We love ramen. In restaurants, we love the delicate broth, fantastical mushrooms, and tender chashu pork. But, at home, we love the versatility. If you can get everyone to agree on broth and noodles, you can easily set up a toppings bar that meets the desires of both the adventurous and timid.
Like most recipes I share here, there are easy ways and hard ways to get to where you want to go with ramen.
The easiest way is to open a box of chicken broth. If it’s 6 pm and you’re only feeding your picky elementary school children, do it. If I’m not using broth I’ve made myself, I use Better than Bouillon’s chicken base, which Cook’s Illustrated rates as the best bouillon. Or I use broth that I’ve made myself. I often keep a simple chicken stock in the freezer, something neutral enough that I can turn it into chicken soup, chicken pot pie (Pennsylvania style, which means it’s not in a pie crust), chicken and noodles, chicken and vegetable soup, or ramen.
You’ll also need noodles. I’m not above a package of Maruchan instant ramen noodles on a rare occasion (minus the seasoning pack, which has way more sodium than is healthy), but you probably have better options than that. A variety of noodles–fresh, frozen, or dried–will work. Ramen, its lovely yellow color a result of the alkaline (baked baking soda if you are making ramen noodles from scratch), is probably most familiar. Fresh or frozen ramen noodles are delish, but fresh chow mein (AKA Chinese egg) noodles also work well. Soba, which is made from buckwheat or a buckwheat-whole wheat blend, which makes the noodles a little easier to handle, is another great choice, especially if you like very smooth noodles. Udon, similarly smooth but even thicker, is great if you are looking for something hearty. These are the most common noodles available in US grocery stores, but, of course, if you head to an Asian market, you’ll have even more choices. Spiralized zucchini noodles work well, too, if you want to cut wheat from the recipe and up the veggies even further.
The last requirement is a jammy egg. Think that eggs with runny yolks are yucky? Stop that sad thought by eating one exactly 6 minutes and 15 seconds from now. They’re delicious, and when broken open into a bowl of hot soup, they create a cloud of richness.
Everything else is optional, and I like lots of options. That’s why this meal is a great choice for COTR night. Knowing that ramen night is coming up can also make it easier to find motivation to box up leftovers (or not eat the last bit of kimchi from the jar when you’ve opened the fridge for the 10th time today, bored and looking to snack). A few tablespoons of leftover edamame are worth keeping. A stalk of celery starting to look a little sad is easy to transform into something tasty. Set out in salsa bowls, even a small amount of something special is beautiful.
Above, weeknight ramen–homemade chicken broth, roasted chicken, kimchi, and a jammy egg. Start to finish, under 20 minutes because the broth and chicken were leftovers.
So, for me, ramen almost always captures produce at the end of its life or leftovers. The three ingredients I buy especially for it are toasted sesame oil, white sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. You might want to add kombu (sheets of dried seaweed) and bonito flakes (dried fish).
Otherwise, I take my ingredients and divide them into half, thirds, or fourths depending on how many ingredients I have and how many people I’m serving. One portion of them, I cook very plainly so that people who want a simple soup have it. This almost always includes chicken (which is typically just leftover from a roasted chicken or chicken I cooked plainly the day before while also making barbecue chicken). Other good choices include edamame, spinach, mushrooms, sweet corn, scallions, and celery, all of which I cook enough to soften. Jalapenos, bean sprouts, and cilantro are add-ins that you don’t have to do anything to other than wash and slice.
The other items, I use one of these approaches:
- Ginger, ginger, ginger. I love it. I slather a paste of raw ginger (Go ahead–buy a tube of it. Depending on your grocery store, it’s going to be better than the ginger root that’s been sitting in produce for far too long.) on carrot coins, matchstick sweet potatoes, matchstick daikon, sliced onions, and slices of bok choy or halved baby bok choy. Roast in the oven. (I also tend to roast scallion, but without ginger.)
- Miso. Made from fermented soy beans and, depending on the recipe, rice, wheat, and barley, miso comes in a variety of colors: white, yellow, red, and brown. In general, the darker the color, the more pronounced the flavor. Cook turnips, brussel sprouts, or carrots in a combination of miso and butter. Or put a small amount of it directly into your broth.
- Gochujang. A Korean pantry staple, this spicy paste is made from chili peppers, fermented soybeans, rice, and salt. If you don’t love the first brand you try, try another. I use it on tofu.
I’m a kimchi lover, though its flavor is so powerful that I often add it to a very simple chicken-and-jammy-egg ramen.
While it’s fun to host a ramen bar with a few different kinds of broth (including at least one vegetarian one) and a mile of add-ins, what makes ramen a family favorite for us is that 1) we can prepare for a bit at a time all week, either by saving leftovers or by cooking a bit more of another ingredient for a different recipe and setting it aside for ramen and 2) you can put out just four items–broth, noodles, chicken, and egg–and you’ve got a solid, soothing meal.