Chashu Pork Belly

I’ve cooked pork belly a handful of times before, one time in a South Indian spicy masala, a couple of times in this slightly Asian style and once trying to replicate the PB & J (pork belly and miso jam) at Fatty Bao, Bangalore. Two of them were successful experiments. The rest, average fair. But this pork belly chashu is absolutely out of this world! Total melt in your mouth stuff!!

I’ve used the recipe from Ivan Orkin’s book titled Ivan Ramen (it’s also the name of his Ramen ya (shop, in Japanese)). I did tweak the procedure a teeny wee bit based on some of the other stuff I’d read on the interweb, and it tasted absolutely delicious!

Here goes.

The meat is usually brined in a soy-based marinade, called a chashu tare.

Ingredients

2 tbsp sake

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp crushed garlic

1 tbsp ginger, freshly grated

7-8 tbsp dark soy sauce

3-4 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

1 kg piece of pork belly

water, to cook the belly in

Method

  1. Heat the sake and mirin in a sauce pan and cook for a couple of minutes, to burn the alcohol off.
  2. Add the ginger, garlic, soy sauces and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat off and allow this mixture to sit for at least 30-45 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. This is the chashu tare.
  4. You can use this mixture for ajitsuke tamago (boiled eggs) and menma (bamboo shoots) too, but make sure you make it in double the quantity, in that case.
  5. Roll the belly up and tie it with some twine.
  6. Place the belly in a large pot and pour the chashu tare in. Top it up with water, until the pork is cover upto about 1 cm with water.
  7. Cook the belly on low to medium heat, removing any scum that may develop. Cook covered for 2 1/2 to 4 hours until the meat is tender and nearly falls apart.
  8. The cooking liquid can be refrigerated for a week or kept in the freezer for up to 2 months.
  9. Ivan Ramen suggests chilling the belly for a couple of hours before slicing it, else it might fall apart. I ran into this problem when I served the pork belly with tonkotsu ramen. But I’d also cooked the belly for a full four hours. With my miso ramen, I’d cooked the belly three hours and kept it immersed in the cooking liquid, until it was time to serve.
  10. At the time of serving, heat a pan extremely hot. Cut a slice of the belly and braise it on the pan, only a few seconds on each side.
  11. Place on top of the noodles and the broth, along with other toppings.
  12. Serve hot & eat immediately. Enjoy!

Miso Ramen

Just like my post on Tonkotsu Ramen, I’ve split this post into several sections based on the different components of the miso ramen too. The last section, as usual is where I assemble everything.

The broth for this ramen takes a little lesser time that the tonkotsu broth, so you can attempt this recipe in a day, if you have all day free.

miso ramen - with chicken broth and pork belly chashu
miso ramen – with chicken broth and pork belly chashu

A quick summary of how long the whole process is likely to take:

Katsuboshi Salt – 5 mins

Chicken Broth – 6-8 hours boil time + 1 hour prep, clean etc.

Wheat noodles – 1 hour (kneading + resting + prep)

Chashu Pork Belly – 4 hours

Eggs – 30 mins

Katsuboshi Salt

Katsuboshi is the most often used along with konbu (kelp) to make dashi – a seafood stock that add umami to most Japanese soups.

Ingredients

local dried fish

salt

Method

  1. Toast the dried fish on a pan for a couple of minutes or for about 3 minutes in an oven at 200 degrees.
  2. When it cools, combine equal parts of dried fish and salt and grind the mixture to a powder.
  3. This can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for about 3 months.

Miso Broth

Different styles of ramen call for different kinds of broth. While most broths have a chicken base, they may be served with additional flavouring or mixed with a seafood broth as a “double soup”. This broth has chicken, miso paste  and a few other ingredients. The miso paste adds the umami and the saltiness required to give the broth it’s wonderful flavour.

