Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

After that in-depth post on making your own stock or bone broth, I think I might have given the impression that I'm really good at making perfect stock.

I'm not.

I try, and heck, to me, that's the right way! There are so many types of bone broths anyway, and the Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth is an example of how different the idea of 'perfect' is. I mentioned how in most Chinese stock/soup-making, the aim is to get a very clear and light soup. Tonkotsu broth is the opposite. It's so decadently thick and rich with the collagen and fat from pork marrow bones that you get an almost milky white broth.

The first time I tried it, I did it the way Marc Matsumoto from No Recipes suggested- mixed with chicken bones, complete with ginger, tahini, and burnt garlic (he has a really great detailed post and he's probably eaten and made a lot more ramen broths than me). Then I came across Shizuoka Gourmet, whose broth was the complete opposite, with just one ingredient: pork bones. I loved the simplicity of it. Tonkotsu broth is, after all, essentially, about pork. There's something poetic about how just putting in effort and time transforms a pile of pork bones to a delicious broth rich in flavour (and nutrients). I still kept Marc's tips on using pork leg bones for the marrow and connective tissues, and the tahini for an added nutty aroma and richness. The burnt garlic oil as a final flourish isn't a must, but it is pretty awesome.

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth/Stock
To make about 2 litres of broth base
1.5 kg pork leg bones
7 litres of water

To serve (for 1)
2 1/2 cups of broth base
1 heaped tsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 serving of ramen noodles
unrefined sea salt and white pepper, to taste (or use miso instead for miso tonkotsu ramen)

Toppings (up to you)
squidgy yolk hard-boiled eggs, beansprouts, seaweed, black wood ear/cloud fungus, shredded leftover pork from the bits hanging on the bones, toasted garlic and ginger, toasted sesame seeds, chopped spring onions, seaweed, black garlic oil (see below)

1. In a deep large pot, blanch the bones in boiling hot water to remove the blood and impurities. Drain the water and scrub the pot before filling with fresh water and bringing to the boil.
2. Add the bones again and keep skimming off any foam or scum, about 20 min.
3. Cover and let simmer on a low fire for 15 hours. (yes, no typo. What I did was transfer to my slow cooker, pre-heated and kept on high, through the night.)

At the start- pork leg bones, with the lovely marrow and fat we want

After 15 hours- the oil gets emulsified with the stock to get our creamy concentrated broth heaven

The bones after that - bleached dry of all their goodness

4. Filter to get your tonkotsu broth base.

5. To serve, blanch the noodles in boiling water for 1 minute or till slightly less done (as it'll continue cooking). Mix the ingredients for the soup and pour over the noodles, then top with choice of toppings. Slurp and enjoy!

The broth was deliciously rich and so creamy you'd think there was something more than just bones and water. You'll see that the latest attempt (not this photo, the one right at the start) was slightly more successful. I slurped all of them down very happily anyway, and knew right after that this was thick with collagen because my lips got all sticky. I heard from my Japanese classmate that in Japanese ramen places, you had to finish your ramen and slurp down the whole bowl of soup or you'll start getting the evil eye, so I'm just keeping up with tradition(:

You'll notice I haven't given much attention to the other components of the tonkotsu ramen. The toppings are really up to you, but purists would say the noodles are perhaps just as important as the broth. The ramen master will probably be using handmade ramen noodles, but I think I would starve if I had to start making the noodles too. I did use fresh egg spaghettini, handmade by Phil from Pimlico farmers' market...

The thing about the elusive tonkotsu ramen broth, is that there is no definite recipe to follow. It's that heavily guarded secret and the only way to get hold of it is by, I don't know, begging a ramen master to let you train under him for 20 years, or some kind of despicable means? Or you could just research and experiment yourself, which is what I did. I hope you enjoyed the recipe, but keep on visiting your favourite ramen place!

