Saturday, November 1st, 2008

From Instant to Awesome Ramen (and The Brooklyn Kitchen Ramen-Off)

Look, I know we’re all frightened about the economy, but that doesn’t mean we have to resort to eating instant ramen every day… Not convinced? Okay, neither am I. What I meant to say, really, is that you don’t have to resort to eating blahmen every day. As long as there’s still a few leafy green vegetables left to pick, and as long as eggs aren’t a luxury item (which they actually might become soon), you can still cook up a mean bowl of soup noodles using your bodega-bought block of instant ramen. Or how about something new altogether, with said noodles? Hear, hear, Brooklyn’s favorite kitchen store is calling on folks to do just that.

The Ramen-Off, a cook-off where entrants must use a pack of instant ramen to invent any dish of their imagination, will take place November 9th at Union Pool. It’ll be part of The Brooklyn Kitchen‘s two-year anniversary party, and no, you don’t have to use the “spice seasoning” packet in your dish (or even include any soup). More details and rules to be posted on the store’s blog, but it’s free to enter your dish, and as you know, probably very cheap to prepare. Plus, I’ll be one of the judges, so don’t let me down! Points for creativity! Ingenuity! Whatever you do, please don’t make me gag. Nor the other judges on the panel, which include Sonny Bang (formerly of Craft and New Williamsburg Cafe) and a surprise judge, to be announced.

spinach, block o’ ramen, leftover shredded pork: 3 food groups?

It’s seldom that I cook a packet of instant ramen without adding at least one foreign object. Usually, this takes form in a single egg, cracked into the center of the noodle-cube, just as it’s boiled soft enough to dig out a hole in its center. Often, it’s chopped fresh scallions. Leafy greens are a good thing to cook into the soup. If there are any leftovers about, like this happenstance stash of shredded pork, they’ll probably work out just fine, too. Without a doubt, a little drizzle of sesame oil adds a nice flavor and sheen to the soup’s surface, and when I’m feeling too disgusted with the flavoring packet, a few spurts of soy sauce are enough to make me do away with it whole. This is how flexible instant ramen is; it’s your noodle soup, and it’s in your hands. It’s the packet of the people.

fresh greens like spinach need only a minute to cook

I didn’t have any scallions for this bowl of noodle soup today, but I did have some baby spinach and leftover garlic-sauteed green beans. The only addition to this bowl of noodle soup that requires some bit of thinking (rather than just tossing vegetables and pre-cooked meat into the pot to warm up at the last minute) is the egg. I like to poach an egg right into the soup, and this can be tricky to do. First, you’ll have to get your noodles up to a nice boil. Turn the heat all the way down to low, then make a well in the center of the noodles after they’ve been cooking about one minute. Carefully drop your egg into the center. It will stop the boiling for a moment. Then let it cook about three minutes longer. During that time, you can add whatever else you’d like into your soup, including the flavor packet if you so desire. Just be careful not to stir where the egg is. It’s hanging out there, getting poached at the bottom. Also, don’t raise the heat any higher during this time, as that will make the egg froth in a weird way. After three minutes, it should have cooked to a medium soft-boiled consistency. Then, you can transfer your soup to a bowl.

low heat for 3 minutes poaches an egg without over-cooking noodles

I’ll also advocate never using any more than half the contents of the seasoning packet per noodle soup. I don’t think I need to tell you that it’s basically MSG and saturated… sodium. Obviously, instant ramen all alone has almost no nutritional value whatsoever, so it’s important to get some greens in there — and then finish up your soup, where all the vitamins in them have spread. Personally, “noodle soup” is just as much about the soup as it is about the noodles, so I slurp up every last drop. An equal ratio of liquids to solids per spoonful is just about right for me. But I have witnessed this not being the preference with many people when it comes to ramen, or any noodle soup. I can’t tell you how confused I was when, as a youngster, I began noticing all my friends draining the liquid entirely before they ate instant ramen. This continued into adulthood, strangely enough.

the perfect slurp

But I won’t get on anyone’s case about soup-to-noodle preferences. After all, it really is just a preference matter, and that seasoning packet-only “soup” is really the lowest common denominator. Instead, I can’t wait to see what’ll happen when all the rules are thrown away, and ramen is reinvented in so many ways on November 9th. Hope to see you there! (Oh, and if you want some inside tips, I’ve got you covered… )

29 Responses to “From Instant to Awesome Ramen (and The Brooklyn Kitchen Ramen-Off)”

  1. danny says:

    A block of tofu chopped into cubes and dropped in the pot at the same time as the noodles also works wonders for the dish. I like the sesame oil too, but finish up with greens and a little kick from hot red pepper oil!

  2. Marisa says:

    broccoli was always one of my favorite veggies to add. The tops soak up the broth – very yummy! I also add tofu regularly and slivers of nori.

  3. Jay says:

    Thanks for the egg idea. It’ll give my simple soups an extra protein punch. ;-)

  4. Sasha says:

    My husband is a big fan of instant ramen. The ones we get have partially hydrogenated (trans) fats, though. I’d like to transition to using buckwheat noodles (soba?) and some healthier soup base, but I don’t know what that might be…

  5. rocky says:

    i add frozen shrimp (bought fresh bulk from costo, then freeze at home), and that’s a fast meat to cook in soup too. mmmm… and i prefer the bitter dandelion greens.
    also, if i make fresh, i use canned chicken broth. after adding the shrimp, bitter greens, shiitake, tofu and eggs, sesame oil and green onions, it’s a great soup base! i like the nori sprinkles, will have to try that next time, thanks!

  6. the ramen blog & other goodies! | (mostly) NYC link says:

    [...] What are you doing November 9? If you’re in NYC, you should be at The Brooklyn Kitchen Ramen-Off! (thanks to Not Eating Out In New York) [...]