Ingredients

(makes 10-12 cups)

One 2 kg whole chicken (or two smaller ones)

8-10 cloves of garlic, skin on, smashed

2 onions, unpeeled and halved

2 bay leaves

12-15 black peppercorn

1-2 tbsp coriander seeds

2-3 tbsp misto paste

LOTS of water

Method

  1. Clean the bird and trim as much fat from it as possible.
  2. Put the chicken in a large pot, along with the giblets, heart, liver etc, if you like.
  3. Add enough water to the pot (you may need close to 5 litres of water for a 2 kg bird) so that you have about twice as much water as the volume of the bird. The bird should be fully submerged in the water.
  4. Heat the pot and let the water simmer. After about an hour, you will see some scum rise to the top. Remove it with a spoon and continue to let the chicken cook, skimming off the scum for the next few minutes.
  5. Lift the chicken out of the pot for a few minutes, so that you can clean off any residual scum and immerse the bird back into the pot to cook.
  6. Ensure that the water level in the pot doesn’t fall, so that your resultant stock is light and clean.
  7. Continue letting the chicken and water boil for at least 4- 5 more hours, stirring occasionally.
  8. The chicken broth must cook for a total of 6 hours, at least. At the 3 hour mark, you can add in some halved onions and smashed cloves of garlic. You can also add in some black peppercorn, bay leaves and whole coriander seeds at this point.
  9. About 4 hours in, the chicken should begin breaking down. Press it with a spoon to help it fall apart.
  10. In the last hour, add in the miso paste. This is usually a mixed miso paste (white + red), but feel free to experiment and come up with a delicious miso broth recipe of your own.
  11. Finally, let the stock cool down a bit and strain it to remove all the chicken bits and bones.
  12. The cooled stock will keep upto 1 week in the fridge and upto a month in the freezer.

Wheat Noodles

Read this blog post.

Chashu Pork Belly

Read this blog post.

Ajitama (Boiled eggs)

Read this blog post.

Additional Toppings

chopped spring onions

chilli-garlic paste (I used store bought, though you can make your own)

bean sprouts

nori (seaweed, which i forgot to take a picture of when assembling my bowl)

Assembly

Miso ramen. Please excuse the quality of the “slideshow” because I kinda hate how this has turned out. But then, look at some of my early Instagram pictures. They were awful. Hopefully, I’ll get better at this too. I FORGOT TO ADD THE NORI!!!! (And I realised when I was cleaning the kitchen because I saw the nori just sitting there against the wall, ugh!) And I also forgot to show a pair of chopsticks in the picture. But hey, I was hungry! ~~~ The broth is a chicken broth slow cooked over 6 hours. With miso paste and some other flavouring added. The noodles, wheat + buckwheat + all purpose flour. Home-made. Pork belly, the best I’ve ever cooked, I think. A half boiled egg, which I would’ve liked a little more runny, but not bad for a first. I also marinated it in some home-made shoyu. Though you can’t quite see the brown ring. Sprouts. Spring onions. Chilli paste/sauce. Katusboshi. A mix of dried fish/shrimp and salt. ~~~ Ivan Ramen’s book was a HUGE help. Though I did tweak what was in the book to work for me. I’m so glad this turned out great!

A post shared by °•° (@cookynomster) on Jul 21, 2017 at 12:09pm PDT

  1. Ladle piping hot broth into a bowl.
  2. Add in a handful of noodles.
  3. Add your toppings – chashu pork belly first, followed by the ajitsuke tamago (egg), spring onions, bean sprouts and some chilli-garlic paste for that added kick. Add some katsuboshi salt if you think the ramen is lacking in salt.
  4. Serve hot. Eat immediately.

Ajitsuke Tamago, Menma and more…

If you’ve been following my series on Ramen, you may have read the intro 101 post and have probably ended up here after reading the post on Tonkotsu Ramen or Miso Ramen. I hope you enjoyed them.

This blog post covers a couple of recipes for toppings for ramen. One of the most important of those is the soft-boiled egg. Now, since I’ve never been to Japan and only read a handful of books and over a dozen articles on the web, I’m not sure whether it’s called Ajitsuka Tamago or Ajitama. If you know what the right term is, please do let me know. I’ll be planning a holiday in Japan, in the meanwhile.

