Ah, ramen… that tasty, comforting staple of college cooking and thrifty meals. Who could have predicted that the humble, curly, fast-cooking noodle would rise to cult status?
Eateries like Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, Mensho Tokyo in San Francisco and Uncle here in Denver create ramen bowls with complex layers of flavors and a dizzying array of toppings ranging from spicy lamb, clams and Wagyu beef to sour plums, Korean kimchi and shaved truffles.
Perhaps, like me, you are in a phase of family life where ingredients like fish sauce, cute little enoki mushrooms, or edgy black sesame seeds are not in the culinary cards right now. The great thing about ramen is that you can totally customize it to suit your family’s tastes.
I have two suggestions to elevate this dish. The first is to seek out better ramen noodles than the good old four-for-a dollar standbys; you’ll see some recommendations below. The second is to forgo the little sodium bomb seasoning packet and make your own homemade soup stock instead.
There are literally hundreds of ramen brands, and it’s definitely worth seeking out a good quality noodle. I never imagined that there could be much of a difference, but good ramen noodles are in a class like garden tomatoes and homemade ice cream; once you’ve tried them, you’ll never be satisfied with the cheap variety again.
Traditional ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui, a form of alkaline water, which gives them their appealing, lightly chewy squiggliness.
Some ramen noodles are fried, and you can easily tell by checking the fat content on the nutritional panel. Popular Maruchan ramen noodles, for instance, list 14 grams of fat in a 3-ounce package.
You may be able to find a shop or restaurant that makes homemade ramen noodles, which are divine.
For good packaged noodles, check out Ramen Rater’s list of Top Ten Ramen Noodles for 2019. (Also: what a great gig, to be a ramen rater!)
For a restaurant-style noodle you can keep in your pantry, you might enjoy these fresh Hakubaku ramen noodles (that’s an affiliate link). They’re not fried, and have just 1 gram of fat in a 3.5 ounce package.
Broth for Ramen
I love to make a rich, homemade chicken soup stock for ramen, and the easiest way to do it is with a crock pot. The cooking process couldn’t be simpler.
The next time you have leftover cooked or roasted chicken, or a carcass from a rotisserie chicken, throw the bones in your slow cooker. (Feel free to add any weird chicken parts like the chicken neck or giblets.) Peel and quarter an onion and add it to the pot, chop up a carrot or two (unpeeled is fine), add a clove or two of chopped garlic, and any other odds and ends in the vegetable crisper like parsley or celery leaves. Fill the pot with water to about an inch below the rim. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can use a covered soup pot on our stove, and simmer the ingredients on low. Check every hour or so, and add water if needed.)
Strain the stock and let it cool to room temperature. Then chill it in the refrigerator and skim off any fat that gathers on top. You can use the broth at once, or pour it in containers and freeze it for up to 6 months.
If you don’t have time to make homemade chicken stock, you can purchase a good quality commercial broth or stock. Trader Joe’s makes good organic stock, including an all-vegetable variety:
For a more pronounced Asian flavor, you might enjoy Miso Ginger broth:
Protein for Ramen
Many restaurants serve ramen topped with a soft-boiled egg. We like our eggs soft-cooked but not runny, so I used this steaming method and cooked them for exactly 11 minutes. Feel free to adjust the cooking time to your preference.
By the way, the gorgeous, orange-yolked eggs I used for the recipe photo are fresh from my sister’s farm.
If you want to include meat or other protein on your ramen, here are some ideas:
For this meal, I used thin-sliced boneless chicken breasts. Before slicing, I placed the chicken in the freezer for about 20 minutes to partially freeze it. This step firms up the chicken meat and makes it much easier to cut in thin, uniform slices.
Vegetables and Garnishes
I used vegetables that my family enjoys: carrots, celery, broccoli and snow peas. You can be as creative as you like. Here are some vegetables that work wonderfully in ramen:
- Asparagus, cut on the diagonal in 1-inch pieces
- Baby corn
- Baby spinach
- Bamboo shoots
- Bean sprouts
- Bell peppers, seeded and cut in strips or slices
- Bok choy, sliced
- Broccoli, cut in florets
- Cabbage, thinly sliced
- Carrots, cut in strips or thin slices
- Cauliflower florets
Celery, cut on the diagonal in 1/2 inch pieces
- Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
- Edamame, shelled
- Green beans, ends removed and cut in 1-inch pieces
- Green onions, finely sliced
- Kale, chopped
- Leeks, thinly sliced
- Mushrooms, quartered or sliced
- Napa cabbage, sliced
- Onions, quartered and sliced
- Peas, fresh or frozen
- Shallots, thinly sliced
- Zucchini, cut in strips or thin slices
For this one-pot dish, I quickly cook each of the ingredients in the hot broth. I heat the pot of stock on the stove to simmering, and use a slotted spoon to drop the individual ingredients in and cook them until crisp-tender. Then I remove them from the broth and move on to the next ingredient.
This not only adds flavor to each component, but also makes the soup stock richer. The final step is cooking the noodles in the broth, so they absorb some of the complex flavor.
Are you ready to cook ramen? Here’s the complete recipe:
- 6 cups stock or broth
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
- 2 large stalks celery, cut diagonally in 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and sliced diagonally
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
- 1 small head broccoli, cut in florets
- 4 3.5 ounce packages ramen noodles, fresh or dried
- salt and pepper
- 4 large eggs, soft-cooked and peeled
- chopped chives for garnish
- Soy sauce or Tamari sauce
- Heat the stock or broth in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the minced garlic and stir.
- Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm.
- Add the celery to the hot broth and stir until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the platter and keep warm.
- Add snow peas to the hot broth and stir until crisp-tender, about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to the platter and keep warm.
- Add the carrots to the hot broth and stir until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the platter and keep warm.
- Add the broccoli to the hot pot and stir until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to the platter and keep warm.
- Add the noodles to the hot broth and cook until tender, about 2 minutes for fresh noodles and 3 to 4 minutes for dried noodles. Remove with a slotted spoon to the platter and keep warm.
- To serve, divide the noodles and broth between 4 warmed soup bowls. Top with chicken, celery, snow peas, carrots and broccoli. Cut the eggs in half and arrange 2 halves on each bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garnish with chives and serve accompanied with soy or tamari sauce.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 399Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 250mgSodium: 1460mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 3gSugar: 10gProtein: 39g
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Are you a regular ramen maker? Do you have any tips or variations to add to this recipe? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment on this post or email me at mail @ elizacross . com.
Happy autumn and best always,
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