- Wendell Brock For the AJC
If you ever hear anyone say that, I want you to tell them how wrong they are, how snobby they sound, how much money they are wasting.
I know plenty of smart people with impeccable palates — including talented chefs and persnickety food writers — who are not too proud to eat packaged ramen.
Indeed, it is an astonishingly cheap, time-efficient and foolproof way to fill the belly.
Especially if you eschew, or augment, the package directions and doctor up your dish with an easy homemade broth, fresh veggies, and a protein (be it a fried egg, grilled chicken breast, or handful of shrimp). Whatever you have in the fridge or condiment cabinet can be used to put a personal stamp on your bowl.
Cool it down with fresh herbs, sprouts or lettuce (I love chopped romaine). Add citrus-y zing with a squirt of lemon or lime. Pep it up with hot sauce, fresh chilies or pickled peppers. Impart crunch with a scattering of crushed peanuts or toasted sesame seeds. Heck, I know folks who like it with cheese.
Considering that my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach has yielded some real deliciousness over the years (even when I use the salt-and-MSG-laced flavor packet) I figured some Atlanta chefs might have a few quick-ramen tricks in their repertoire. So I asked three talented professional cooks I admire to teach me some hacks for packaged ramen.
Happily, they were not ashamed to admit they sometimes slurp packaged noodles, and the ideas they shared were revelatory.
Jason Liang, executive chef and owner of Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur, sent me a lovely recipe for chicken and clam ramen.
Liang steams Manila or Little Neck clams in a broth of sake and rich chicken stock, finishes the soup with soy sauce and butter, pours it over noodles, and tops it with a softly cooked egg, sliced chicken breast, and a sprinkling of scallions and shallots. (He suggests Korean noodles, like Ottogi brand Jin Ramen, because they are thicker and stronger in texture.)
Reminiscent of linguini with clams, at once homey and luxurious, Liang’s noodle bowl strikes me as the ideal supper for two. Paired with cold sake, white wine or beer, it’s the perfect thing to make for someone you love on Valentine’s Day.
Jarrett Stieber, the playful, pun-loving chef of Eat Me Speak Me, told me likes to transform pedestrian ramen into fake pho. After making a broth steeped with aromatic spices like cinnamon and star anise, he adds beef flavor packets (Maruchan brand) to create a soup that evokes the classic Vietnamese bowl. Finally, he dolls it up with seared skirt steak, thin slices of eye-of-round roast, a platter full of herbs, and lots of condiments.
That’s when he feels like getting fancy.
“Honestly, I usually just mix a beef and a chicken flavor packet together and pour a ton of Cholula hot sauce in it,” he told me via email. “Simple but delicious.” (Hey, don’t knock it. Some people just like soy and butter on their ramen.)
Rob Velazquez, The General Muir chef de cuisine in charge of the restaurant’s Monday-night ramen pop-up, starts with a broth of chicken, shiitakes and scallions. He injects the base with a flavor bomb of shoyu tare: a soy-and-mirin-based condiment you can stir up in minutes and will want to use later on everything, from fish to fowl.
He softens packaged noodles (Nissin Top Ramen to be exact) in the broth, then tops it off with egg, nori, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes and peppadew peppers. His is a composed bowl that’s evocative of Japan and beautiful to look at.
Sure, you can make ramen noodles by hand and simmer vats of bone broth for hours. (Put that on your list of things to master — when you retire.) For now, here are three recipes that will turn you into a ramen doctor par excellence, ready to serve up star-quality, chef-approved bowls from everyday grocery-store ingredients. Ready to slurp?
Brush Sushi Izakaya executive chef Jason Liang shared this simplified version of the clam and chicken ramen he serves at his Decatur restaurant.
12 Manila or Little Neck clams
1 small Thai chili, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup sake
2 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock (see note)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 packs of ramen noodles (Liang prefers Ottogi brand Jin Ramen)
1 cooked chicken breast, sliced
2 poached or soft-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
Clean the clams thoroughly and set aside. Place the Thai chili, garlic, sake and chicken stock in a medium-size pan over medium heat. Bring to simmer. Add the clams, cover, and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Add soy sauce and butter, and stir to combine.
Meanwhile, cook the ramen according to the package directions. Drain noodles and divide between two bowls.
Pour the soup over the noodles. Divide the clams and the chicken slices between bowls. Place an egg in each bowl. (If it’s a boiled egg, slice in two.) Garnish with shallots and green onions and serve immediately. Serves: 2
To make the stock: Place 2-3 chicken thighs or backs into a pot. (You may use any chicken scraps, bones, and skin you happen to have.) Add 2 cloves garlic and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low, and simmer gently until the liquid is reduced by half. (You want 2 1/2 cups of stock.) This will take about an hour.