Note: You can either use the marinade from after you’re done cooking your chashu pork belly for this or make just one batch of marinade and split it two ways – one for the pork belly and the other for the eggs, if you intend on multitasking, like I did. You may need to scale the ingredients in the recipe accordingly.

Ajitsuke Tamago or Ajitama

Ingredients

(makes 6 eggs)

2 tbsp sake

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp ginger, freshly grated

2 tbsp garlic, crushed

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup water, for the marinade

 

1 litre water, to boil the eggs

Ice or cold water, to shock the eggs

6 eggs, at room temperature

Method

  1. Simmer the sake and the mirin for a couple of minutes until some of the alcohol boils off.
  2. On low heat, add the soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar and let simmer for another 7-10 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat off and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Keep this mixture aside.
  4. To boil the eggs, bring a large pot of water to boil. Reduce the flame to medium heat.
  5. Poke a small hole at the large/wide end of each egg using a drawing pin.
  6. Gently immerse each egg into the boiling water. Swirl the eggs around for the first two minutes. And cook for another 4 minutes. The cooking time should be no more than 6 minutes.
  7. Remove the eggs and immediately shock them in a bowl of ice cold water. Let them sit for about 15 minutes in the ice bath.
  8. Peel the eggs and soak them in the soy marinade prepared earlier. Top up with water. They can sit in the seasoning liquid for anywhere between 2 hours to 3 days.
  9. Cut in half and serve atop your bowl of ramen.
ajitsuke tamago / ajitama - marinated soft boiled eggs
ajitsuke tamago / ajitama – marinated soft boiled eggs

Menma (Bamboo Shoots)

The other important topping that goes on most ramen bowls is bamboo shoots. Most places outside of the Asian world sell bamboo shoots in pickled form in jars or uncured form in tins. If you’re using pickled bamboo shoots, you may want to wash them out in water before serving them, lest the pickling liquid overpowers the goodness of the ramen. In case you’re using the uncured variety, you may want to add that little bit of flavour to it before serving them up.

You can, just like the eggs, use the pork belly seasoning liquid to marinate the bamboo shoots.

Alternately, you can flavour some water with katsuboshi (dried fish) and some konbu (seaweed) and boil the mixture for about 10 minutes. Drain the konbu and katsuboshi out and now add a little bit of mirin and sugar along with the bamboo shoots and simmer for another 10 minutes. Let the menma come down to room temperature and keep immersed in the cooking liquid until it’s time to serve.


Another couple of toppings I’d love to make for ramen are mayu (black garlic oil), my own chilli oil and my own chilli-garlic-miso paste. And of course, Narutomaki. You know those pink and white swirled discs that are served atop ramen? That’s what narutomaki is. Steamed fish cakes. The procedure seems fairly simple, but my ramen experiments have been too rushed, often making everything on the same day and I’ve never quite had enough time to make fish cakes.

I’ll end this post with a fun fact:

The spiral pattern in the naruto slices resemble the Naruto whirlpools in the Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Shikoku in Japan, which is how they get their name. Apart from being used as a slang term for the at sign “@”, Naruto (from the manga series) is called so because of his chaotic, energetic side which resembles a whirlpool.

Now that that’s out of the way, I hope you’ve enjoyed my series on making your own ramen from scratch, for the most part. Do let me know whether you got around to making your own or whether what you’ve read is indeed the real deal, the authentic stuff that’s served in Japan and around the world.

 

Ramen – The Real Deal

(at least I hope so)

I pulled up a really old post I’d written for Cheat’s Ramen back in 2016. And I’m appalled at how silly it was. Yet, I’m pleased at how I’ve grown as far as my knowledge of food and how to cook it is concerned.

I’d bought Rice Noodle Fish for my husband last year and he’d loved reading it. We’ve never been to Japan and of course, we’d love to someday. But until then, reading is all we can afford. An uncle and aunt travelled around Japan for a few weeks recently, and that’s when I decided to read the book myself too. And just before I picked up Rice Noodle Fish to read, I’d finished reading Ivan Ramen and also watched his Chef’s Table episode. Obsession much?

