Pork stock is a staple of many delicious asian soups, and in the case of ramen noodles in Toronto, it seems to be the thing that every restaurant gets wrong. I haven’t tried my hand at a truly authentic ramen yet: I’ll have to get some pork leg bones from my butcher as well as some skin to break collagen down from. Not to mention authentic fresh ramen noodles aren’t locally available to cook. However I decided I wanted to make a versatile pork stock with the resources at hand, and work on the flavours from there. By keeping my soup fairly generic, I was able to produce both Koreany and Japanesey noodle soup dishes, pork stock is really awesome.
I started with a big pork shoulder that was onsale, a little bit of pork belly (for added richness, more on this later), fresh garlic (was far more potent than I’d have gathered by the bulb size), a cooking onion and a giant head of napa cabbage (which was the smallest I could get :D). I began by braising my pork shoulder, just to seal the outside a bit. This was just done by using a stainless steel pan, maximum heat for literally just 30-60 seconds per side to get a nice brown. Tossed that bad boy into the crock pot. Next, I sliced the pork belly into some thick strips, and then braised it also. I then filled the crock pot with enough water to cover those guys and watched the delicious oils seep out into the water. I didn’t keep any of the pan drippings, as they contained a bit of char from the outside of the meat.
Next up I sliced the lower half (maybe slightly less than half) of the napa, washed it and chucked it into the crock pot on top of the meat. I chose the lower half, which is the thicker half to make my stock from, and saved the leafier half for later. I peeled and quartered the onion, tossed it into the pot. I began peeling the gigantic garlic and tossed it in as well. After the first two bulbs, I tried a tiny slice and realized it was a lot more potent than I had imagined (very impressive for such large bulbs), and kept the third bulb for another day. I filled the crock pot the rest of the way up with water, covered it, and turned it on low for 10 hours, and went to work…
When I returned home from work I was greeted by a delicious smelling house and a rich full pot of pork stock. Upon tasting the stock I was shocked by the richness. The shoulder itself was a very rich cut, I probably *didn’t* need to add the belly, but no complaints from me. I added a few healthy shakes of MSG and tasted again, and refrained from adding salt as I wanted some versatility later. We boiled our fresh wonton noodles (the closest thing I could find to ramen noodles, fresh, at Longos) for a minute, drained, rinsed and left them to chill a bit. We took the other half of the napa cabbage and sliced off a bunch of leaves, washed and halved them, then blanched them for about 30 seconds in salted water and drained/rinsed them as well. By doing this we’ll have two textures of cabbage in the soup: both the stewed white parts in the stock and some crispier leaves.
With the cabbage and noodles ready, we can begin putting a dish together. I took a few leaves of the blanched napa and a handful of noodles and threw them in a bowl. Next I took some ladles of the soup broth, along with the stewed napa, garlic and onion and poured them over top of the noodles. I then hand picked some leaner meat from the pot and put them in the bowl. The shoulder has some very fatty parts, and the belly itself is exceedingly rich when boiled. While I did eat one of the belly slices on its own, it certainly isn’t a texture everyone wants, and definitely not in noodle soup. For the initial recipe, I added a half teaspoon of gochujang to each bowl, which is a sweet/sour spicy fermented pepper/soy/rice paste, stirring it in until it dissolved giving the soup a red tint.
It was a deliciously rich soup, maybe even too rich, but the little bit of spice kick and sweetness from the gochujang balanced it out. I wasn’t 100% happy with the dish, but I was pleased with the stock itself. After the crock pot was cooled, I skimmed off the fat, removed the larger bone pieces, and tossed out the fat cap that had become separated. It chilled in the fridge over night, and I skimmed off the rest of the fat that had congealed at the surface in the morning.
For todays lunch, I packed some more of the leftover blanched napa and noodles to some of the meat and broth in a tupperware. I then added a bit of water, a bit more MSG, and a bit of light soy (not low sodium). Upon a reheat at work I was delighted that I had a very Japanesey, dare I say, shoyu-esque soup! Delicious and definitely even better the second day :)
Pork soup is wonderful, and it’s definitely something I’m going to keep iterating. I will eventually get some bones and skin and do a traditional ramen, but until then I’ll be happily eating these left overs for weeks!