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I made stock last Sunday, which I intended to use as the base for homemade tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen. Accordingly, I used both chicken and pork (roughly equal amounts of chicken backs and pork hocks). I also added several cloves of garlic, a large leek, celery, carrots, and small knob of ginger.

I boiled the meat/bones briefly before straining and starting over with cold water (for clarity of finished stock), added the other ingredients, and brought to a boil. I then reduced to a simmer and skimmed the very small amount of scum from the surface. The stock simmered for about 8 hours before I strained it through a cloth.

The resulting stock is perfectly clear, with an excellent, thick mouthfeel and gelled nicely in the refrigerator. However, the stock also has very little flavor-- even copious amounts of salt don't help much. Since my stock is by all other measures a success, I'm puzzled as to why it's so flavorless.

Where did I go wrong?

  • Have you confirmed that others think your stock is 'flavorless'? – Cos Callis May 23 '17 at 19:40
  • What is your ingredients to water ratios by weight? And the reduction ratio? Miso, kombu and dashi are good sources of flavours and umami. Gelling alone is helpful for texture but not intensity/complexity of flavours, after all gelatine is bland. – user110084 May 23 '17 at 22:33
  • @CosCallis Unfortunately I live alone, so there are no others to taste it. But if I'm eating it and I think its bland, isn't that all that matters? – senschen May 24 '17 at 11:53
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Couple notes or suggestions;

  1. Added in fat? Typically for ramen adding in a copious amount of finely chopped pork fat is a must. Usually boil a slab on top of bones for 4 hours and then chop and add. Serve with a side of lipitor.

  2. Where is the savory flavour or unami? You need to either cook some veggies/aromatics to get the Maillard reaction or cheat and add some MSG and/or a unami super boost (mushroom, marmite, anchoivies or other). Lots of techniques to get savory flavour; which I think is what you may be missing. soy sauce, or miso are also classic; pending what your end ramen is going to be.

Overall the technique is good; just missing the flavoring step; the base broth itself is not going to have a lot of flavour since you are not roasting; along with blanching step.

Blanching for a clear broth does remove a significant amount of flavour; but is more classical ramen approach.

Another trick you can use to extract more flavour is add a acid early to process; 1TBsp to 1/3cup or so of apple cider vinegar. My goto when making a thai sour chicken soup or some other white broth soup that will be loaded with lime and cilantro later. Drastic flavour change; so be-careful and test first.

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    +1 Next time I'll roast the veggies and add mushrooms. What would have happened if I roasted and blanched the bones? Even though none of the recipes I looked at mentioned roasting them, I did consider it as its my usual procedure for making plain chicken stock (which usually comes out very flavorful), but in the end I decided the flavor from the roasting would all go out in the blanch. Is that not the case? – senschen May 24 '17 at 12:07
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    @senchen - most stock recipes I have call for roasting the bones/meat. Maybe instead you should just do a single slow raising of the heat to a simmer, and skim the "foam" for broth clarity. Also, I really don't care about how clear a broth is if the flavor is good. I'm guessing that initial boil may be extracting quite a bit of flavor that you're tossing out. – PoloHoleSet May 24 '17 at 15:05
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    Typically you want to blanch first; then roast. This adds significant time as you have to let bones dry before roasting or have a really hot oven. But keep in mind this will darken the ramen to more of a lighter brown and not the typical yellow associated with classical ramen. Many chefs skip blanching all together; richer broth; lots more impurities; more flavour. (good or bad?) Lots of arguments follow this; personally i like both; pending my mood. – zerobane May 25 '17 at 4:24
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I've always made stock using meaty bones with salt added. I have borderline low BP and can use the sodium. But I've heard many people making perfectly good stock without salt so I don't think that in itself is the problem.

If others agree your stock lacks flavour, it won't be due to your method. I'd say it's more likely your meat. Remember that chickens are slaughtered at a very young age - a matter of weeks - so the chicken backs would be from young chicken. Older larger chickens would be left whole for roasting. The same goes for pork hocks. A grown pig is a very large animal and you'd be able to judge from the size of hocks you used, the pig they came from wasn't that old either. Most pork we eat comes from pigs between 5-10 months of age - no longer babies but comparable to roughly a young teenager.

Old hens and parts from fully mature pigs was what was traditionally used to make stews and soups. The meat was too tough to fry or roast but was very flavourful for slow simmering. Think of the difference in flavour between veal (calf) and beef.

  • +1 I think you may be on to something here-- the quality of the meat/bones I used was less than what I typically buy-- a function of what the grocery store had that day, unfortunately. – senschen May 24 '17 at 11:59
  • If I want to make really good chicken stock for ramen then I use Guinea fowl fowl. It's true that a lot of cheap chicken lacks flavour. – worthwords May 25 '17 at 2:45
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I make stocks on a weekly basis and am used to some variation in flavour but the lack of potency usually comes from 1) too much water 2) not enough salt

Now I don't use salt in making the broth but it's often the salt that draws out the stock's flavour and so the final broth is often much richer when you salt or add soy sauce, fish sauce etc. My method these days involves a pressure cooker with a fixed volume of liquid - not necessarily covering the meat. My favourite ramen broth is a smoked ham hock with 1L water in the pressure cooker for 45 mins and it's fairly intense without extra salt.

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Too much water? not reduced enough ?

I would color the meat and the vegetables with a little bit of oil (one batch for the meat and one batch for the vegetables) before adding the water.

  • I only started with ~2 inches above all ingredients worth of water, and reduced a lot more than that, so I doubt its the water content. And none of the various ramen-broth recipes I looked at mentioned anything about pre-cooking any of the ingredients in any way... – senschen May 23 '17 at 17:40
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I have found triple reducing helps optimize flavour and viscosity. Reduce, add water 3/4 of original amount, reduce to desired outcome. I also love salt more than most so to avoid over salting I finish with a splash of vinegar. White, rice, apple, or whichever suites your preference for the final profile.

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