Ramen are Japanese wheat noodles. In Japan, ramen dishes are fine cuisine, and innovation is the name of the game. Ramen recipes are closely guarded secrets.
In the U.S., most ramen dishes comprise packaged ramen noodle soups. Known best as inexpensive fare for college students, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. The hot, chewy noodles can provide almost as much comfort as a hug from mom. In these recessionary times, ramen is more than a hug: It’s a deal of a meal.
The bad rap of packaged ramen soup comes from the spice packet used to flavor the broth. What’s so bad about it? More often than not, beyond the dried soup ingredients, it includes an unconscionable amount of sodium, a cocktail of unpronounceable ingredients and a kick of MSG. Yikes.
The next time you come across a package of ramen soup, take it home, ditch the shady silver spice pack and improvise. There is no end to what you can add to the broth, so get creative and turn your ramen into “fine cuisine.”
Use broth. Start by using chicken or vegetable broth in place of the water used to cook the noodles. This simple step takes you from boiled noodles to noodle soup. With vegetable broth, a tablespoon of roasted garlic is a great flavor booster. With chicken broth, a squeeze of lemon and some rough-chopped, fresh herbs (like parsley, thyme or cilantro) add a touch of brightness.
WAYS TO ENHANCE A BOWL OF RAMEN NOODLES
Turn instant ramen noodles into something special. Photo © Olga Nayashkova | Fotolia.com
Add a drop of oil. A few drops of sesame oil add depth and earthiness. Prefer heat? Add a couple of drops of chile oil or mustard oil.
Add bacon. Dice some bacon or pancetta (you only need a couple of ounces), sauté it to crispness and add it to the broth to give your ramen the hearty flavor that only pork delivers. If you don’t have a cholesterol issue, add a spoonful of the bacon fat to the pot. You’ll be surprised how much it can add to the flavor and mouthfeel of the broth.
Add onion. Caramelize half a julienned onion, then deglaze the pan with beef stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then use it to cook the noodles. You’ll get a rich, French onion soup flavor.
Add veggies. What’s in the produce drawer? Dice and slice the veggies, boil or steam in the microwave and add them to the soup.
Use garnishes. Fresh chives, sliced jalapeno, a chiffonade of basil: Whatever you’ve got, use it to create “ramen cuisine.”
How about a little Ramen Carbonara? Render a quarter pound of diced pancetta in a pan. Cook the ramen according to the package instructions, using boiling water with a half a teaspoon of salt stirred in. When the ramen is cooked, add it to the pancetta with the pan on medium heat, and add one uncooked scrambled egg.
– It’s important to stir constantly once the egg is in the pan, as this will allow it to coat the noodles rather than simply turning into scrambled eggs.
– Finish with some grated Parmesan cheese and coarsely ground black pepper. And even though this sounds like dinner, it is more or less bacon and eggs, so feel free to eat it for breakfast.
Plan B: Ditch The Broth, Keep The Noodles
Feel free to eliminate the broth altogether; after all, ramen is simply pre-cooked egg noodles.
FOOD 101: TYPES OF PASTA
Ramen is one of the many types of pasta made worldwide. Check out our Pasta Glossary for photos of many types of pasta.
RAMEN IN JAPAN PRE- AND POST- WORLD WAR II