All this said, it was only obvious I had a ramen plan brewing (nay, boiling) in my head. I finally got around to executing it only last week – mostly because the weather, here in Pune, is great for ramen. Unending rains and a chill in the evening air.

So, here’s my not-so-little Ramen 101 post. I really hope I’m not too off the mark or that this is an unauthentic post. I promise I’ve done a lot of reading, and while I haven’t ever been to Japan to eat a bowl of ramen myself, I’d like to believe I’ve done a fair job with making sense of theoretical (reading and video) material and a handful of kitchen experiments.

Let’s break ramen down into it’s components, to understand more about it:

  • A broth made of chicken, pork, seafood  or any of the various combinations of the three
  • Additional flavouring to the broth. This is called “tare”.
  • Alkaline noodles (usually wheat)
  • Meat, usually pork belly or minced pork
  • A variety of toppings (seaweed, bamboo shoot, soft boiled egg, bean sprouts, scallions, chicken or pork fat, or even chilli oil, among others)

There are, broadly, four kinds of ramen based:

  • Shio (salt) Ramen
  • Shoyu (soy sauce) Ramen
  • Miso (fermented soy bean paste) Ramen
  • Tonkotsu (pork broth) Ramen

While the first three kinds are based on the kind of “tare” or flavouring used, the fourth actually describes the broth.

On to some basics, then.


The broth used in ramen is usually made using chicken bones (and feet!) or pork bones, along with some other ingredients such as shittake mushrooms, skin-on onions, kombu (kelp) and dried fish (tuna, sardine etc) flakes. The broth is usually slow-cooked over several hours to let the bones infuse their flavours

An interesting thing that came out of excessively reading about ramen was that there exist two terms – tonkotsu and tonkatsu. It appears that “ton” is pork in Japanese. While tonkotsu means “pork bone”, tonkatsu is pork fillet/loin, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried – almost like a schnitzel that uses pork instead of veal, if I may.

The other thing I learnt was that chicken broth (or any clear broth, for that matter) is called a chintan while thicker, coloured, more fatty broths like one made with pork bones is often called a paitan.


I’ve used the word “tare” before a couple of times already. But what IS it? Loosely put, it’s the flavouring agent. It’s what gives a ramen its saltiness. While it’s pretty straightforward with shio ramen, shoyu and miso tare also add umami to the ramen. Also, it’s worth noting that the tare isn’t only that single ingredient. It is, in fact, often a combination of several ingredients. The shio tare, for instance, is made with sea salt and an apple-onion sofrito. Shoyu contains mirin, sake, dashi and possibly a whole lot more.

The amount of tare added to the broth/soup to enhance it’s flavours isn’t as specific as one might expect in a recipe. It’s more of a thing that comes over years of practice and several tastings. However, adding upto 10% of of the broth’s weight in tare is not uncommon.


Ramen noodles are typically made with only four ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water and kansui. Kansui, in Japan, is a kind of alkaline mineral water that contains sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate and phosphoric acid. But to be able to re-create it at home, we can use a pinch of baking soda and some potassium carbonate (if you have it handy).

Aside: Since I’ve been reading extensively about baking with spent grain and also experimenting in my kitchen with cookies and breads, I’ve learned that potassium carbonate acts as a great leavening agent in grain heavy breads, the kind that use all wheat flour or even other grain like barley or rye. While I’m yet to get my hands on some potassium carbonate to use in my cooking, I assume it adds that little bit of a spring to noodles too.

How does one pair noodles and broth? Turns out, “The heavier the soup, the lighter the noodle you want” rule is what one needs to go by. Therefore, you will often find a heavy pork broth with lighter noodles, while curly and slightly fat noodles might work best with miso.

Soggy noodles are a complete no! and noodles are often cooked only for seconds before they are drained and ladled into a bowl of broth.


More often that not, the meat served on top of ramen noodles and broth is a chashu pork belly. The pork belly is marinated in a mix of soy sauce, mirin, sake, ginger and garlic and then rolled up and immersed in a pot of water and slow cooked in water for 2-4 hours, cooked to the point where it melts in your mouth.

Some recipes also use minced (or finely chopped) pork or seafood.


There are no rules for what you can add to your ramen. Most commonly, a soft boiled egg called “ajitama” is used, along with “nori” (seaweed sheets) and scallions.

Below is a list of things you can add to your ramen (and it is, by no means, a comprehensive one):

  • Narutomaki (pink and white spiral fish cakes)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Chilli oil
  • Mayu – Black garlic oil
  • Butter
  • Pork fat
  • Corn
  • Wilted spinach
  • Raw egg
  • Enoki mushrooms (or whatever other kind of mushrooms you fancy)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Spicy Miso paste
  • Chopped Onions
  • Vinegar

I’ve written out detailed recipes for a Miso Ramen and a Tonkotsu Ramen, so feel free to check those out as well, if you like.


There are several other kinds of soup + noodles meals around Japan.

One of them is Tsukumen. It is essentially everything a regular bowl of ramen is, the only difference being that the noodles are served separately. You must dip the noodles into the broth to eat them. Soba (buckwheat) and udon noodles are usually used for this, because they are typically thicker than noodles typically used in ramen bowls. Nori, chashu, bamboo shoots, boiled eggs and green onions are often served as extra ingredients. The broth for tsukumen has a much stronger and more intense in flavour compared to regular ramen broth because it is meant to be a dipping sauce for the noodles.

Tantanmen is another new addition to the ramen world and originated in China as Dan Dan noodles that are served in a similar fashion – in a spicy broth. Dan Dan noodles were so called because they were sold by vendors who carried the noodles and the broth in two separate pots on either end of a long bamboo pole called a dandan. Tantanmen noodles are typically served with a pork mince (that I mentioned a few paragraphs above).


After all of that theory, you’re probably wondering whether I’ve cooked any myself. And how long it takes. I’ll be honest. It’s tedious. But it’s immensely fulfilling. I’ve broken the entire process up into several posts, for ease of reading. Here are all the blog posts in this series:

  1. Tonkotsu Ramen
  2. Miso Ramen
  3. Wheat Noodles
  4. Chashu Pork Belly
  5. Toppings (Menma, Ajitama and others)

Additional reading resources:

  1. Lucky Peach’s Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan
  2. The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles
  3. The Ramen 101 series of blog posts on Ramen Chemistry

Tonkotsu Ramen

I’ve divided this blog post into several sections, based on the different components of a tonkotsu ramen. The last section is where I assemble everything.

Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkotsu Ramen

You can begin prep for this the previous day to give you enough time to have everything ready in good time.

Here’s a quick summary of how long the whole process is likely to take. Of course, you can multi-task. But assuming you’re doing only one thing at a time, it’ll take a good 30+ hours, with no breaks or about 12 hours if you multi-task well. So plan accordingly.

Pork Fat – 3 hours cooking time + 8 -12 hours resting

Katsuboshi Salt – 5 mins prep time

Tonkotsu Broth – 12 hours boil time + 2 hours prep, clean etc.

Wheat noodles – 1 hour (kneading + resting + prep)

Menma Bamboo Shoots – 2 hours (prep, marination etc)

Chashu Pork Belly – 4 hours

Eggs – 30 mins

Pork Fat

You can ask your butcher for fat trimmings and he’ll usually be extremely happy to give you a bag full of some dirt cheap. The butcher’s wife was around when I showed up at the shop that morning, and she ended up asking me how I wanted to use it. She seemed thrilled that I was trying to make my own oil with it and gave me about a kilo of fat, when all I might’ve really needed was a few hundred grams.

