Stupid-Simple Instant Ramen Hacks From a Legendary Ramen Chef
"Here's the beauty of instant ramen, there's nowhere to go but up," says Ivan Orkin of New York's Ivan Ramen.
Orkin would know. The Long Island native improbably made his ramen name in Tokyo, where they typically don't take well to foreigners interloping on the cuisine, before opening up shop in Manhattan. He readily admits he hasn't had the Caviar of Dorm Rooms™ since he was 17 years old... and doesn't exactly think it's the best thing in the world. But was willing to share his insights on upping your Maruchan game. Which was pretty cool of him. And cool for you, too. Because let's face it, you can't do this on your own. Here are Orkin's ideas for improving on the packaged noodles.
Add some eggs, obviously
While fried eggs are standard and one of the most obvious additions that could elevate your ramen -- Orkin recommends soft-boiled eggs, the kind you get in actual ramen restaurants, in particular.
"Soft-boiled eggs is a really good, ramen-y type of thing you could add to instant ramen. Break it over the top," he says. "I like it rare but it doesn't necessarily have to be." To make it his way, do the following: Poke a hole in the bottom of an egg with a pin; slowly lower it into a pot of boiling water; cook it for exactly six minutes and 10 seconds; put the egg in an ice bath; and then peel it after it's cooled, about 15 minutes.
Use meat... but the right kind of meat
To turn your paltry package into a full-blown meal, adding meat is a natural play... unless you are a vegetarian, then disregard this entry. But it's important to use meat that would complement the flavor profile of the ramen you are using as a base -- we used cheap char siu from a Chinatown market for a tonkotsu (pork broth) instant ramen (above).
"Braised pork, thinly sliced ham, beef -- look, you can add almost anything here, your leftovers, whatever. But it's important you don't do anything that contrasts in a bad way. Chopped-up corned beef in chicken broth would be stupid. Unless you are stoned, or something."
Get shredded. With your food at least.
It's not only about what you put inside your ramen, but how you do it. If you aren't going to do this right, you might as well not do it at all and just order Papa John's and cry yourself to sleep.
"Most of what you are adding should be shredded and thinly sliced. Meats, cabbage -- you don't want big, clunky pieces of food in the ramen. It just doesn't work with noodles. You can't slurp it."
Make it spicy. If you want.
This is the absolute easiest thing you can do to make your ramen a little more interesting. Get a bottle of hot sauce and drizzle it in.
"Adding a little bit of hot sauce, or even Sriracha, can give you that burst of flavor," Orkin says. "And it covers up some of that overly salty MSG taste. But not entirely, I'm not sure anything could totally cover that up."
Be creative with vegetables
"Try bean sprouts flash-boiled and tossed in a pan -- with a little bit of soy sauce and big pile of fresh Japanese garlic," Orkin says. "Or take something like cabbage and slice it thinly, then sauté it."
Of course, you can also just toss in steamed spinach, or broccoli, and chopped scallions to make your ramen a vehicle for those vitamin-packed greens.. .and they'll also probably help balance out the salt quotient.
If you live by an Asian market, take advantage of it
In bigger cities, your local Asian markets (like Chinatowns) should be your go-to resource for ramen accessories, like we picked up a half roasted duck for $9 and some Huy Fong chili garlic sauce for the "umami"-flavored ramen below.
"You can get fresh noodles there, so you don't have to settle for insta cups. And you can get things like pork loin, bamboo shoots, just little things that will give your ramen a true Asian twist," he says.
And don't be scared of the Asian aisle at your supermarket
If you don't have access to a true Asian market -- well, first off you might want to move -- you can probably find some ramen accoutrements in the "Asian aisle" at your local supermarket.
"A true Asian market is preferred of course, but you can grab things at the supermarket that will definitely work. Sprinkle some nori [crispy dried seaweed] over the top of the ramen. Grind some sesame seeds and pair it with pork broth. Get bamboo shoots and scallions and toss them in there. You can get soy sauce of course. The toppings don't need to be strongly Asian, but if you want that Asian twist, you can find things at your supermarket, for sure."
Spend a few extra bucks on quality noodles
If you are going through all this work to make your shitty noodles better, you might as well spring for a superior product to use as a base.
"Look, I'm not a snob when it comes to this stuff. But there are much better options out there besides the stuff that costs a quarter. If you just get something like Sun Noodles -- those are 10 times better and still really inexpensive."
Making your own doesn't have to be that difficult, either
If you want to get serious, you can actually make ramen at home. But you don't have to make every single thing from scratch. "I've never advocated people making every single ingredient from scratch. I don't think it's necessary and I think you can change certain components of a dish. But you can just make some things from scratch as alternatives," Orkin says.
Basically, you want to eat ramen while it's (literally) hot. And you probably want to eat it quickly -- meaning you probably don't want to spend two weeks making something you are going to eat in four minutes. You have to make sure the juice is worth the squeeze, right? So, if you're into project cooking, consider making your own broth or buying a high-quality one, getting some higher-quality noodles, and incorporating some of the advice above.
You could also avoid labor of any kind and just go to a place like Ivan Ramen. Let's be real: It will probably taste better, too. Also, they'll do the dishes for you. But if you're kicking back at home with a brick of kinky dried noodles and a packet of flavor dust, it's easy enough to scrounge around in the fridge and pantry to make your lazy dinner much, much better.
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