Experiments, Ramen

Tonkotsu Experiment 01: FAILURE

November 10, 2014

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I’ve made plenty of shoyu batches over the years, but I’ve never made my other favorite kind of broth: tonkotsu. Harder to find in years past (it wasn’t until the last five years or so that tonkotsu became readily available in Charlotte), tonkotsu is a rich, pale white pork broth that is savory and soulful. It’s Hsien’s favorite kind of ramen, and my second favorite, so in preparation for our eventual RamenCon, I wanted to try my hand at it. This first batch was a complete and utter failure in flavor, look, and design, but I learned a lot in the process for batch 2.

img_1516I started by warming my pork bones in water for 30 minutes. This is supposed to make it easier to remove blood vessels and dark marrow. Unfortunately, I had two problems right off the bat: one, the pork bones I bought were of a lower quality and butchery; and two, I wasn’t sure how much matter (if any) I was supposed to leave on the bone for the cook. Turns out, I probably should’ve removed all pork meat from the bones
img_1517I chopped up/crushed ginger, garlic, and onions for the aromatics, then charred them in a pot until blackened.
img_1520I also chopped up two leeks, green onion whites, and shiitake mushrooms. This is where I made my first big mistake: I used the tops of the leeks rather than the whiter, more flavorful parts, leading to a bitter aftertaste. Not having worked with leeks much, I was not aware this would happen until researching after the fact. I think I’m just going to avoid leeks for awhile.

Furthermore, I don’t think I should’ve used as many aromatics as I did on my first batch of tonkotsu. I was feeling nervous that the broth wouldn’t be savory, so I added a bunch of extra ingredients in. This lack of confidence lead to a dark, bitter broth. For batch 2, I’ll pull back on the aromatics to only what I know: ginger, garlic, onions. You can never go wrong with those, and they’re flavor profiles I know well enough to tell where I screwed up exactly.

img_1519Next up, we have the cleaning of the pork bones. Here’s mistake number two: I didn’t clean off the bones near well enough, probably due to the fact that half of them weren’t bones, they were cartilage. I pulled out all the blood vessels (popping myself in the face with one, which was highly unpleasant), removed what dark marrow I could find, and plunked them back in a clean pot of boiling water without removing the majority of pork meat.
img_1521I let the stock simmer for 18 hours, reducing down to about 2 quarts (I was aiming for 3.5, but the stock was still watery and tasteless after 12 hours, so I went for the kill on the final 6 hours – the nail in the coffin for this stock)

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My final test bowl of soup ended up dark and thin. Thankfully, most of the bitter aftertaste had vanished after a night in the fridge, but it definitely didn’t taste like tonkotsu. It wasn’t inedible, but it also wasn’t very appetizing. While this may have been a failure of a cook, it was a first attempt, and I learned a lot for the second batch. Hopefully, we can get something I can serve the family on the next one – for now, this one is going in the trash.

Notes for Next Time

  • Use pork femur bones – more marrow, better quality. Don’t buy from Super G Mart, their pork bones suck.
  • Use less aromatics. Understand the cooking of the bones before experimenting with flavor. Be more confident!
  • CLEAN the bones. Really clean them. There should be nothing dark before starting the cook, just white and beige.
  • Don’t use so much water – use an 8 gallon pot for the slow simmer rather than a 16 gallon. Final broth was too watery, even after reduction.

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