How To Turn Any Instant Ramen Into A Restaurant-Worthy Dinner
As anyone who knows me can attest, ramen has long been one of my favorite comfort foods and my most-requested restaurant entree of choice. Yet, as delicious as professionally prepared ramen is, each $11 bowl — plus tip, of course — can quickly add up.
Thus, as of late, I’ve been honing in on my at-home, packaged-ramen routine, in order to get the most out of this pocket-change meal, while making it an easy, quick, and almost-as-delicious experience as one would have at a restaurant.
In order to achieve this, the first thing to consider is the brand and type of ramen you’re using. My go-to afternoon snack as a kid was Maruchan ramen. These can be found for about 99 cents per package (maximum) at most grocery or convenience stores. This is perfectly serviceable, especially with the following upgrades, but I now appreciate the more complex, sophisticated flavors of Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun and Neoguri Seafood Ramen. These will cost you about $1.50 per package, but I find the enhanced taste tradeoff worth the extra spare change. Plus, you can also buy your favorite flavors in bulk, saving you even more money.
Whichever brand you choose, here are some upgrade suggestions for how to throw together a flavorful, balanced bowl of noodles at home, anytime you’re craving restaurant-quality ramen. Before you know it, you’ll have your own routines down based on your time, energy, and budget.
Traditional ramen broth takes about eight hours to make, but adding a few extra ingredients to boost that little flavor packet included in your insta-noodles, can go a long way. I buy white miso paste from my local Asian market, though miso is now sold at many mainstream American grocery stores, too. It’s multipurpose, and can be used in sauces, marinades, and soups. Plus it goes a long way since you only need about a spoonful at a time. Make sure to stir it in when the water is at a gentle simmer rather than at a hard boil, otherwise many of the nutritional benefits will be cooked out. Stock or bouillon cubes are also great to have on hand. I typically get chicken, but go for whatever your dietary needs and/or taste preferences are.
There are so many great options to add freshness, flavor, and nutritional value to your basic package of ramen. Grab some spinach, sweetcorn (my personal favorite), or a veggie medley from the freezer and dump a small handful into your boiling broth to defrost. If you have a little extra time or fridge space, crunchy bean sprouts are also a great add in the last couple minutes of cooking. Snow peas, thinly sliced onion, bok choy, and sliced mushrooms are all great options too. Sliced scallions are also a necessary garnish for me in my ramen.
While most of us can’t get the perfect melt-in-your mouth slice of chashu pork at home, throwing in a quick protein into your ramen will both add bulk and keep you full for longer. Chicken, whether leftover cooked chicken in slices or shredded up, is a classic choice. If you have raw chicken breast on hand, slice it thinly and poach it in the broth at a simmer until it’s opaque. Pre-marinated chicken is good for this as well; I suggest you look for popular Asian flavors like soy, sesame, ginger, garlic, chili, etc.. It can be more expensive or time-consuming if you’re marinating it yourself, however, so it really depends on how fancy you’re willing to get.
If you’re into seafood, use pre-cooked frozen shrimp to save time and just dump a handful into the broth to defrost. Or, like with the chicken, poach raw shrimp in the broth until they are pink and opaque.
Crispy sliced pork belly or bacon is also a great accompaniment for ramen. I typically cook it in a small pan while my water is boiling, then drain the excess fat on a paper towel and serve it on top.
For a vegetarian option, cut up silken tofu into small cubes and add in whenever you want.
Lastly, and also necessary for me, is a soft-boiled egg. I use a steamer for the perfect six-minute egg, but use whatever your go-to method is. If you’re fancy, you can make a batch of marinated ramen eggs and keep them in your fridge for occasions such as these.
A few little extras can go a long way, and be a huge flavor boost for your final bowl. Try tossing some crushed or thinly sliced garlic into your pot with a little bit of vegetable oil (before placing in your broth), for some extra flavor. You can buy chopped cubes of frozen garlic, or even crushed garlic that already comes jarred or pre-made as a paste. Ginger is very much the same.
While pre-minced herbs and spices can be more expensive than say, just buying bulbs of garlic or ginger, they last a while, plus save a ton of time and energy on preparation. And while I have yet to try it, I’m sure fried onions would also be amazing.
For those of you who need a little more spice to fully enjoy your ramen experience, chop a red chili into thin disks to add as a garnish, and add a swirl of Sriracha at the end. You can also drizzle a teaspoon of chili oil or — my personal favorite — Lao Gan Ma chili crisp on top.
In the end, various sauces can go a long way, both in your ramen, and in your pantry. I tend to have soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and Chinese cooking wine on hand at all times. These require a bit more experimentation if you’re not used to cooking with them, so try different combinations until you find your favorite blend.
Also, cilantro or a squeeze of lime adds brightness, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds can be a final, pretty flourish.
Prep whatever ingredients you’re using (slice/chop/take out of the freezer). If you’re not using any, proceed to step two.
Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. If you have an electric kettle, this will make the process much quicker.
Add in your flavor packet and/or stock cube if using it and cook for about 2 minutes until they dissolve. You may want to stir a couple times just to help it along.
Add in whatever vegetables/protein/additional flavorings above suit your fancy and cook to your liking.
Add noodles and cook for 3 minutes or to desired texture
Serve in your favorite bowl, garnish as you like, and enjoy!
Lian is a 24-year-old living in Boston with her partner.
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