Oh and lastly, the 'burnt' garlic oil if you're interested:

Black ("Burnt") Garlic Oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Over medium low heat, toast the minced garlic in the sesame oil, stirring occasionally until it is very dark brown. Turn the heat down to low and let it cook until it is black. (I kind of chickened out and stopped at the dark brown/copper stage, see photo.)
2. Immediate transfer hot oil and garlic to a heatproof bowl, let cool completely and blitz with a hand blender until you get a uniformly black (or copper) oil. It will taste slightly bitter but is fantastic when you add just a little bit to the broth

Black garlic oil for Black Friday (:

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The 'Right' Way to Make Stock

My mum's big black stockpot over a charcoal fire

I put a guilty hand up; there have been plenty of occasions when I've had to resort to an instant stock cube. There are many good brands nowadays that are organic and yeast-free, Kallo being my go-to saviour on busy weeks. But the best stock to me is still a traditional bone broth, simmered over hours to extract not just flavour, but nutrients. I've recently discovered a neat little trick which means I can finally be less reliant on my good old friend Kallo: Freeze concentrated homemade stock in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and seal in a freezer bag – 'instant' stock cubes as and when you need them! Lightbulb moment.

Back home in Singapore, my mum makes stock almost every day, slow-cooked in a huge black claypot over a charcoal fire, with a very precise selection of bones from specific parts of specific animals for the right flavour.

Here, I do things a lot simpler.

Stock is basically just bones, simmered in water, hence also called bone broth (of course, there's also the vegetable stock i.e. onions carrots celery leeks, in a pot, about an hour). There aren't really any hard and fast rules, but read on anyway. I've got tips, and I also want to bring up Chinese stocks, which are different in many ways!

The bones and bits
You can use a leftover chicken carcass, or if you don't often buy a whole chicken because you're cooking for one, just save your bones from after you finish eating a drumstick or something. Bones that have been pre-roasted will give a "brown" stock, fresh bones will give a "white" stock. You'll also often find carcasses on sale at the farmers' market, or just ask your butcher for beef, or veal, bones, usually for free. In chinese cooking, pork bones are favoured. Yes, pig's tail. For really gelatinous broth, add chicken feet/wings/neck/pork trotters/ears/tail. For fish stock, fish heads are best.

To boil or not to boil?
The Sally Fallon method calls for the bones to sit in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar added for an hour or so before bringing it up to a boil, to extract all the calcium and minerals.
For Chinese stock though, the first step is always to parboil the bones. That gets rid of most of the blood and impurities and makes for a cleaner, clearer stock. I prefer this, it gives a much better result, and I doubt there's much difference in the nutrient content after all those hours of simmering.

A bubbling pot of stock
is wrong.
Whether or not you parboil the bones at first, you want to bring the bones and water to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer, over low heat, for the rest of the time. There should be just a tiny bit of bubbling action, think that minimal bubble stream you see from a goldfish in a tank. Keep skimming any scum that you see on top, though the parboiling step helps to reduce the amount of scum.

For how long?
The general attitude usually is, for as long as you can, if your aim is to extract everything out from the bones, flavour and nutrients-wise. I usually leave it overnight in the slow cooker on low, and the next day, the bones become useless and soft enough to crush with a spoon. But for a light Chinese broth, my mum says 3-4 hours is enough for chicken/ pork stock and only half an hour for fish stock. Fish bones are quite delicate, and you only need a short while of bare simmering to extract its goodness.*

You can add nothing, or anything, really
Suggestions for different types of stock:
1. The Western stock usually calls for onions, carrots, celery, maybe leeks or bay leaf too. I save the carrot tops and base of celery etc and freeze them to add to stocks, or even to make vegetable stock. So, repeat, it can really cost nothing.
2. The standard Chinese stock calls for garlic, ginger and/or spring onions, which helps to get rid of the undesired "smell". Sometimes a dash of rice wine, for the same reason. I think it also works as a sort of acidic medium much like Sally Fallon's vinegar, to extract nutrients. 
3. You can add nothing at all too, which is what I like to do usually because the more neutral it is, the more versatile it can be.
4.  Chinese herbs and/or vegetables like daikon/ mooli radish. We don't just make basic stocks to add to dishes; often we just make soup with bones straight away, slow-simmered with various herbs/ingredients. The Chinese call this 老火汤, literally-translated to "old fire soup". (See "Old-fire watercress & goji berry soup")

