Tonkotsu Ramen really is the Holy Grail of Japanese styled noodles. Its beautiful, rich and sticky broth sets it apart from all the rest. Not that my tonkotsu experience is by any means extensive, but the best I’ve had so far is still at Ryo’s in Crows Nest, Sydney, though Ichiban Boshi near Kinokuniya is still a great CBD alternative. Sadly, I haven’t yet found a place in Perth that makes a memorable tonkotsu, but there are a bunch of new ramen places I am yet to try. As the saying goes, “‘I live in hope’, said the priest to the princess”.
This was a planned meal, however what I did not plan on was our butcher not having the requisite bones available for the broth. There were pigs trotters and chicken carcasses, but not the pork leg bones. Or at least, not pork leg bones in the quantities required. What they had was a combination of pork bones, some of which were leg marrow bones. So I had to make do.
While the whole process took several hours, it’s actually straight-forward to complete, with many steps which can be performed concurrently. There are tasks you can perform while blanching the bones and trotters, and once the pressure cooker is going, you can start the charshu, and you can prep the noodles and additional condiments ready to finish the soup and assemble the ramen while the braise is cooling. It’s certainly a dish you can kick off early to mid-afternoon, and have freshly ready by dinner-time. If you’re not the type to clean as you go, just make sure you have someone else who can do the washing up afterwards, as this does require a number of prep receptacles and pots.
My sister found vacuum-packed whole heads of black garlic. They appear to be pre-roasted and taste a bit vinegary, possibly for preservation. I cheated and used these instead of frying the garlic and for the mayu. The final result was alright, but freshly frying the garlic would definitely have provided a stronger flavour for both the bone broth and the mayu. However, it’ll do in a pinch if you happen to have it on hand.
The broth straight out of the pressure cooker had that nice sticky proteiny texture, but tasted quite bland. I wouldn’t expect it to be ‘complete’ in flavour given what went into the pot, but it is also possible I added too much water. The resulting broth was also quite brown, which I attribute to over frying the ginger and onion, combined with an insufficient quantity of marrow bones. Delicious nonetheless. And you can tell how beautifully sticky it is when it has cooled and you can invert the container without it shifting.
As with all dishes, check the seasoning of the final soup. Possibly due to too much water in the pressure cooker stage, and being normally quite light-handed when I season, but the soup needed to be adjusted considerably from the suggested recipe. All to taste though, so perfectly fine. The minced fatback whisked into the soup is also an essential finishing touch.
Using pork belly for the charshu was lovely. It’s basically a super simplified Japanese buta no kakuni, or Nonya tau yu bak. You can’t go wrong with this at all. I can imagine how much more rich it would have been with pork cheek, but that is definitely a butcher request in advance item here.
I’m so used to doing ‘quick’ cooking that after that many active hours preparing this, I wasn’t sure if I’d be prepared to make it again. But really, it wasn’t that bad. In terms of meal planning or entertaining, it’s something that’s easy to sequence in one afternoon. If you needed it in larger quantities, then you might need to stovetop the bone broth instead, as a stockpot might fit more than a pressure cooker. Or, do the pressure cooking in batches.
Taste-wise, I might need to give this a couple more runs to get it ‘right’, but that isn’t to say the trial attempts aren’t satisfying and delicious. This won’t be a regular dish due to its time requirements, but I would definitely make it again if I’m in need of a sticky ramen fix.