Ramen Journal, Part III: The Pork

An important part of traditional ramen is the meat element, usually a nice, thick slice of pork belly.  My favorite method of cooking pork belly is sous vide.  By keeping the water bath at a precise temperature, you have absolute control on how the meat will be cooked.  I built a DIY Sous Vide Machine and would highly recommend this project to those who are wary of spending $400 dollars in a Sous Vide Supreme. We also tried brined versus un-brined to see the difference in taste.  The brined pork belly retains significantly more of the juices after the sous vide cooking process. I also wanted a simple brown sugar sauce that would let the flavor of the pork belly shine.  After scouring the internet, I came across a Brown Sugar Glaze for pork chops recipe by Alyssa at the Recipe Critic which works really well with the sous vide pork belly.

Ingredients:
1-2 lbs slab of Pork Belly

For the Brine:
Water
Salt

For the glaze:
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large bowl, add water/salt with a ratio of 16:1, enough to submerge the pork belly.  You can use the butcher’s twine to tie the pork belly into a compact roll.  Place the pork belly in the water/salt mixture, cover the bowl in saran wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

2. After the pork belly has been brined over night, set the temperature on the sous vide machine for 150 degrees F.  Next, add all of the ingredients of the glaze together in a bowl and mix.  Take the pork belly out of the water and place into zip lock bag, along with the glaze mixture.  Spread the mixture evenly around the pork, push the air out and seal the bag, and then carefully place in the sous vide water bath once the water has reached the target temperature.

Ready for the brine

Ready for the brine

Brined overnight

Brined overnight

Ready for sous vide

Ready for sous vide

3. Leave in the water bath for 36 hours.

The sous vide machine

The sous vide machine

4. Feel free to serve the pork belly as is, but I’ve found that it is much easier to cut thinly if it has been refrigerated overnight.  I like to cut the pork belly and put it in the ramen bowl while it is still cold, since the warm broth will heat it up.

Delicious pork belly

Delicious pork belly

 

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Ramen Journal, Part I: The Broth

Naturally, it makes sense that our first blog post should be about ramen! Having had a life-long obsession with Japanese cuisine, I figured that I really wanted to learn how to make a good bowl of ramen, completely from scratch. Through trial and error, it boiled down to the following recipe – it’s a bit time consuming (start 2-3 days before anticipated eating) but rather gratifying:

Base Ramen Broth

The inspiration came from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s post at Serious Eats, which includes a detailed account of the several techniques used to bring out the flavors in a tonkotsu style ramen broth. Following those guidelines and after several iterations of ramen broth making, we found that our personal preference was for a less porky broth using similar proportions of pork and chicken to balance the flavors.

List of ingredients (serves 8-12, varies based on how long you boil):
3 lbs of Chicken (leg quarters)
1.5 lbs of Pork trotters
1.5 lbs of Pork bones
1 Onion
1 Head of Garlic
Couple stalks of Scallions
4-8 Large pieces of Kombu
2 Teaspoons of Bonito Dashi powder
Water
Vegetable oil

1. Add 30 cups of cold water and the kombu to the stock pot and set the burner to medium. Keep in mind that once the water creeps towards boiling point and begins to show some bubbling, the kombu needs to be taken out, so do check the water often.

Making the Kombu Dashi

Making the Kombu Dashi

2. While waiting for the water to heat up, prepare the rest of the ingredients that will go into the broth. Peel the onion and cut into quarters. Break apart the garlic and crush the cloves using the blade of the knife (this makes it very easy to take off the skin). Sautee the onion and garlic in a skillet with a little vegetable oil until dark and caramelized. Rinse the pork and chicken.

3. When the water in the stockpot starts bubbling, remove the kombu with a strainer to get all the small bits. I wouldn’t recommend discarding the kombu – you can actually reuse it to make a second dashi stock (called nibandashi in Japanese). You can fill up a second pot (regular/large size) with cold water and place the kombu in it and repeat step 1 to get a second kombu dashi which you can save for some other time to make miso soup, noodle soup base, sauce, etc. You don’t even have to discard the kombu at the end of the second dashi stock, you could thinly slice it up and add some dressing to it and serve as a side dish, or even pickle it in some vinegar and soy sauce. Now, back to the ramen.

4. Add the 2 teaspoons of bonito dashi powder to the stock pot and stir to dissolve. At this point, feel free to have a taste of the kombu/bonito dashi stock combination. It is extremely tasty and so full of umami. You can even set aside some if you want to experiment with it in other soups/sauces.

5. Carefully place the caramelized onions/garlic, whole scallions, pork, and chicken into the stock pot and cover with a lid. This will lower the temperature of the water but it will reach boiling point soon enough. Once it reaches the boiling temperature again, turn the heat down until you get a rolling boil. Let it boil for 12-13 hours (or overnight).

All ingredients in the pot!

All ingredients in the pot!

Overnight

Overnight

6. Once it has been boiling for a period of time, take the lid off to let the steam escape and reduce the broth, thereby thickening and concentrating the liquid. I usually let it boil without a lid for an additional 5-7 hours until I have reached my desired consistency and flavor.

Just about done!

Just about done!

7. Take out all the solid contents in the stock pot and strain the broth through a sieve. Discard the solid contents. At this point, you can skim your broth of the fat that is floating on top or if you like your broth to be very fatty, you can leave it. I personally prefer to put the broth in the fridge until cold, which makes taking off the fat layer very easy. Also, when the broth is cold and it becomes like gelatin, that’s a good indicator that you got all the collagen out of the bones. I carefully skim the fat off the top of the jello-like broth and put it in a jar to save for later – I add a tiny bit to the ramen broth before serving.

Skimming the fat

Skimming the fat

Getting ready to put some of the broth in the fridge/freezer for later

Getting ready to put some of the broth in the fridge/freezer for later

At this point, you have the base ramen stock for use in ramen soup (when coupled with flavorings such as dried anchovy, garlic oil, etc.). More on that later.

Next – Ramen Diaries, Part II: Noodles

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