Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Blanching the pork bones and rinsing them thoroughly of coagulated blood and other impurities ensures the final tonkotsu broth is a pale, rather than a deep, dark brown.
  • Charring the aromatic vegetables adds complexity to the broth.
  • Keeping the broth at a low, rolling boil ensures that the released fat and particulate matter emulsifies in the broth, which makes the broth opaque and creamy.

Like most of you guys out there, the ramen of my youth was served in two discrete serving sizes: by the cup or by the Oodle. The noodles were soft and squiggly, the broth was thin and salty, the corn was de-hydrated then re-hydrated, and the scallions were, well, at least they were green. Despite all these shortcomings, the stuff was still a tasty meal, and I don't mean give-in-because-there's-nothing-better tasty in the "I guess I'll go watchStar Wars Episode Iin the theaters yet again," kind of way,* but must-eat-tasty in the "Holy Cow!Empire Strikes Backis playing on the big screen for one showing only, I gotta get me some of that!" kind of way.

*Damn you, George Lucas, for continually finding new ways to make me poorer and you richer thirteen bucks at a time. You're almost as good as Paul McCartney at this game!

Imagine my elation, then, several years later when I found out thatCup Noodles are not the be-all end-all to ramen. I can't remember the first place I tried real-deal freshly-made ramen (most likely it was at a nondescriptramen-yain New York with my grandmother), but I definitely remember the effect it had on me. Tasting it was like suddenly discovering the wood-fired glory ofMotorino's pizzaafter living off of frozenElio'sfor my whole life. It wasn't just a game-changer—it outright altered the basic rules of physics.

Since then, I've been a man obsessed, eating ramen at nearlyevery ramen-ya in New York, and throughout different regions of Japan. Heck, I even gave a talk about ramen at the Japan Society once with the founders of the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. My love for ramen has driven me all around the world and more than once has tested the strength of my marriage.*

*Don't worry, our love always manages to bounce back like a good alkaline noodle.

Just as with pizza, the regional variations between bowls of ramen—the broth, the flavoring, the toppings, and the noodle style—are staggering, but there's no doubt in my mind that the King of Slurpdom, the Pope of Noodle Town, the broth cut from a different cloth, the bowl with the most soul istonkotsu ramen.

Made with an intensely porky, opaque pale broth with a sticky-lipped intensity and the rich, buttery texture of light cream, there's no smell more warming on a cold day than a big hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen set before you. The best sports tiny nubbins of fat swimming around on their surface, a slick ofmayu(black garlic oil) or chile-sesame paste, a handful of thin-sliced green onions, a soft-yolked soy-sauce tinged egg, and a few slices of meltingly tender chashupork belly.It's the ultimate meal-in-a-bowland what any Japanese businessperson—and a good deal of Americans these days—thinks of the moment you mention comfort food.

As a New York resident, I've got it easy when it comes to finding good ramen. (Check out five of our favorite ramen shops in NYC here.) But cities change, people move, and I've got my less fortunate friends and family to think of.

The challenge? Figure out how to make world-class tonkotsu ramen right in my own kitchen. It took over 40 pounds of bones and over 200 hours of collective simmering time to do it, but I cracked the code. Luckily, the wife was out of the country for a week.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (1)

The Right Bones to Use for Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Having been trained in classical Western kitchens, my first instinct when making a broth is to keep it as clean as possible. Perfect clarity is the goal. AsMichael Ruhlmanputs it, you want to be able to read the date on a penny at the bottom of a pot of good French stock. To achieve this, you boil your bones and aromatics as gently as possible—a sub-simmer, with the surface barely quivering—meticulously straining the entire time to remove any impurities that might cloud your soup.

When making a Western-style stock, heating bones in water is a means of removing water-soluble proteins from the interior and exterior of the bones and dissolving them into solution, adding flavor to the water. The heating and simmering process also catalyzes a few other reactions, mainly the conversion ofcollagen—the protein that comprises most of the connective tissue—intogelatin, the familiar protein that thickens and adds richness to broth (and Jell-O).

With tonkotsu broth, on the other hand,you go one step further. In this case, bones are cooked at a rolling boil for a long, long, long,longperiod of time. Not only does all the same dissolving and gelatin creation take place, but you also end up breaking down other matter—fat, marrow, calcium, various other minerals and proteins—into tiny tiny pieces which get suspended in the liquid, turning it opaque.

