When my husband came home from quarantine-prep shopping with several packages of chicken-flavored instant ramen, I knew I needed to get creative (or we might have to add chicken-broth fatigue to our list of self-isolation complaints).
But it turns out that ramen is the perfect food for this kind of experimentation. The base flavor profile of ramen is so versatile you can really go wild when it comes to the toppings. Here are some ways I take ramen from a boring dorm-room staple to a flavorful dinner savior.
BYOB: Build Your Own Broth
Okay, first things first: throw the included seasoning packet away (or hold on to it and sprinkle it over popcorn—trust me). Traditional ramen is a true undertaking to create: the broth is full of ingredients you might not be able to find at your regular grocery store and it takes three days to cook.
If you’re looking to really kill some time and make some traditional-style ramen, I highly recommend this recipe. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need three days and an extra trip to a specialty grocery store to make a flavorful broth that will totally take your ramen to the next level.
If you have all of the ingredients listed below, throw them in! If not, don’t worry. There may be some substitutes in your kitchen and anything that you make yourself is sure to taste better than that “flavor” packet.
Here’s how I put together a better broth for ramen:
2 packets of instant ramen
4 slices of bacon, diced (Want to skip the meat? Use 2 tbsp of a flavorful oil like avocado, sesame, or coconut instead)
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 green onions, thinly sliced down to the roots
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
½ c. diced carrot
¾ c. sliced shiitake mushrooms (or any other mushrooms)
2 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp fish sauce or oyster sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
½ tsp Worcester sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or any other vinegar)
1 tbsp sriracha (or any other hot sauce)
2 c. chicken, vegetable, or beef broth
2 c. water (can use all stock if you’d like a more flavorful broth)
2 c. frozen vegetable mix (optional)
- In a dutch oven or deep pot, cook the bacon until it is cooked through but not yet crisp, add the red chili flakes, green onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, and mushrooms. Stir together.
- Add the soy sauce, fish sauce/oyster sauce, hoisin, Worcester sauce, gochujang and vinegar. Stir until all of the ingredients come together (1-2 minutes).
- Turn down the heat to low and add the broth and the water. Stir together. Slowly bring the mixture up to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it boil for 5 minutes.
- After boiling the broth, bring the heat down to low and cover. Simmer at a very low heat for 1-2 hours.
- When you’re ready to eat, bring the broth back up to a boil over medium-high heat and add the frozen vegetables if using. Cook about 5 minutes and then add the noodles. Cook until the noodles are soft, but not too soft (about another 2-3 minutes, depending on how fresh your ramen).
The main rule for ramen broth: the longer you let it bubble on the stove, the more delicious and flavorful it will become. It’s kind of the perfect quarantine food in that way, huh?
Top It Off
Besides a killer broth, your next-level ramen needs toppings. And this is where you can really get creative. I like to mix and match a variety of flavors and textures, depending on what I’m craving and what happens to be in my fridge.
Upgrade the Basic Broth with a Soft-Boiled Egg
Eggs are a traditional ramen topping – the gooey yolk of a soft-boiled egg adds a creamy texture to the ramen broth, making it cling to the noodles. Need I say more?
Here’s how to get that creamy yolk for your ramen:
Add one egg per person, straight from the fridge, to the ramen broth when you bring it back up to a medium boil
Add the frozen vegetables
Boil the eggs for about 6 minutes right in the soup broth
Remove from the broth using a pair of tongs and plunge into an ice bath for about 2 minutes
Peel the eggs carefully
Cut them in half and add to the top of your ramen
Make it a Complete Meal with Protein
You can top your ramen with any protein that you like. Pork is the most traditional topping, but I’ve topped my ramen with everything from fried bologna to crispy tofu. Try some soy-sauce-glazed fish or cook a couple of burger patties (turkey or beef) in soy sauce until the outsides are crispy and add those. Even leftover taco meat or pulled pork does the trick.
In a pinch, you can quickly saute some chicken breasts or shrimp in garlic and lime and add those. Just remember to slice up whatever protein you choose into bite-sized pieces before adding it to your ramen.
Add Acid and Crunch with Pickled Foods
The acid from pickled and fermented foods adds a great contrast to the meaty, rich broth in ramen. If you have kimchi or sauerkraut, throw a spoonful of that on top. Or you can quickly pickle some carrots, radishes, cucumber, or zucchini.
Simply julienne about half a cup of your chosen veg, place it in a shallow bowl, and cover it with some vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar. You could also add some chili flakes, fresh cilantro, or fresh chopped green onion. Let your pickled veggies sit for 20-30 minutes before adding to the top of your ramen when ready to serve.
Fresh vegetables and herbs bring brightness to the basic bowl of ramen. You can add some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, bean sprouts, sliced avocado, sliced sugar snap peas, or sliced bok choy. A quarter of fresh lime brings a final hit of acid, rounding out the dish.
Drizzle the top of your finished ramen with more soy sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, or anything else you think might be tasty.
Just remember that you can make ramen your own. Feel like throwing some quick-pickled cabbage on there? Go for it! Want to see how fried spam tastes? Give it a try! Once you have a solid, delicious broth mastered, you’ll start to see the endless fun of this dish.
I’m happy to report that we’ve made our way through an entire case of ramen using some variation of these recipes. Now, we have just two more cases to go.