Tonjiru is the ultimate miso soup packed with tender pork belly and a tonne of extra veggies to make it more filling and delicious! You've gotta try this warming home style dish!
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Tonjiru (豚汁) or butajiru is a type of miso soup made with pork and vegetables. It's very very common within Japanese home cooking, my mum probably made a lot more tonjiru than regular miso soup when I was growing up.
It's warming, comforting and extremely tasty. This dish is great to make in a big batch and feed your family something delicious and nutritious.
The simple reason why this is such a popular home cooking dish is because it's more filling than your basic miso soup.
The meaning of "tonjiru"
In Japanese, "ton" (豚) means pork and shiru (汁) means soup. These words come together to make "tonjiru" which literally means 'pork soup', so pork is kind of a must item to have for this dish.
豚 can also be read as "buta" which is why some people call this dish as "butajiru".
The elements of Tonjiru
The key elements in tonjiru are dashi broth, miso paste, pork and vegetables. Let's look at each element in detail.
Tonjiru is made with a dashi base. Dashi is a kind of Japanese stock, there are a few different base ingredients.
- Kombu dashi (dried kelp)
- Katsuobushi dashi (bonito flakes from skipjack tuna)
- Shiitake Dashi (dried shiitake mushrooms)
- Niboshi (dried sardines)
In today's recipe I will make the tonjiru with a homemade dashi made with a mixture of kombu and katsuobushi, this is called "awase dashi" and we have a recipe on how to make it here.
(Note: Our dashi recipe makes 1 litre (4 ¼ cups) but this tonjiru recipe requires 1.5 litres (6 ½ cups) so you will need to increase the ingredients by x1.5. )
If you don't have dashi or the ingredients to make it, you can just use water but the flavour won't have so much depth.
There are 3 types of miso paste in Japan;
- Shiro miso (White miso)
- Aka Miso (Red miso)
- Awase Miso (A mix of white and red, also known as "yellow miso")
Although white miso is probably most commonly used for this dish, you can use your preferred miso paste for this recipe.
Different areas of Japan tend to use different ingredients, it's interesting how much a dish of the same name can differ from region to region.
For example, I was born and grew up in Aichi prefecture which is known for its famous red miso (Hatcho miso) and here it's not uncommon to use red miso for tonjiru. (It's pretty rich!)
In my recipe I used Hikari "awase miso" (yellow) this time, you can purchase it on Amazon here.
While ordinary miso soup only contains a few select ingredients, tonjiru uses a wider variety. Common ingredients include:
- Spring Onion
- Potato (usually "satoimo" also known as taro)
- Mushroom (Japanese types such as shiitake, enoki, eryngii, shimeji)
- Daikon radish
- Root vegetables ("gobo" burdock root is common)
- Konjac (konnyaku)
It's up to you which ingredients you decide to add, but I recommend to choose at least 3 from this list in addition to the pork. The ingredients in my recipe are what I personally like to use in tonjiru and you can omit the ones you can't access or don't like.
Tips and tricks to making amazing Tonjiru at home
It is safe to say tonjiru is one of the biggest staple dishes in Japan, meaning there are so many tips and tricks available!
In this section, I will explain my favourite tips to make an amazing tonjiru at home as well as how to avoid common mistakes.
The more, the merrier
There are so many kinds of vegetables you can use in tonjiru, but I have to say, when it comes to tonjiru, the more, the merrier.
And I mean variety of vegetables as well as quantity of vegetables.
By adding more vegetables, the delicious and complex essence from them will come out and make the dish have more depth of flavour.
Use pork belly block
The most important ingredients in tonjiru is the pork and each household probably uses different type of pork. I personally recommend pork belly block specifically.
While extremely thinly sliced pork belly is most commonly used, I personally think it doesn't have enough texture. When the pork belly is cut too thin, it almost dissolves into the soup and while it tastes good, I really enjoy the thick and tender pieces of pork in the soup.
So in this recipe, I use pork belly block and cut it into about 2mm slices, this way, you can keep the sweet umami from pork fat as well as some meaty texture!
Cut the root vegetables thick
Root vegetables such as:
Slicing thinly or finely would speed up the cooking process and shorten the simmering time, however, if you want to bring out the flavor of the ingredients, it is important to cut it slightly thicker.
Simmering slowly allows the umami from the meat to soak into the root vegetables, giving them a delicious flavour and a nice texture. It also brings out the flavour of the root vegetables.
Secret ingredient: butter
There is no doubt that miso and butter pairs very well. I wouldn't use butter for normal miso soup, but for a meaty dish like tonjiru, it's a different story.
The tip is it's a "secret ingredient" so don't use too much.
By saying that, when you fry vegetables and meat, use butter instead of cooking oil!
Adding miso at two different times
The general rule of thumb when using miso paste is not to let it boil or cook on a high heat, otherwise the miso flavour will be lost. To avoid losing the flavour, most recipes advise adding the miso paste right at the end after the heat has been turned off.
However in this case, I want my ingredients to be flavoured by the miso paste, not only the broth. To achieve this, I add half of the miso early on to let the miso flavor soak into the vegetables and other ingredients. Then I add the other half at the very end for the finish and maximum flavour!
I must say that tonjiru is one of the most homely dishes in Japanese cooking. Because is uses so many ingredients, it's filling and nutritious. It can also be a great way to use up left over vegetables.
Tonjiru can be enjoyed on its own or as an accompaniment for a Japanese style set meal (rice, pickles and a main dish of fish or meat). I hope you enjoy this classic home style dish!