So what is good stock?
Good stock should gel when refrigerated. That's collagen that you can get much better than any collagen pill. Colour will differ based on type of stock.
In addition, if it's Chinese stock, chefs (and chinese mums) will look for stock clarity. To get that, you not only have to follow all the tips above for chinese stock, but you should ideally skim off the fat after chilling - which can be saved for cooking with. You can also use bones that come from a less fatty part of the animal, because the fat globules dispersed in the stock will 'muddy' the stock. My mum's specific blend for clear stock 清高汤 includes the bones from the back of the pig, chicken feet, chicken breast bone, and dried scallops. For rich stocks, she uses pig's tails and trotters.

This was so gelatinous it set like too-stiff jelly. The white layer on top is the hardened fat.

All in all, it doesn't matter if you make it in the 'right' way or not. All stocks make a brilliant addition to your cooking, and often don't cost anything to make! They give a boost of flavour and nutrition to everything from soups and stews, to stir-fries. I sometime replace it with water to make plain rice more exciting.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Steamed Eggs (Chinese Savoury Custard)

Another very homely recipe to chase away the blues.

It's really cheap and simple and has hardly any ingredients at all, and all the kids (and adults) love it. It's the Chinese household equivalent of the more known Japanese chawanmushi, the Japanese version being steamed in a pretty little cup, with all sorts of hidden goodies. The version I grew up with though, is plain and unadorned and done in a shallow steam-proof dish. The most basic version is called 蒸水蛋 i.e. "steamed water eggs", because it is literally just steaming a water-egg mixture, but using stock (my mum insists!) makes it 10x better.

The test of a good steamed egg lies in the texture. It will be soft and silky with a smooth surface, kind of like a savoury set custard. Done wrong, it will be rubbery with a a pock-marked surface-- like the ones I used to do until I went to research and properly grilled my mum.

I love this old-school fail-proof way of measuring liquid:egg ratio

Steamed Eggs
serves 1-2
2 free-range pastured eggs
6 eggshell-halves of cooled boiled water/ homemade stock (hence, size of eggs don't matter!)
white pepper + 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (opt, but again, my mum insists!)

To serve
traditionally brewed and fermented soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil (or lard from happy pigs) + drizzle of toasted sesame oil
chopped spring onions (opt, as kids we'd pick them out)

1. Beat eggs well with the water/stock. Strain the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the bubbles, into a shallow (mine was about 1/2 inch deep) steam-proof dish.
2. Prepare steamer, or for a makeshift one, just set a metal rack over a pot of boiling water, making sure the metal rack is higher than the water level. Place the dish on the rack, covered with a plate or sealed with foil (my mum's style).
3. Turn to low heat, and steam for about 15 min or till set. If you're not sure, shaking the dish a little, it should be jiggly but firm. Uncover halfway first, wait for steam to escape, then fully uncover.
4. To serve, sprinkle spring onions over. Heat the oils till smoking hot. Pour over, and then dizzle the soy sauce over (adjust according to taste, you may need less if you've seasoned it with a flavourful stock). 

The oils scalds the raw spring onions to release its fragrance, and also helps the soy sauce to 'glide' smoothly over. It's what gives it the extra special something, though you could skip it if you want to go the healthy zen and Japanese route.

My mum, being my mum, will also add minced pork or fish seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and pepper, and she will use her best stock (leftover, made from simmering chicken bones and dried scallops). The one I have here is a lot less deluxe. But it's, oh gosh, so familiar and good. The eggs are just set with a delicate custardy texture, and is seasoned simply by the river of light soy sauce running through. Each spoonful of steamed egg is like a savoury scoop of home.

I think I even saw a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds just now (: