It’s been a couple months since I attempted to make my own ramen at home. I studied for a few days, shopped many, many times and blocked off about 48 hours to do this. I documented every step of the process and am going to walk you through the whole thing. I used a few different recipes, relying the most on Serious Eats: The Food Lab and No Recipes.
There are many variables to making a good bowl of ramen. Obviously getting the broth right is essential. But it’s also important to nail the chashu pork belly, the marinated soft boiled egg, the intensely flavored mayu, and the alkaline noodles. There are plenty regional additions that could increase the complexity and time of making ramen. I chose to keep it simple, although you’ll see that simple is a relative term. It was, by far, the most complicated dish I’ve ever tried to make.
First, let’s make the Chashu Pork. The succulent, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork belly are integral to the dish. I love to braise. I love to watch the liquid level drop, and the smell of something cooking for hours on end.
Due to a language barrier when I ordered my pork belly, it was cut incorrectly. Ideally, you want thick slices to roll up and tie with twine. Mine were thin, which made them hard to tie and really hard to slice. But I worked it out.
Start with two pounds of pork belly and roll it up, skin side out . Tie tightly.
Make a broth with:
- 1 cup sake
- 1 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 scallions
- 6 whole garlic cloves
- 2-inch piece of ginger
- 1 whole shallot, split in half
I had trouble finding mirin, so I substituted with cooking sherry sweetened with a little more sugar.
Place the pork rolls into broth and put in 275° oven for three to four hours, turning pork occasionally.
And here it is, hours later:
Place the pork in a sealed container and refrigerate until ready. Strain the broth and reserve the liquid. You’ll be using it to marinate the soft boiled eggs. So let’s go ahead and make those now.
Ajitsuke Tamago is a marinated soft boiled egg and my favorite ramen topping. A creamy, perfectly cooked egg makes the dish that much more decadent. Plus, it looks pretty.
To make perfect soft boiled eggs, push a thumbtack into the round end of the eggs. This prevents them from cracking in the water.
Gently place eggs in boiling water and reduce to a simmer. Cook for six minutes then peel under running water. Place eggs in a small bowl and cover with braising liquid. Placing a paper towel on top will ensure that they are covered and submerged. Let marinate in fridge until ready to use, but no longer than 12 hours.
Mayu is black garlic oil and the easiest thing to make. Grate five cloves of garlic into 1/4 cup sesame oil and cook in a pan until black. It smells weird and you feel like you’re burning it, but trust me, it’s right. I used spicy sesame oil to give it a kick. When finished, set aside. This is used as a condiment.
Okay, now we’ll go into the hard part: the broth. The most traditional broth for ramen is tonkotsu, which is pork based. The creamy stickiness develops from dissolving gelatin, fat, and marrow over hours and hours of boiling. The desired color is a clean, pale, opaque broth. Not brown. To achieve this you need to blanche the bones and clean them with chopsticks under running water.
Cover three pounds of pig trotters (cut into rounds) and two pounds of chicken backs (skin and fat removed) with water and bring to a boil. Dump everything into the sink and start cleaning those bones. When you scrub off every bit that isn’t white or light beige, toss it all back into the pot.
Next you want to add aromatics. It’s traditional to use charred onion, garlic and ginger. Leave the skins on and just give a rough chop. Char in a hot pan with vegetable oil until nice and black.
Next add in some mushrooms and scallion whites. We’re going for umami here, so don’t be shy.
Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
While boiling, skim off any skum that appears and use a paper towel to keep pot rim clean. After 20 minutes, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover. With the lid on, you want your broth to come to a low rolling boil. Adjust heat accordingly to make that happen. Add a large piece of fatback to cook for four hours. It won’t dissolve into the broth, but will get very soft. You are supposed to whisk a little into each bowl of broth before serving. But I was grossed out by the texture of the boiled fat and threw it out. Hangs head in shame.
Let broth cook for 12-18 hours, topping off with water when necessary. Strain broth a few times to make sure there’s no trace of bones or vegetables. For the record, the broth should look like this:
Also for the record, mine didn’t come out that way. What I ended up with was a decent soup, but it just wasn’t correct. I’m not sure what went wrong in the process. Luckily, my toppings were all good. To assemble your dish, fill bowl with cooked alkaline noodles and top with broth. Then gently place toppings on top in a pleasing arrangement. Take a photo and eat!
Will I keep trying this until I get it right? Maybe. But it’ll be a year or so before I attempt it again. It took a whole damn weekend to make. I envision making this during a cold weekend while I’m snowed in at my country cabin in the mountains.*
*I do not own a country cabin in the mountains. Yet.