  7. Karen says:

    Any ideas on what we can add to the soup as far as seasonings instead of the packet o’ MSG? Anything you have tried that is equal in taste?

  8. cathy says:

    Hi Karen: Good question! Homemade stock, if you’ve got some, would really be the ultimate for nutrition and flavor. Add a splash or two of soy sauce to it, or sesame oil or hot red chile oil if you like it. Sometimes I’ll make a quickie “soup” with a dab of sa-cha sauce (a Taiwanese condiment often poorly translated as “barbecue sauce” on the jar), too. If you like miso soup, you can a tub of miso paste and mix it with the hot water — it’s that easy.

  9. Karen H says:

    Great idea about using homemade stock, Cathy! Don’t know why I never thought of this. I’m with you on the soup to noodle ratio and can’t resist finishing all of the soup in the bowl. Because of the high sodium in the packets I’ve been limiting (actually, ceasing may be the better word) my instant ramen intake but now I won’t have to! Thanks for the tip.

  10. Keith says:

    Cathy, have you ever considered creating some kind of Tomato Ramen?

  11. Su-Lin says:

    I’ve also seen packages of 5 or so blocks of instant noodles sold without the flavouring packets. And I have some thin egg noodles at home that only need soaking in boiling water for about 3 minutes and then they’re ready to eat. Going to have that tonight with some soup made from tom yum paste! Yay for instant noodles!

  12. Lauren says:

    I used to boil a serving of ramen every day after school with no seasoning packet, and add tomato sauce and cheddar cheese. How this got started, or why, I will never know.

  13. Karen says:

    So, I tried this last night with a lone bag of ramen I forgot I had. I didn’t have time to make stock, so I used some chicken broth. I added bok choy, carrots, mushrooms and seasoned with ginger flavored soy sauce, chili powder and a tiny smidge of the MSG packet. I actually could have left it out. IT WAS GOOD!! I can’t wait to get to the store and get some miso paste and other goodies and experiment further!!

  14. Sarah says:

    Can’t wait to hear about the details of the ramen cook-off. If I can find any way to get out of work, I’ll be there!

  15. rawksavvy says:

    woooo! can’t wait :)

    http://flavorpill.com/newyork/events/2008/11/9/ramen-off

  16. Karen says:

    I add some Rotel tomatoes and canned chicken along with a bit of cheese. It’s good.

  17. Ramen Judge Profile: Cathy Erway « The Brooklyn Kitchen says:

    [...] judge for the Ramen-Off. Cathy gives a great recipe for making something good with instant ramen on her site, so she knows how to manipulate what Nissin gives her into delicious [...]

  18. Pete says:

    when I was in Taiwan, a shaved ice joint served shaved ice with a packet of ramen and super hot chili powder.

  19. Erin says:

    Whole Foods carries instant Ramen that is fairly healthy w/o all of the trans fats and other assorted nastiness. They are a bit more expensive tho, at about $1.25. But it’s really tasty w/ some frozen spinach and corn, sliced mushrooms and a poached egg!

  20. Elynne says:

    Ramen is awesome. I usually boil them till they’re cooked, drain and then toss them in a little oyster sauce. Top mine with minced pork cooked with garlic and lots of freshly shredded lettuce and a hard-boiled egg.

    I have also done a salad with my ramen noodles, adding some chopped celery, carrots, red and green peppers and tossing them in asian ginger salad dressing.

  21. Ramen Yum says:

    Never use the “flavor packet”

    I get broc,snowpeas,onion,carrot steam them a bit but not too much then add more water and the noodles until noodles are done then I drain all the water

    put in a bowl and sprinkle with tabasco

    AMAZING

    I wonder if its less fattening without the flavor packet?

  22. Hao says:

    Your recipe looks great!

    Some tsukemono like bean curd, pickles, or tofu, would make it even more delicious, keep it cheap, and a little more balanced. I’m hungry just looking at the pictures!

    Cheers~

  23. Stone Seal says:

    I am glad I came across your blog.

  24. marble doctor says:

    I am very happy that I found this site.

  25. Sneaky Monkey says:

    Great article! There’s definitely an art to turning the classic noodle-brick into something more flavorful/nutritious…

    The only instant noodles I use as a base for a good bowl of noodles are Nong Shim (which are pretty easy to find around Brooklyn)… they do a spicy seafood flavor that responds well to doctoring and is surprisingly tasty.

    Our usual additions:
    frozen fish cakes
    frozen corn/carrots/peas mix
    greens if we have them (usually spinach)
    frozen pounded rice cakes
    and splashes of sesame oil, tamari or mushroom-flavored soy sauce (i.e., Pearl River), hot pepper oil and mirin (sweetened rice wine)

    With all that, my wife likes to top a big bowl of noodles with kimchi and I like sprinkling on one of those Japanese condiments for rice (w/dried seaweed, sesame seeds, pumpkin and other dried veggies).

  26. Brownies for Dinner » Blog Archive » Dinner Tonight: Souped-Up Top Ramen says:

    [...] ages since I have had ramen. But as I got caught up on my blog reading this morning, I ran across this post from Not Eating Out In New York and I was inspired. So I ventured out to my local megamart (as [...]

  27. Brooke says:

    I use the tom kah seasoning paste in my ramen. Or the thai curry pastes that can be found at oriental markets. I’ve put a lot of different vegetables in, too.

  28. elise says:

    i love ramen with chicken stock, a minced clove of garlic and some texas pete hot sauce. i add mushrooms and leftover sliced meat or shrimp or mukimame, peas or spinach. sometimes an egg. so good! and super fast.

  29. Phuket transport says:

    Phuket transport

    From Instant to Awesome Ramen (and The Brooklyn Kitchen Ramen-Off) » Not Eating Out in New York

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