So how long does this process take? I've read reports ranging anywhere from an hour and a half in a pressure cooker up to 60 hours at a low boil on a stovetop.

Using a Pressure Cooker to Make Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Being a man who is lazy by nature, I decided to try the quick, hour-and-a-half pressure cooker method first, using a combination of split pork trotters (they boast plenty of flavor, lots of collagen, and a good amount of fat and marrow—I found that getting them cut into cross-wise disks rather than split lengthwise makes for better extraction) and a chicken carcass to mellow out the flavor.

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What emerged from the pressure cooker sure was tasty, but it was by no means a good tonkotsu ramen broth. Rich with gelatin and flavor, to be sure, but it was nearly transparent in color. The problem is that in the high-pressure environment of a pressure cooker, temperatures get higher, allowing for fast extraction and conversion of collagen to gelatin, but the high pressure also prevents the rolling boil necessary for getting those extracted solids to emulsify into the broth.

How Long to Boil Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Next, I cooked a batch the traditional way—on the stovetop in a regular Dutch oven, pulling out ladlefuls of broth at 30-minute intervals and chilling them in the fridge (to get a better gauge of the broth's progress).

I was curious as to how the matter that causes the broth to turn milky white actually gets suspended in the water. We all know that fat tends to coalesce and float to the top of a broth while particulate matter can sink or float depending on its density, right? Well, my theory is that in the case of tonkotsu broth, the gelatin created as the broth cooks acts as a kind of net, trapping all that good stuff and causing the broth to become both opaque, and more flavorful. If this is true, we should begin to see the broth turning opaque at around the same time as enough collagen converts to gelatin to significantly thicken it.

Here's what I saw:

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  • After one hour:The broth is pale and watery. Very little flavor has developed and there is no gelatin formation to speak of.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (4)

  • After two hours:There is significantly more flavor development, though still only minimal gelatin formation. Straight from the fridge the broth has a tiny bit of body. Let it warm up at room temp for a minute or two, and it's completely liquid. No opaque milkiness yet, implying that very few minerals or fats are emulsified into the liquid.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (5)

  • After four hours:A great deal of the collagen from the pig's trotters has converted to gelatin, creating a broth that remains as a loose gel even at room temperature. Right on cue, the broth also starts to look opaque. At this point, you can't see anything beyond the top half-inch of liquid. The aroma is rich and deep, but the broth is also quite dark, which is a little troublesome—pale off-white is what we're after.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (6)

  • After six hours: Our broth is solid enough when chilled that you can pick it up in soft-ball sized chunks without it breaking or slipping through your fingers. It's also extremely cloudy at this point—you have trouble seeing anything hiding just below the surface.
  • After 12 hours:We see a broth thickened to pretty much its maximum. The pig's trotters have completely disintegrated leaving little but bone and a few scraps of soft skin here and there. The rest has melted completely into the broth. While there is change between six and 12 hours, it's not nearly as significant as in the earlier stages. Continuing to cook the broth past this point (I went up to 48 hours before calling it a day) afforded no noticeable advantages.

So far, I think the theory of gelatin helping to suspend cloudy particulate matter is a sound one, but I had a much bigger problem on my hands:

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (8)

The broth isbrown.

In Western cuisine, if you want a brown broth, you have to roast your bones first. Roasting creates brown colors, and those colors get transferred to your broth. I didn't roast my bones,so why was my broth turning brown?Obviously there's something else.

Cleaning the Bones for Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

Watching a little more closely as the bones heat up reveals the answer:

In the early stages, while the water is still too cold to actually start cooking the bones, but while there's still enough to allow the bones to start giving up their goods, you'll notice that the water turns a pale pink from the pigments coming out of them (a combination of hemoglobin—the pigment that colors blood—and myoglobin—the analogous pigment for muscle tissue). Continue to cook, and the color appears to go away, but in reality, it's merely lurking in the shadows, waiting for time, concentration, and oxygen to do their work, transforming them into deep brown pigments.

The only way to get rid of them? Wash those bones, and wash'em well.

The best way to do this is to cover the bones with cold water and bring the whole pot to a boil, allowing the blood vessels and muscle fibers to tighten up and begin squeezing out their unwanted contents. (This stuff, by the way, is what you are skimming away when making a French stock.) As soon as the water comes to a boil, dump the entire content into the sink.

