The majority of my culinary bucket list is made up of eating or making weird or hard dishes. This was another one of those silly but fun projects that takes up an entire day and makes it look like a bomb has gone off in the kitchen. While ramen is easy on face value it does require a certain amount of patience, and a general disregard for your gas bill as the cooker will be on all day.
When I decided that ramen was a good idea, the copious research started. If only I put this much effort into my geology degree... The internet seems to be awash with other weirdoes like me who think that spending the entire day making stock is time well spent. I found many different methods and times with variations running from 4 to 40 hours boil time. With so many conflicting instructions out there, I decided to start the practical experimentation.
I have made plenty of stocks in my time but always of a European nature. Light and clear is generally the order of the day, with a mere bubble breaking the surface during the boil. Ramen stocks on the other hand are lip smackingly opaque suspensions of goodness. This requires a very different technique; the stock has to be boiled hard for the entire cooking time to help break down all of the goodness in the bones and ‘bits’.
The base of a good meat-based stock is bones. The base of a good ramen stock seems to be trotters, and loads of them. I popped down to my local butcher Turner and George and cleared them out of trotters and asked for them to be cut perpendicular to the hoof. I also took about two kilos of pork bones and the same of belly. Once home, the trotters and bones - along with a duck carcass found lurking in the freezer - were added to my biggest stock pot. These were covered in water and then brought slowly to the boil while constantly being skimmed. After about 5 minutes at full boil I drained the pot and washed the bones in the sink, trying to remove as much gunk and blood as possible. While this process isn’t entirely necessary, it is meant to help ensure that you get the lovely pale cream stock that exemplifies a good tonkatsu ramen.
Once the bones were washed, I added these back to the pot, covered with water and brought it back to the boil. At the same time I took two onions and a bulb of garlic, broken down but not peeled. I charred these, along with a large knob of peeled ginger, in a pan. These will add a huge umami kick to the stock.
About two hours before I thought the stock would be ready, I added the pork belly to cook. It is difficult to be precise on timings and I just kept tasting till it was to my taste. Basically it takes a bloody long time. I put the stock on at about 10:30 in the morning and we ate at about 9 that night (this also explains why the lighting in the photos goes from bright daylight to evening).
When I finally thought the stock was ready, I fished out the pork belly and set it to one side to cool down ready for slicing. The rest of the stock, I strained through a colander. If I had a chinois to hand, I would have used although to be honest, it was no worse for having extra little pieces of trotter in the stock.
There you go. Ramen stock. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, particularly when, as the proverb says, I didn't watch it in order to avoid impeding the boiling process. You could even throw caution to the wind and leave the stock boiling while you pop out to the pub - although of course I can't advocate this for safety reasons. The photos of the final bowl of ramen, in all its char sui and onsen egg glory, will be posted on the blog shortly.