If you’re a lifelong ramen fan or just starting your ramen journey, you’ve probably heard the word chashu. You’ve likely seen chashu followed by “pork” in some of your favorite tonkotsu ramen bowls. But it turns out you can make chashu using chicken! It’s a great option if you’re looking to avoid pork or simply lighten your dish with softer flavors and a little less fat.
Let’s dive into the wondrous world of chicken chashu — where it comes from, how to use it, and how to make it at home.
What Is Chicken Chashu?
There are so many types of chashu, but when it comes to ramen, chashu generally refers to chashu pork, which is cooked in chunks and sliced thin.
You can use pork ribs, pork shoulder, pork butt, and pork thighs to make this outrageously flavorful topping. The most common cooking methods involve boiling the pork in water or broth, seasoning it, or roasting it in the oven. Modern recipes include using a sous vide method, which slowly cooks the meat in a water bath at a low temperature.
And when it comes to seasonings, salt, sugar, mirin, sake, garlic, and ginger are some of the most commonly used ingredients. It’s got an ultra-rich umami flavor that melts into the broth (and your mouth!) and makes ramen shine.
Ramen topped with chicken chashu came about in the mid-20th century with styles like Kasaoka ramen. Chicken breast chashu is a modern interpretation of chashu pork that’s popped up more recently in ramen shops in Japan and around the world with the invention of vacuum cooking.
And really, calling it an alternative doesn’t do it justice. Chicken chashu creates a whole different level of flavor, opening up a whole new world of ramen.
The Chinese and Japanese History of Chashu
The original chashu dish, called char siu, is actually based on a Chinese preparation. Char siu likely came with the arrival of ramen in Japan, which also has its roots in China. In the Chinese version, pork is marinated, lacquered with a sweet sauce made from five-spice powder, honey, hoisin, soy, and mirin, and grilled over an open flame.
Some versions of Japanese chashu use similar ingredients like soy, sugar, and mirin, but the cooking method has evolved. Chashu is often slowly braised or boiled for hours. The result is a much more tender piece that’s gentler in flavor and melts perfectly into ramen broth.
How to Make Chicken Chashu (Chicken Thighs)
Chicken chashu, similar to the pork version, is fairly simple to whip up. Just make sure you leave the skin on those chicken thighs and make it a day ahead so you can really let the flavors meld overnight in the fridge.
- 1 pound boneless, skin-on chicken thighs*
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups soy sauce
- 1/2 cup dry sake
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, finely sliced
- Butcher twine
*If you can ask the butcher or person at the meat counter to open up the chicken thighs to make them thinner (leaving the skin on), that’s even better!
- Take the chicken thighs, lay them skin side down on a flat surface, and roll them into individual logs. Tie them up with butcher twine to secure them. It may be easier to start from the middle of the roll and move outward. Three short pieces of twine should do the trick.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken thigh rolls and brown the skin. You don’t need to cook them all the way, you’re just looking for them to get some golden color on all sides and release their fats. Remove the rolls from the pan (and save the flavorful chicken grease for another cooking project if you’d like).
- In a large stock pot, heat the water, soy sauce, sake, sugar, and ginger until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the chicken and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes uncovered.
- Remove from heat. Leaving the chicken in the liquid, let the mixture come to room temperature. Stir the chicken around every 15 minutes to distribute the flavors.
- Remove the chicken from the liquid and store in the fridge overnight. Use the liquid to boil eggs or other meats later on!
- When you’re ready to serve, you can heat the chicken back up in the liquid or simply untie the logs, slice them super thin, and let them warm up on top of your ramen bowl.
How to Make Chicken Chashu (Chicken Breast)
There are all sorts of methods for making chicken chashu. In this version, we use chicken breasts and very simple seasoning to add clean flavors to a light ramen dish. You can also check out our step-by-step chicken breast chashu video featuring our founder!
- 1/2 pound chicken breast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (1% weight of chicken breast)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Heat-resistant plastic bag
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides of the chicken breast and rub in thoroughly to make sure it’s evenly coated.
- Put chicken in a heat-resistant plastic bag and deflate and seal. One tactic is to submerge the bottom part of the bag in a bowl filled with water, pushing the bubbles out and being careful not to get any water in the bag.
- Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the bag of chicken breast to the pot. Turn the heat to low. Simmer chicken for one hour.
- Remove from heat. Using tongs, remove the plastic bag from the water.
- Take the chicken out of the bag and thinly slice the chicken breast.
- Place on your prepared bowl of ramen. Happy slurping!
How to Use Chicken Chashu
You can essentially replace any pork-based ramen recipes with chicken chashu — and that goes for the broth too. A rich chicken broth topped with chicken chashu is a marvel. Though it’s a bit lighter than the pork version, it’s still got that deep umami flavor we all love and expect from our ramen bowls.
Thin slices of chicken chashu also work well with veggie and vegan ramen styles, adding a little extra protein to those lightweight vegetable broths.
Now, toppings. Just like any chashu pork bowl, chicken chashu loves a good sprinkling of scallions and a sheet or two of nori. You can use that leftover liquid to elevate your classic ramen eggs called ajitsuke tamago. Ajitsuke tamago are boiled eggs marinated in the leftover liquid. They’re fantastic ramen toppings and even make a great snack or side dish.
Chicken chashu is obviously great with ramen, from shoyu ramen to tonkotsu ramen to miso. But it works for so many other dishes too. Stuff it into pork buns for an appetizer, serve it on top of a stir-fry or rice bowl, or steal little slices from the fridge as a snack.
The Evolution of Ramen
Vacuum-cooked chicken breast chashu is a prime example of the modernization of ramen recipes. Ramen is a dish that continues to evolve based on tastes and creative cooks in Japan and around the world. It’s more than a noodle soup — it’s a food that continues to adapt and change, just like chashu adapted to include chicken.
Making chashu is totally doable at home. And you’ll get a better understanding (and appreciation) of the flavors and process of ramen crafting. You get an inside look into the brains of the greatest ramen masters!
At Ramen Hero, we’re always trying to innovate. Our mission is to make authentic, premium Japanese ramen accessible to every noodle-loving American. In fact, we’re the first company to deliver real “Honkaku” ramen meal kits in the U.S.
Try one of our curated meal kits (most of which feature pork belly chashu!) to get a perfectly balanced mix of flavors right to your door, ready to cook in under 20 minutes. Or, you can try our vegan Hippie Van flavor and add homemade chicken chashu as a topping. Happy slurping!