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Isn't that fun? If you're the kind of person who always enjoys squeezing blemishes or popping blisters (I know several folks like this, including both family members and spouses!), the next step will be right up your alley.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:remove every last bit of brown-tintedanythingfrom all the bones. This means blood, bits of organ, dark marrow,anythingthat's not beige or white needs to be removed. Cold running water and a chopstick help. It's a sort of time-consuming process, but it's a good way to zone out for 15 minutes and contemplate the meaning of life, death, and noodles.

This is what stock made from un-cleaned bones looks like after about 20 minutes on the stovetop:

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (10)

Ugly, right?

Once I restarted my stock with completely cleaned bones, I got none of that. Or at least, very little of it. Most of the gunk and scum manifested itself within the first 20 minutes as a few rogue bits of flotsam which were easily skimmed off, as well as a bit of debris that clung to the sides of the Dutch oven—easy to wipe off with a sponge or moist paper towel.

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Was it worth it in the end?

Here's the broth I ended up with after 10 hours of cooking:

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (12)

And here are the two broths side-by-side:

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (13)

Remember, these two broths are completely identical save for the fact that the broth on the right was made from blanched-then-washed bones, while the broth on the left was made from completely fresh bones. Both were packed with flavor, both were rich, thick, opaque, and gelatinous, but only the washed bones delivered the clean color I was looking for.

Adding Fat to Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

At this point, I could have thrown in the side-towel and called it a day. After all, many ramen-ya get along just fine with tonkotsu broth, flavorings, noodles, and toppings. But sorry, not good enough for me.

See, the best of the best, cream of the crop ramen-ya will add a final little flourish to push their bowls of soup over into top-ramen territory: finely chopped, super-tender pork fat.

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To get it is simply a matter of adding a hunk or pork fatback (the fresh, not salted kind) directly to your pot as the bones cook. After the first four hours or so, you end up with fat that is almost liquid in texture but still manages to barely hold its shape, like the finest panna cotta.

I chopped this fat up into tiny bits then whisked some into the soup just before serving with a vigorous hand to break up the bits even further.

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The fat is there, to be sure—you can see the little bits floating around on top—but it's so tender that you don't feel it on your tongue. Instead, you simply get an unparalleled feeling of rich meatiness. If you could convert the world's juiciest, fattiest pork chop into slurpable, liquid form, that's what you get with each bite of the fat-laced broth.

Adding Umami to Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

With the broth and fat out of the way, I turned my attention towards fine-tuning the aromatics. Up to now, I'd been using a simple combination of raw onions, garlic, and ginger, but there was something missing. The sweet-pungent combination that alliums provide always goes well with pork, so I decided to add a couple leeks as well as some scallion whites (I'd save the greens for garnish.) to my broth.

What about charring? I knew that both theMaillardreaction and caramelization—the respective browning reactions that occur when proteins or sugars are heated—can add complexity and create new flavor compounds that can boost the umami-factor of a dish, so I decided to cook down my onions, garlic, and ginger before adding them to the broth. (I left the leeks and scallions raw to maintain a bit of mild raw onion flavor.) I realized that in this case, the browner the better—cooking the onions, garlic, and ginger until nearly black was the way to go.

My normal go-to umami bombs—anchovies and marmite—seemed out of place in this context, but a container of mushroom trimmings I had saved was an ideal flavor booster. (You can use whole mushrooms if you wish.)

Japanese ramen soup is made with two distinct parts—the broth, and the flavoring. The former can be anything from a light seafood-based dashi broth, a rich chicken broth, or a thick, creamy tonkotsu broth like we've made here. The latter is most commonly sea salt, soy sauce, or miso, though any number of additional seasonings—sesame paste, chili oil, ormayu—can be added to enhance or complement the flavor of the broth. In this case, I went with salt, a splash of good aged soy sauce, and a little drizzle of sesame-chili oil.

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (17)

After a dozen-odd hours of boiling and waiting, there's something cathartic about pouring a few hot ladles of broth over a steaming bowl of noodles. You feel a connection to this little bowl like no other. It's come a long way with you from its early, clumsy little steps to its current, fully fleshed-out form, and you've grown right along with it. It's almost a shame you have to eat it, and I can't help but feel a bit like Homer eating Mr. Pinchy when I dig in.

