We collaborate with OutimenTV for this article.
OutimenTV has been releasing documentary-like videos on making various types of ramen. The one we will introduce this time is "How to Make Tonkatsu Ramen". It is a Shoyu (soy sauce) ramen in a clear pork bone broth with Tonkatsu on top instead of chasyu. One of the themes of this recipe is to clarify the difference between "Tonkotsu" and "Tonkatsu" by combining the two words that are easily confused.
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"Tonkotsu" means pork bones. "Ton" means pork and "Kotsu" means bone. In short, "Tonkotsu ramen" means ramen with pork bones, or ramen with broth made from pork bones. Ramen is frequently categorized as Tonkotsu Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, Miso Ramen, and Shio Ramen (Salt Flavored ramen). Note that the name "Tonkotsu ramen" is derived from the broth, while the other three are derived from the seasoning (tare sauce).
"Tonkatsu" means pork katsu. Katsu is a type of meat dish that is coated with coarse panko breadcrumbs batter and deep fried. It is based on katsuretsu, the original form of cutlet (côtelettes). Katsuretsu is a meat dish which is battered with fine panko breadcrumbs and fried in oil.
For Authentic Tonkatsu, pork is cut into thick slices and dipped in a batter of flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs, then deep-fried in oil. Deep-frying in plenty of oil prevents the pork from being exposed to air, thus reducing the evaporation of moisture and maintaining the juicy texture. Deep-frying until the surface turns brown allows you to enjoy the contrasting textures of the juicy pork and the crispy batter. In recent years, white battered pork cutlets fried slowly at low temperatures are also becoming more popular. These battered, confit-like Tonkatsu are characterized by their moist texture. Using the finest pork fillet, you might be amazed at how tender it turns out.
However, in this recipe, the pork is cut thinly and fried in a small amount of oil. Also, the panko breadcrumbs used are finer as well. This is similar to how katsuretsu is cooked.If you are cooking in a home kitchen, this method may be easier. If you want your pork to be juicier, you can use a lid while cooking to add a steamed element. Otherwise, if you are not afraid of deep frying, you can try your hand at authentic Tonkatsu. In this case, you should be careful about the temperature of the oil. Generally, the optimum temperature of the oil for deep frying pork cutlets is 170℃ to 180℃. If the temperature goes any higher, the surface of the pork may become burnt before the center is cooked.
The broth to go with Tonkatsu is Tonkotsu soup, which is pork bone broth. When you think of Tonkotsu ramen, a creamy, white broth usually comes to mind. The same goes for Ramen Hero's Totally Tonkotsu. However, even if the same pork bones are used, it is possible to make a clear pork bone broth by boiling it at a lower temperature to avoid emulsification. If you trace the history of pork bone ramen, you will find that it was originally a clear broth instead of the cloudy white one known today. In reality, it is not uncommon for Shoyu ramen and Shio ramen with clear broths to use a Tonkotsu base.
The recipe itself for clear tonkotsu broth is simple. Parboil the pork bones, then cook over a low heat, and finally the vegetables are added. Perhaps the most unique feature of this recipe is the use of hard water to cook the broth. Hard water contains minerals such as calcium and magnesium. How does this affect the cooking of the soup, and how does this recipe make use of it?
When meat or bones are stewed in hard water, the minerals, particularly calcium, combine with the blood and odor of the meat and are extracted as the scum. Taking advantage of this property, it is often used to make stewed meat dishes and clear fonds. Due to the hard water, it can be made without odor or without it going cloudy.
The purpose of this recipe was not only to make a clear tasting broth, but also to test the idea that using hard water would speed up the extraction of the components from the pork bones in an experimental way as well.
The important thing is to clarify the means and purpose. If you are using hard water to make a clear broth, you will need to create a different recipe. For example, the use of hard water in the precooking process effectively removes any odors, and the bones are thoroughly boiled to remove the scum. This will allow a clear broth to be made with no unwanted flavors.
Further research from now will be required to determine if hard water is effective in bringing out the umami flavors. For example, hard water is not good for making dashi (soup stock) for Japanese cuisine, i.e., kombu and katsuobushi stock. This is because the umami ingredients are taken out by the water as scum. This is based on the premise that Japanese dashi should be a clear broth and not be cloudy. If we consider the scum to be umami, there may be a different approach. If we consider we can take in the umami flavors extracted as the scum, we may be able to create a broth that takes advantage of that umami. This is an approach that can be taken, because ramen is a dish that does not need to be refined to be delicious. In this recipe, it is thought that the odor has been sufficiently removed during the pre-boiling stage, and that the scum extracted while it is boiling in hard water is considered part of the flavor, and the intention is to turn it all into part of the dish’s umami flavor.
In any case, the significance of this recipe is that it focuses on the most important element of ramen soup: water. There is in fact a deep relationship between the quality of water used and cooking, and not just for ramen. The reason why Japanese food is based on dashi stock made from the pure flavor of kombu (seaweed) and dried bonito flakes is most likely because Japan had a lot of soft water before. Furthermore, the development of French cuisine using meats as a base for making clear fond and stewed meat is likely because hard water was more common in France back then. Kyushu, where Tonkotsu ramen was born and developed, is a region in Japan with relatively hard water. Perhaps it was this water that taught them the delicious taste that comes from stewing pork bones. Perhaps the reason why Tonkotsu ramen with cloudy soup has become mainstream in the U.S. is because it is the most delicious soup that can be made with the qualities American water holds.
When making ramen soup, the recipe is created and physically tested by considering what ingredients to use, the heat intensity to be used, how long to cook, and what kind of umami flavor and taste this will extract. When the factor of what kind of water is used is added, the whole equation becomes much more complicated. Solving this equation might just be the key to bringing out a new kind of ramen flavor.