Tonkotsu Ramen with Black Garlic Oil
For years I was jaded by the mushy, MSG packed cups of instant ramen. I had no idea that real ramen existed or that there were so many different types. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Japan and gained an appreciation for the noodle dish as an art form. I even loved that some of the best ramen places were hidden gems located in subway stations. And once I tried real ramen I never looked back.
One of the first steps of making ramen is deciding what type of ramen you want to make and what kind of broth you want to use, as there is more than one kind of broth. The type of noodle - and broth - varies by region in Japan and it can get quite complicated trying to break down all of the different varieties. The food magazine Lucky Peach offers a great guide for breaking down the different types, you can check it out here. My recipe is for ramen made with a pork and chicken broth base. I top the creamy broth with roast pork, corn, black garlic oil, green onions, a soft-boiled egg and of course thin ramen noodles.
There are so many elements that go into a good bowl of ramen, well really four elements. First you have the broth, which is typically a mix of pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables. Next is the tare, the concentrated flavor base that is at the bottom of each bowl. There are three major categories of tare which will determine the type of ramen: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (fermented soy bean). Then you have the toppings, which can be pork, chicken or vegetables. And of course you can’t forget the ramen noodles. They aren’t the same as your typical pasta noodles you find in Italian dishes. Ramen noodles are actually alkaline noodles made from wheat flour, baking soda, and water, which makes them more chewy and resilient in a hot soup.
Unlike traditional French stocks and broths where you simmer the broth and never bring it to a boil so that it doesn’t cloud and remains crystal clear, rich Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth is brought to a boil for an extended amount of time, anywhere from 4 hours to 60 hours. In this recipe I opt for the shorter of the times so that you end up with a thinner but still flavorful broth. When buying the bones ask your butcher to cut them in half, as this exposes more of the marrow. The black garlic sauce is the perfect rich, slightly bitter, sauce to offset the sweet sauce. A little bit goes a long was in terms of flavoring.
By this point you can tell that I am pretty ramen obsessed. Perhaps it’s because there is still so much ramen to explore and try. It does take a lot of work to make but the result is rewarding. Even if you only ever make it once I think it helps you gain an appreciation for how it is made. Luckily most of the cooking is pretty hands off; so this recipe is perfect if you’re hanging around the house or Netflix binging.
For the broth:
3 pounds pork bones
2 pounds chicken backs and neck bones
1 large yellow onion, quartered
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 bunch green onions
1 head of garlic
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
1 gallon water
¼ cup shoyu soy sauce
kosher salt, to taste
For the black garlic oil:
¼ cup vegetable oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon togarashi shichimi *
1 ¼ pounds ramen noodles**
1 pound roast pork, thinly sliced
4 soft-boiled eggs
1 cup corn
3 green onions, thinly sliced
4 sheets nori, for serving
¼ cup sambal oelek (chili paste)
For the broth:
Preheat the oven to 400º. Wash the bones of any excess blood, as this will help to keep the broth white. Arrange the pork and chicken bones in a single layer in a roasting pan. Roast the bones for 45 minutes.
Add the bones to a large stockpot with the onion, carrots, celery, green onion, garlic, and ginger. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer until the broth has reduced by half and becomes creamy, about 5 hours. Add additional water as needed to keep the bones covered. Strain the bones and vegetables out of the broth and discard.
For the black garlic oil:
Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the vegetable oil and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns deep brown, almost black, about 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from heat, and let cool. Add the black garlic mixture, sesame oil, salt and togarashi to a blender and blend until completely combined. Transfer to a re-sealable container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. Cook the ramen noodles according to package instructions. Add 1 tablespoon of the shoyu soy sauce among 4 bowls. Drain the noodles and divide among the bowls. Arrange the roast pork slices over the top along with a soft-boiled egg, ¼ cup of corn, green onions, sambal oelek chili paste and nori. Ladle the broth over the top and add a spoonful of the garlic oil. Serve immediately.
*Note: Togarashi shichimi is a Japanese seasoning mix typically made up of a blend of seven spices: ground red chili pepper, ground Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seed and ground ginger.
**Note: Fresh ramen noodles can be found at Asian markets. If fresh noodles are not available then substitute with dried ramen noodle bloc