kind of dish which sticks to any rules or follows strict recipes. So even though it is a Japanese broth, we got into the spirit of rule-breaking by using Chinese chilli bean sauce to bring delicate warmth to this tonkotsu recipe. We've also added mirin for a touch of sweetness – increase or decrease this to taste if you use different types of bones, depending on their flavour.
Cooking tonkotsu ramen step-by-step
The ramen can easily be made over a day. Most of your time will be spent keeping your eye on a stock pot and topping up the water, making it easy to get on with other things at the same time. An example timeline is as follows:
- 9.00 am – Put the bones and pork belly in a pot with water and bring to the boil, skimming regularly.
- 9.30 am – Add blackened garlic and onion to the stock pot. Make the nitamago eggs and refrigerate.
- 11.30 am – Remove pork belly from stock, leave to cool and refrigerate.
- 6.15 pm – Get ready to serve! Strain stock, adjust volume and season. Slice pork belly and add to stock to warm through. Boil noodles and strain. Prepare toppings and slice eggs.
- 6.30 pm – Serve the ramen.
Tested by Nicola on 23rd Jan 2020.
Ingredients for the tonkotsu broth Serves: 4
- 2kg chicken wings
- 450g rolled pork belly
- 1 onion, with skin on, sliced in half
- 1 head of garlic, sliced in half across its equator
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
Ingredients for the ramen seasoning
To garnish the tonkotsu ramen
Method for making the tonkotsu ramen stock (8-10 hours)
- Place the chicken wings and rolled pork belly in a stock pot and cover with 4 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil. Keep a close eye on the pot for the first 20-30 minutes of cooking, move the bones around regularly, and skim off the foam rises to the surface. Set a timer to remove the pork belly after 2 1/2 hours of cooking.
- Meanwhile place the halved onion and garlic cut side down in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook until blackened – the bitter, caramel flavours will enhance the stock. Once there is not foam on the surface of the stockpot, add the onion and garlic with 2 tsp salt.
- Make your nitamago ramen eggs.
- Keep the stock pot on a rolling boil. Top up with boiling water as needed, as often as every half hour. The ideal cooking time is 8-10 hours. In the final couple of hours of cooking, allow the stock to reduce to half or a third (the final yield should be 1.2 litres stock), when the bones might peek out from below the surface.
- Remove the pork belly after 2.5 hours of cooking. Place cut-end down on a small plate, and place another plate on top with a can of beans to weigh it down. This will set it in a neat spiral for garnishing the ramen later. Leave to cool and then move to the fridge.
- When you are ready, strain the stock. Make up to 1.2 litres with boiling water. Or if you have too much stock, reduce it further over a rolling boil until you have 1.2 litres.
To serve the tonkotsu ramen
- Remove pork belly from fridge, and slice into fine rounds.
- Cook noodles in boiling water until only just done, and drain.
- Pour the stock into a medium saucepan and add the kikkoman soy sauce, chilli bean sauce and mirin. Heat through, and then season with salt to taste. Add the pork belly slices to warm.
- Divide the noodles between four ramen bowls, garnish with the warmed slices of pork belly, ladle over the broth, add the halved Nitamago eggs, spring onions, nori seaweed and beansprouts (if using).
After a stage as a chef at a London Michelin-starred restaurant Nicola became obsessed with seeking the best flavours from around the world. She started Sous Chef in 2012, and is always sharing her knowledge of ingredients and writing recipes to showcase those products. Learning from the products, Sous Chef's suppliers and her travels, Nicola has written the majority of the recipes on the Sous Chef website, all of which are big on flavour.