Quick Ways to Spruce Up Your Instant Ramen
Ahh ramen. The meal of many a bygone day. As much as I'd like to characterize it as a quintessential college staple, truth is I'm still eating instant ramen a few times a month. It is a comfort food, cheap and easy to make, a known quantity. Whether in a packet or in a styrofoam cup, I know what I'm getting with instant ramen. Fueled by frugality, it's easy to develop a taste for this much-maligned institution.
But one must not sustain solely on fried noodles and soup base. We know what you're up to. You're having ramen for dinner every night, in between marathon-ing episodes of Ghost in the Shell and Code Geass. Salad Pretz isn't really vegetables, despite what the name may say. With the aims of making instant ramen more exciting and, dare I say, healthy, let's take a look at some ways to quickly enhance your bowl of noodles.
Flavor Thy Broth
The broth is the most important part of ramen. Ramen shops are judged on the quality of their broths. I recommend you to not let the broth hinge on the soup base. You don't have to boil pork bones for hours; little things can make a difference and turn your broth into something worth savoring.
The use of miso paste can quickly impart a complex taste to the proceedings. It can be hard to dissolve miso paste in the pot, so you should stir it up in a bowl with a bit of hot water before pouring it into the broth. Because of the high levels of sodium in miso paste, you can cut back on the seasoning packet.
Another way to add flavor to your broth is to put in a squirt of toasted sesame oil. The intense flavor of sesame oil means a little bit goes a long way. A final suggestion would be to crack an egg into the broth and stir it in about 40 seconds before you take the noodles off of the heat. This creates an egg drop effect and thickens the broth considerably. Read on for more egg ideas.
The egg is the MVP of ramen in terms of being able to be used in multiple ways to enhance instant noodles. Hard-boiled eggs are the easiest way to add protein and heft to a bowl of instant noodles.Sliced up, it adds a nice visual element to your bowl as well. With its softer yolk, a soft boiled egg offers even more pleasures. A fried egg is also a no-brainer, especially with a runny yolk that can be broken and mixed into the soup.
For the true egg mastery, you can even attempt the onsen tamago, or hot spring egg, otherwise known as a slow-cooked egg. This preparation is similar to soft-boiling, but it produces an egg that has silky egg whites with a firm yet creamy yolk. If a perfect soft-boiled egg is shooting for the moon, onsen tamago is shooting for the stars.
To make an egg hot spring style, heat the egg in water over low heat for 20 minutes. The water should not boil; you're aiming for a temperature under 160 degrees (a thermometer helps a lot). Yes, this isn't the most logical choice when looking for "quick" ways to spruce up your instant ramen, but give it a try, as the result is amazing. Take a look at the hot spring egg in the picture to the left. It looks so soft and delicate, and if you were to puncture the soft egg white, the yolk will burst forth in creamy goodness.
Greens and Protein
Here is where you can really make an impact on a lowly bowl of ramen. Give it some veggies and meat and the meal goes from collegiate slumming to something you'd actually feel good about eating. The amount of effort and time you want to commit to adding veggies is really up to you.
If you have quick wilting vegetables such as Napa cabbage or spinach, it doesn't take long at all to incorporate some greens into the bowl. Frozen vegetables can also work well, as it can warm up at the same time as your noodles. Sweet buttered corn is another staple of ramen shops that you can easily duplicate with a can from the grocery store.
As for meats, you can quickly chop up slices of ham or Spam to add some meaty goodness with little thought or effort. Or you can take the time to prepare actual slices of pork, or chasu, like they do in the ramen-yas. Even leftover chicken can taste great when paired up with ramen noodles.
Chewy slices of bacon, ground pork, etc. The mind reels with the possibilities. But to keep to the instantaneous nature of this meal, let's stick to ready-to-eat meats for tossing in the noodles.
So you've got the base of your ramen noodles all ready. You could just dig in now, but one final step can kick your noodles into the stratosphere in terms of taste.
Furikake seasoning is a quick way to spice up a bowl of rice, and it can do the same for your instant ramen. A mix of sesame seeds, dried bonito, and nori, among other ingredients, furikake is highly versatile and adds a toasty taste to your ramen. In lieu of furikake, plain sesame seeds work just as well.
If you have sheets of seaweed lying around (don't we all?), toss a sheet on top. Anyone of these seaweed varieties will fit well on a bowl of ramen.
Another great addition is shichimi togorashi, a condiment found in many ramen shops in Japan. A blend of seven spices, togorashi is essentially a chili powder, but with added complexity from orange peel, sesame seeds, ginger, peppercorn, and bits of nori. A dash on top of eggs really kicks things up a notch.
One final thing! Sprinkle some chopped green onions or scallions to complete the for a bit of fragrance and crunch. Now you're ready to eat!
And those are my tips on enhancing instant ramen. Don't take this as necessary additions in order to make instant ramen palatable, because ramen is delicious in its own right. Think of this blog instead as a page of audibles that you can turn to to change it up at times. You can do just of the additions, or all of them at once. Remember, the essence of instant ramen is convenience.
Voila! You have a meal worthy of a ramen shop. Just don't let any ramen snobs read this. If you think these additions are too ambitious, feel free to stick to plain instant ramen, because it's fine as is. If these additions aren't ambitious enough, then it's time for you to do some stretches and start pulling fresh ramen. But for the rest of you, I hope you'll breathe new life into the humble bowl of instant ramen.