Ramen noodles are an obsession in Japan. Noodle shops line streets with the best of them attracting waiting customers and earning widespread, word-of-mouth reputations. Even the best shops may order fresh noodles from noodle-making experts but their special broths are what makes them stand apart from the rest of the competition. The four basic broth types are shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), tonkotsu (pork bones), butter corn (chicken broth-based) and miso (soybean paste). The added seasonings vary among the shop owners.
A common error among non-Japanese is to confuse tonkatsu with tonkotsu. Tonkatsu is a breaded, fried pork cutlet. Tonkotsu means pork bone. Tonkotsu Ramen features a sumptuous pork broth made from pig bones. I like to roast my pork bones because that small step caramelizes the natural sugars and browns the fat. It adds deep dimension to the flavor of this broth.
Some cooks blanch the bones in boiling salted water to get rid of odor and blood before boiling in fresh water to make the broth. This also results in a clearer broth. But I find that if you skim any accumulating foam from the simmering broth, the flavor of roasted pork bones is worth the opaque color.
3 lbs. meaty pork bones (neck, shanks)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 quarts water
1 small onion, chopped into wedges
1 head of fresh garlic
1 1ĀEslice of fresh ginger
Ĺ Tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin
2 tsp. ajinomoto, optional
green scallions, sliced
sliced cooked pork
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of a baking pan with vegetable oil. Add bones to the pan. Cut the top end off the head of garlic. Add this and the onion wedges to the pan and roast, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Turn halfway during cooking. Transfer the roasted onions and roasted bones, along with any drippings and browned bits, into a large stock pot. Deglaze the pan with about Ĺ cup water and pour all of this into the stock pot. Squeeze out roasted garlic meat from the papery skin and add this to the pot, too. Bring the pot to a boil, cover and simmer for four hours, skimming off and discarding any accumulating foam as necessary. Uncover and simmer for an additional hour. Remove bones and strain this stock.
To make the ramen broth, pour this stock into a pot. Add the slice of fresh ginger, dark sesame oil, soy sauce and ajinomoto. Simmer for ten minutes. Serve over cooked chukamen noodles and the toppings of your choice. Usually, for tonkotsu ramen the toppings are sliced cooked pork, moyashi, sliced boiled egg and sometimes greens like spinach.
Butter Corn Ramen
Butter Corn Ramen is a favorite variation of noodle soup that uses chicken broth. Itís rich, silky and delicious.
1 quart prepared chicken broth
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen is best
1 cup moyashi (fresh bean sprouts)
1/2 cup butter
salt and white pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
chukamen noodles, cooked and drained
In a large pot, melt butter. Add corn kernels and gently stir fry until tender crisp. Add moyashi and stir until coated with butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Place cooked chukamen noodles into serving bowls. Top with corn mixture. Pour over hot chicken broth. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Add an additional pat of butter to each bowl.
Miso Ramen (soybean paste)
Remember that miso paste comes in many varieties. Experiment with them to find what you like best. I am partial to shiro miso for its delicate flavor but a good ramen broth can benefit from the more robust aka miso, if you desire.
4 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. vegetable oil
4 oz. ground pork
1 small strip konbu (about 3ĀEin length)
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. sugar
5 Tbsp. shiro miso paste
1 Tbsp. cooking sake, optional
1 fresh garlic clove, minced
Ĺ tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
chukamen noodles, cooked and drained
toppings: fresh bean sprouts, sliced green scallions, julienned daikon, cooked shrimp, sliced cooked pork
Heat vegetable oil in a small pot. Add ground pork and cook until done. Pour in chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar, konbu, garlic and ginger. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Fish out the konbu. Add cooking sake, if using, and blend in the miso paste until dissolved. Add sesame oil and stir. (If adding shrimp, add the shelled shrimp to the broth now as it will cook quickly while imparting good flavor.) Place cooked chukamen noodles into serving bowls and top with desired ingredients. Pour broth over all.
Donít forget to add your favorite table condiments when eating ramen. Shoyu, la-yu oil (chili oil), tongarashii (shichimi) pepper-spice, sesame seeds and black pepper enhance the light broths. Some ramen restaurants add the hot chili for you using their own blends of spices.