Try this amazing recipe for pork belly ramen! Serve slow roasted, then crisped pork belly along with tofu, soft-boiled egg, and your favorite veggies over a steaming hot bowl of ramen noodles in a fragrant broth. Follow my step by step instructions, and this could be on your family’s table tonight.
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What is Ramen?
If you’ve never had real ramen before, you’re in for a treat. Ramen is so much more than a salty flavoring packet and a few dehydrated peas. Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish, based on a Chinese dish that came to the country in the late 1800s. The noodles are wheat based, and are made with an alkaline mineral water called kansui. The noodles are served in a steaming hot broth with a wide variety of protein and vegetable toppings.
There are several basic types of ramen broth. The soup base can be pork, chicken, seafood, or a combination. The main seasoning, or tare (tah-rey) can be shio (salt), miso (soybean paste), or shoyu (soy sauce). The broth itself can be kotteri (milky thick and gelatinous) as in pork-based tonkotsu ramen, or assari (light and clear) at the other end of the spectrum. These distinctions are not black and white, but a spectrum. Ramen can be at either end, or anywhere in the middle.
I use a broth with a pork, chicken, and konbu seaweed base, seasoned with shoyu, and more assari than kotteri. It’s based on the recipe David Chang popularized in his Momofuku cookbook, but I simplified it to make it in my Instant Pot. I strongly recommend making Instant Pot Ramen Broth. If you don’t have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, you can make Chang’s original version.
If neither of those float your boat, don’t worry! Chang’s bacon dashi is much quicker to make – it’s ready in about an hour. It won’t be as flavorful as the full ramen stock, since it’s missing chicken, pork, and mushrooms, but it’s still a good base. You can also substitute chicken or pork broth, preferably homemade.
Whichever broth you choose – mine, Chang’s, or your own – season each bowl before serving with a tare of two parts soy sauce and one part mirin (sweetened rice wine). I mention this in my broth recipe, and you don’t have to do it twice, but you do need to do it. Start with a tablespoon of soy and a teaspoon and.a half of mirin per bowl. Taste, and add a bit more soy, a pinch of salt, or even a dash of fish sauce if it isn’t quite salty enough. You want it to be very flavorful.
Pork belly is playing the role of bacon in this recipe. It’s the part of the pig that is cured and smoked to make bacon, and it is just as delicious as bacon is. There’s also bacon in my ramen stock, so I didn’t completely neglect my signature ingredient! If you haven’t had fresh belly before, get excited. It’s a serious delicacy for my family.
Where to Buy Pork Belly
There are several places you can look. My Costco sells 10 pound bellies, which you could divide into three portions and freeze two. Some Sam’s locations apparently do as well, but mine does not. The largest of my local groceries carries them occasionally. Asian, Latinx, and international groceries are another great place to check, and they often carry a smaller size than Costco. You can also talk to a local butcher or farmer – they can usually hook you up.
Substitutes for Pork Belly
There are no substitutes that will taste just like pork belly, unfortunately. However, you can still make good ramen. The next best thing is chashu pork shoulder (roast pork). It’s a common ramen topping in Japan, and it’s fantastic.
It’s not the same thing, but my husband and I did each have a bowl of ramen the next morning with bacon instead of pork belly. Thick cut bacon is closer than thin, and of course I used some of my homemade stash. It’s good, it just doesn’t have the unctuous quality that fresh, uncured pork belly provides.
How to Prepare Pork Belly
Preparing pork belly is a three step process. I borrow my technique from Chang here (also described in detail in Momofuku), because it’s so simple and so delicious I can’t imagine improving on it.
Step 1: Cure Pork Belly
Mix together equal parts salt and sugar, and rub them all over the pork belly. Place the belly in either a plastic freezer bag or in a sealed container, and refrigerate for 6-24 hours. Overnight is good, but you can also start in the morning and have it ready for dinner the same night.
Step 2: Roast Pork Belly
Roast the pork belly for one hour in a 450F oven, fat side up. Baste it with its own juices halfway through. After an hour, turn the oven temp down to 250F. Roast for another hour and fifteen minutes. Remove. The belly can be prepared to this point up to 3 days in advance – just refrigerate until ready to use.
Step 3: Slice and Fry Pork Belly
If you’re going to make the ramen the same day as the pork belly, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it into the freezer. This will make slicing significantly easier. Otherwise just remove from the fridge shortly before serving the ramen. Slice the pork belly into 1/4″ thick slices, and cook for a couple of minutes on each side in a cast iron pan. I like to get a bit of crisp on them, but a quick sear is okay too. Set aside until ready to assemble ramen.
First of all, you have some leeway here. I’ll list what I used along with some variations, as well as some common ramen toppings that didn’t make it into this recipe. Feel free to customize your ramen based on your preferences and what you have on hand.
You can go a few different ways here. I’m partial to soft-boiled eggs for ramen. You can use them as-is or marinate in soy sauce and mirin for a special treat. Hard-boiled and poached eggs are great too. Slow-poached eggs (another Chang technique) are a little more time intensive, but produce fantastic results.
My kids are weird. They absolutely love tofu. I’m a fan myself too, so I add it to soups and stir-fries pretty regularly. I like to fry mine first, but it’s not mandatory. I would strongly suggest buying either Firm or (preferably) Extra Firm tofu, and going an extra step by removing as much moisture as possible prior to frying. I always sandwich the tofu block between a few layers of paper towels, then top with a heavy cast iron pan for about 20 minutes. Toss with a pinch of salt and stir fry for a few minutes until light golden brown.
I used spinach for this recipe, but you could also use kale, collard greens, chard, mustard greens, beet greens – you get the picture. I gave my spinach a quick sauté since I was cooking other things, but you could also cook it in the ramen broth if you preferred. If you choose a sturdier green like kale or collards I’d definitely recommend sautéing them first.
I had picked up some enoki mushrooms at the Asian market earlier in the week, and decided they would make a nice addition to our ramen this time. I’ve used shiitakes and oysters with good results as well. If you made my ramen broth, you can slice the dried shiitakes that were used to season it and add them in if you’d like. If you choose fresh mushrooms, definitely give them a sauté before adding them to the ramen. I cooked mine in one half of the pan at the same time as the spinach
It’s still corn season up in Wisconsin, and I bought a couple of extra ears this week. One ear of raw corn is enough to add to four bowls of ramen. Just slice the corn right off of the cob. No need to cook it prior to adding it to the soup. Of course, frozen or canned corn would work too.
I like scallions for ramen and other noodle soups, but you could also use chives, garlic scapes, leeks, or even thinly sliced shallot or white onion. Make sure to clean the leeks thoroughly if you go that route.
- Bamboo shoots – preferably fresh
- Bean sprouts – preferably fresh, either raw or sautéed
- Kamaboko (steamed fish cake, thin-sliced) – I don’t have access to this where I live, unfortunately, but authentic ramen recipes usually call for it
- Seaweed – nori or wakame (in place of greens)
- Napa cabbage – raw and shredded
Assemble Pork Belly Ramen
Cook ramen noodles according to package directions. Divide noodles between the largest soup bowls you have. Top with steaming hot ramen broth. Top each bowl with pork belly slices, one egg, tofu, greens, mushrooms, corn, scallions, and any other toppings you may be using. Serve with chopsticks (or a fork) and a large spoon for slurping. Top with additional soy sauce and a dab of chili garlic sauce if desired.
What to Serve with Ramen?
Ramen can absolutely be a full meal, so don’t feel like you need to make anything else. That said, we often use it a an excuse to have one of our favorite appetizers – gyoza (Japanese potstickers). I have a bacon and shrimp gyoza recipe that I will be linking here soon, but you can absolutely use store-bought as well. Steamed edamame is our other favorite. Other options would include any other appetizers you might find at an Asian restaurant. Egg rolls, spring rolls, seaweed salad, yakitori, and even sushi would make nice accompaniments.
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Pork Belly Ramen
- 1.5 lb pork belly
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp neutral oil
- 8 cups ramen broth may substitute bacon dashi or pork or chicken broth
- 1/3 cup soy sauce preferably usukushi (light) – more to taste
- 3 Tbsp mirin or sake with 1 tsp sugar added – more to taste
- salt to taste
- 16 oz ramen noodles fresh or dried
- 4 eggs soft/hard-boiled, or poached
- 14 oz tofu extra firm preferably, water pressed out
- 6 oz spinach or other greens
- 6 oz enoki mushrooms may substitute shiitake or oyster, fresh or rehydrated
- 1 ear corn kernels only, may use 1 cup frozen or canned
- 1/2 cup scallions diced, may substitute chives, garlic scapes, or cleaned leeks
- 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil divided
- 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil divided
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce more to taste
- pinch salt
- chili garlic sauce optional, to taste
Prepare Pork Belly
- Mix together salt and sugar. Rub pork belly on all sides. Cover and refrigerate for 6-24 hours (overnight is perfect). Wipe off excess cure.
- Preheat oven to 450F. Roast pork belly, fat side up, for 45 minutes (60 min if using 3 lb belly – see note). Baste with own juices halfway through. Reduce heat to 250F. Roast an additional 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from oven. These steps may be done up to three days in advance – wrap belly tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate untli ready to use.
- If using belly the day of roasting, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30-60 min to make slicing easier. Remove from refrigerator/freezer and unwrap. Slice to 1/4" thickness. Fry for about 2 minutes per side in lightly oiled cast iron pan, until brown and slightly crispy. Remove to paper towel-lined plate until ready to assemble ramen.
Prepare Ramen Toppings
- Cut tofu into 3/4" cubes. Sprinkle with salt. Heat half each of vegetable and sesame oil over medium heat. Stir fry 6-8 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Remove until ready to assemble ramen.
- Heat remainder of oil over medium heat. Add spinach and mushrooms (whole if using enoki, sliced if shiitake or oyster). Saute 2-3 minutes. Add soy sauce. Saute an additional 1-2 minutes or until spinach wilted and mushrooms soft. Increase cooking time if substituting sturdier green such as kale.
- Prepare ramen noodles according to package directions. Drain.
- Heat broth to a simmer. Season with soy sauce and mirin. Taste and adjust to preferred level of saltiness.
- Divide hot noodles between 4 bowls. Ladle in piping hot stock. Portion out toppings in each bowl: pork belly, tofu, greens. mushrooms, corn, and scallions. Serve ramen with chopsticks and large spoon. Let diners add additional soy sauce and chili garlic sauce if desired. Enjoy!