Served with plenty of scallions, bouncy noodles, a perfectly soft-boiled marinated egg, and a few slices of sweet, melt-in-you-mouth-tender pork bellychashu, you couldn't ask for a more satisfying meal to eat—or to make, for that matter.

Wait, what's that you say? You don't have the recipe for bouncy ramen noodles, bitter-sweet mayu, or meltingly tender chashu pork?

Well, we've got to leave a few tricks up our sleeve, right?

February 2012

Recipe Details

Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe

Cook12 hrs 15 mins

Active2 hrs

Total12 hrs 15 mins

Serves6to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds pig trotters, split lengthwise or cut crosswise into 1-inch disks (ask your butcher to do this for you)

  • 2 pounds chicken backs and carcasses, skin and excess fat removed

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 large onion, skin on, roughly chopped

  • 12 garlic cloves

  • One 3-inch knob ginger, roughly chopped

  • 2 whole leeks, washed and roughly chopped

  • 2 dozen scallions, white parts only (reserve greens and light green parts for garnishing finished soup)

  • 6 ounces whole mushrooms or mushroom scraps, such as cremini

  • 1 pound slab pork fat back

Directions

  1. Place pork and chicken bones in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as boil is reached.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (18)

  2. While pot is heating, heat vegetable oil in a medium cast iron or non-stick skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook, tossing occasionally until deeply charred on most sides, about 15 minutes total. Set aside.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (19)

  3. Once pot has come to a boil, dump water down the drain. Carefully wash all bones under cold running water, removing any bits of dark marrow or coagulated blood. Bones should be uniform grey/white after you've scrubbed them. Use a chopstick to help remove small bits of dark marrow from inside the trotters or near the chicken's spines.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (20)

  4. Return bones to pot along with charred vegetables, leeks, scallion whites, mushrooms, and pork fatback. Top up with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that appears. (This should stop appearing within the first 20 minutes or so.) Use a clean sponge or moist paper towels to wipe any black or gray scum off from around the rim of the pot. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a heavy lid on top.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (21)

  5. Once the lid is on, check the pot after 15 minutes. It should be at a slow rolling boil. If not, increase or decrease heat slightly to adjust boiling speed. Boil broth until pork fatback is completely tender, about 4 hours. Carefully remove pork fat with a slotted spatula. Transfer fatback to a sealed container and refrigerate until step 7. Return lid to pot and continue cooking until broth is opaque with the texture of light cream, about 6 to 8 hours longer, topping up as necessary to keep bones submerged at all times. If you must leave the pot unattended for an extended period of time, top up the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting while you are gone. Return to a boil when you come back and continue cooking, topping up with more water as necessary.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (22)

  6. Once broth is ready, cook over high heat until reduced to around 3 quarts. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard solids. For an even cleaner soup, strain again through a fine-mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Skim liquid fat from top with a ladle and discard.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (23)

  7. Finely chop cooked pork fatback and whisk into finished broth. To serve, season broth with condiments of your choice (salt, soy sauce, miso, sesame paste, grated fresh garlic, chili oil or a mixture of all, for instance) and serve with cooked ramen noodles and toppings as desired.

    Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (24)

Special Equipment

Large stockpot with a heavy, tight-fitting lid, fine-mesh strainer

Notes

While this dish can be made with any type of fresh mushroom and is an excellent way to use up mushroom scraps, fresh cremini mushrooms will produce more flavor than some other varieties, and at a nice price point.

Read More

  • The Food Lab Redux: How to Make the Perfect Bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen
  • Ramen
  • Japanese
  • Stovetop
  • Pork
  • Soups
Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth Recipe (2024)

FAQs

How does tonkotsu ramen get creamy? ›

Tonkotsu ramen & Tonkatsu

Tonkotsu is the pork bone broth which we are centering all our love around today. Creamy and cloudy, we get to this point by boiling the bones for hours on end. As mentioned, this kind of ramen comes from modern day f*ckuoka.

What is tonkotsu ramen broth made of? ›

Tonkotsu ramen broth is simply pork bones cooked at a rolling boil for 12 hours. The process extracts all the goodness of the pork and turns the broth creamy white.

How to make your ramen broth creamy? ›

Soy milk is the secret ingredient that makes my creamy miso ramen EXTRA creamy. Unsweeten Soy Milk provides instant depth and richness to the broth that you can find at restaurants. Dashi Stock also provides instant umami flavor to the broth.

How to make ramen broth more rich? ›

While it is possible to make a flavorful ramen broth without any meat, most people tend to add chicken or pork bone stock. Adding these bones causes the broth to become rich and flavorful.

Why is my ramen broth not creamy? ›

Keeping the broth at a low, rolling boil ensures that the released fat and particulate matter emulsifies in the broth, which makes the broth opaque and creamy.

How unhealthy is tonkotsu ramen? ›

A typical bowl of tonkotsu ramen has about 900 calories per bowl, but some stretch far beyond 1,000 calories at certain restaurants. Most of the calories in this meal come from the noodles and the tremendous amount of fat in the meat. The broth alone takes in all the fat, making it a scrumptious choice.

How to make tonkotsu ramen taste better? ›

so here are a few additional topping options for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen:
  1. Fried onions.
  2. Seaweed.
  3. Pickled ginger.
  4. Sprouts.
  5. Miso butter.
  6. Garlic.
  7. Jalapeno slices.
  8. Green chilis.
Oct 25, 2021

Why is tonkotsu broth milky? ›

The finished liquid tonkotsu broth is quite milky white in color. That's because the marrow, collagen and all the goodness of the bones are dissolved and woven into the liquid broth over the many hours of boiling.

Why is tonkotsu ramen so good? ›

With Tonkotsu ramen, the nutrition lies in its flavourful broth. By steeping the pork bones for hours, as mentioned before, all the healthy goodness within the bones flows out and marinates the soup. This gives the broth its silky feel and makes each mouthful a decadent experience.

What is the difference between tonkatsu and tonkotsu? ›

In truth, tonkatsu and tonkotsu are very different. The main similarity is that they both feature pork: Ton translates to pig or pork. But the dishes differ: Tonkatsu refers to crispy fried pork cutlets, while tonkotsu is a type of ramen made from bone broth.

Should I add milk to ramen broth? ›

Dairy milk gives your ramen a milky, creamy character. It takes the heat out of spicy ramen and adds a thick, rich texture. Soy milk, on the other hand, is sweet and nutty. It's not as thick and creamy.

Which ramen has creamy broth? ›

Tonkotsu is a viscous, creamy, and complex ramen made from simmered pork bones. The bones break down and release collagen while cooking, meaning that tonkotsu can be so thick that it coats the back of a spoon.

How do you add richness to broth? ›

"If your broth is lacking in savory richness, try adding roasted onion, tomato paste, mushrooms, seaweed, soy sauce, or miso. These ingredients add umami flavor and depth to broth," she says. The choice of ingredient depends on the recipe, though.

What makes a broth rich? ›

Meat will produce a decent stock but not a rich one with depth of flavor. For that you need bones. The bones must be seared first and then simmered for hours, at least overnight. Add a bit of water or wine every two to three hours to make sure the bones remain covered and stay moist.

What can I add to ramen broth to make it better? ›

Garlic and ginger are two aromatics that can help liven up the flavor of your broth. Not only do ginger and garlic bring a great punch of flavor, but they're also an easy addition to your meal. After you fully remove the peel of your garlic cloves, simply drop them into the hot broth to disseminate their flavor.

Why is tonkotsu ramen milky? ›

We use a very pure approach: bones + water + boil. The finished liquid tonkotsu broth is quite milky white in color. That's because the marrow, collagen and all the goodness of the bones are dissolved and woven into the liquid broth over the many hours of boiling.

Does tonkotsu broth have dairy in it? ›

Tonkotsu ramen is traditionally made with pork bones and does not contain dairy ingredients. However, some restaurants or pre-packaged varieties may add milk or cream for a richer flavor, so it is important to check the ingredients list before consuming.

Does milk make ramen creamier? ›

It's super easy to make and ready in about 10 minutes. The milk adds a really creamy base and makes instant ramen way more exciting.

How do you make tonkotsu broth thicker? ›

If you prefer a thicker tonkotsu you can reduce the soup further, or thicken it with the addition of simmered backfat or use a stick blender to emulsify in some additional bonito powder.

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