Ingredients

pork back fat or trimmings

Method

  1. Cut the fat into small chunks, about an inch or two big and place them in a heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Cover the fat with water until the water is an inch above the fat.
  3. Bring the pot of water + fat to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer.
  4. Simmer the pot uncovered until you see a layer of melted fat and some soft solids. This should take about 3 hours.
  5. Add more water, if you think the water level has fallen and might dry the fat out.
  6. Strain the contents of the pot through a sieve, keeping aside the soft chunks.
  7. Refrigerate the liquid and the soft chunks separately overnight.
  8. The following morning, spoon the layer of fat from the liquid into a saucepan and throw the remaining liquid away.
  9. Add the soft chunks into the pan too and cook on low/medium heat until the fat has melted back into a liquid.
  10. Puree the mix in a food processor until smooth.
  11. You can cool the fat mix to room temperature and then store away in an airtight container in your freezer for upto 3 months.
  12. Don’t forget to label your container!

Katsuboshi Salt

Katsuboshi is the most often used along with konbu (kelp) to make dashi – a seafood stock that add umami to most Japanese soups.

Ingredients

local dried fish

salt

Method

  1. Toast the dried fish on a pan for a couple of minutes or for about 3 minutes in an oven at 200 degrees.
  2. When it cools, combine equal parts of dried fish and salt and grind the mixture to a powder.
  3. This can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for about 3 months.

Tonkotsu Broth

The tonkotsu broth that is widely used in ramen bowls is simply pork bones cooked at a rolling boil for 12 hours. Cooking the bones this way extracts all the fat and richness from the pork and gives a resultant thick, creamy soup.

Ingredients

(makes 8-10 cups)

3 kg pork bones

8-10 cloves of garlic, skin on, smashed

2 onions, unpeeled and halved

2 bay leaves

12-15 black peppercorn

LOTS of water

Method

  1. Put the pork bones into a large pot and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium high heat.
  3. When scum has formed on top of the mixture,  remove the pot from the heat. Drain the water and rinse all the bones under cold running water.
  4. Add the bones to the pot again, cover the bones with cold water and bring to a rolling boil.
  5. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorn to the mix and maintain a rolling boil for 12 hours, adding more water if needed, every few hours.
  6. After 12 hours, remove the stock from the heat and allow it to cool. Discard the bones and strain the stock.
  7. The stock can be kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or frozen for upto 3months.

Wheat Noodles

Read this blog post.

Chashu Pork Belly

Read this blog post.

Ajitama (Boiled eggs) and Menma (Bamboo shoots)

Read this blog post.

Additional Toppings

chopped spring onions

chilli-garlic paste (I used store bought, though you can make your own)

store bought dried kelp, which I re-hydrated

Assembly

Fed a couple of friends some tonkotsu ramen last night. Recreated it this afternoon (after fixing some booboos from last night). This one has katsoboshi (dried fish and salt mix) and pork fat at the bottom. Followed by a creamy tonkotsu broth (pork bones cooked at a rolling boil for 8 hours). Then are the noodles (handmade, 50% wheat flour, 50% buckwheat flour). Next is the chashi pork belly (slow cooked for ~ 4 hours in a mirin + sake + soy + ginger + garlic liquid, though I think I overdid the pork this time, it was soft and yum, but just didn’t hold shape). Toppings are spring onions, kelp, ajitama (soft boiled pickled egg), pickled bamboo shoots and a chilli garlic paste. Apologies for the utterly slow video. I got the clarity on point this time, but screwed up on the speed. Heh. And you can see the leg of the tripod in the bottom left. 🙈

A post shared by °•° (@cookynomster) on Jul 29, 2017 at 5:17am PDT

  1. Start with spoonful of pork fat and one of the katsuboshi salt. Remember, you hadn’t added any in the tonkotsu broth, so this will be your flavouring agent for the broth.
  2. Ladle in piping hot broth.
  3. Next, top the broth with a handful of noodles.
  4. Start adding your toppings – chashu pork belly first, followed by kelp, spring onions, half an egg, bamboo shoots and some chilli-garlic paste for that added kick.
  5. Serve hot. Eat immediately.