Per serving: 840 calories (percent of calories from fat, 37), 52 grams protein, 79 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 32 grams fat (16 grams saturated), 325 milligrams cholesterol, 2,738 milligrams sodium.
The Eat Me Speak Me chef makes this easy, pho-like soup topped with seared skirt steak, raw eye of round and tons of condiments. (The boiling soup turns the eye-of-round pink, but if raw beef is not your thing, by all means omit.)
1/4 pound of skirt steak
1/4 pound of eye of round roast (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon of fish sauce
1 pod of star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 scallions, white parts roughly chopped; green parts sliced thin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 packets of beef-flavored instant ramen (Stieber prefers Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup)
Several sprigs each of herbs of your choice, such as mint, cilantro, culantro, Thai basil or sweet basil
2-3 ounces mung bean sprouts
1 lime, sliced in half
1 jalapeno or Serrano chili, sliced thin
Hoisin sauce, Vietnamese chili paste and/or sriracha sauce, to be served on the side
Place the skirt steak on a plate, and allow it to come to room temperature, approximately 45 minutes. (The steak will cook faster and more evenly that way). At the same time, if using the eye of round, wrap it in plastic and place in freezer. (This will allow you to slice it easier.)
In a large pot, place 1 teaspoon of the sugar, fish sauce, star of anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, ginger, garlic, peppercorns and white parts of the scallion. Add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off heat and allow to steep for at least 15 minute.
Mix kosher salt and remaining teaspoon of sugar. Rub the skirt steak all over with sugar-and-salt mixture.
Pour the canola oil into a cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over high heat. When the oil is quite hot (about 3 minutes), drop the skirt steak into the pan and sear until nicely browned on bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip it, add the butter, and cook until medium rare, about 3 minutes. Place steak on a plate covered with a paper towel; allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.
Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the aromatics from the broth. Return broth to pot, add the three beef flavor packets, and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the solids. Drop the three ramen noodle sticks into the pot, and reduce head to medium. Allow the noodles to cook until al dente, about 5 minutes.
While the noodles are cooking, arrange the herbs you’ve chosen (mint, cilantro, culantro, Thai basil or sweet basil) on a large plate or platter. Place the bean sprouts, lime and chilies on the plate or in separate small dishes.
Slice the cooked skirt steak into thin strips. If using the eye of round, remove from the freezer now, and slice into very thin slices. Set both meats aside.
When the noodles are ready, divide between two bowls, and cover with soup. If using the raw eye of round, divide the strips of meat evenly between the bowls of soup. (The soup will cook the meat slightly.) Divide the skirt steak evenly into the bowls. Garnish with herbs, bean sprouts and chili peppers as desired. Squirt with lime, and add hoisin, chili paste and sriracha to taste. Serves: 2
Per serving: 878 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 37 grams protein, 105 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 35 grams fat (13 grams saturated fat), 95 milligrams cholesterol, 2,430 milligrams sodium.
If you are feeling ambitious, Velazquez, chef de cuisine at The General Muir, suggests pan-searing skinless chicken thighs, glazing them with leftover shoyu tare (the soy-and-mirin-based condiment he uses to flavor his broth), and placing them (whole or shredded) on top of the finished bowl of ramen. At any rate, you’ll want to store the leftover shoyu tare in the refrigerator and keep it handy for seasoning soups, grilled meats, fish, eggs, veggies, rice, etc. It’s a superior condiment.
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup mirin
½ cup sake
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 scallions, roughly chopped
One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
3 chicken backs
1 bunch of scallions
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 quarts water
1 (25 gram) pack of bonita flakes
Kosher salt (optional)
2 packs packaged ramen (chef prefers Nissin Top Ramen)
1 cup shredded napa cabbage
6 radishes, thinly sliced
2 soft-boiled eggs, sliced in half
2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions
2-4 small toasted nori sheets (plus more to taste)
Peppadew peppers (optional)
To make the shoyu tare: Place the soy sauce, mirin, sake, brown sugar, sherry vinegar, garlic, scallions, ginger and black peppercorns in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn off heat. Allow to steep for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour. Strain and reserve in a covered container.
To make the broth: First, chop into the chicken backs so that the collagen can be released into the stock. Place chicken backs, shiitakes and scallions into a stock pot. Add water, and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 2 hours. (“Your simmer should look like a lazy bubble,” Velazquez quips.) Skim the foam from the top of the pot.
Remove pot from flame, and add bonita flakes. Stir, and allow to steep for one minute. Strain solids, and return broth to pot. Add 1 cup shoyu tare, and whisk to combine. Taste and add more shoyu tare, salt or sriracha to taste. (You may not need more salt.)
Place the pot back on the flame over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Drop noodles from two packs of ramen into the broth, and cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a fork to separate the noodles.
Divide the noodles and the broth between two bowls. Garnish with napa cabbage, radish slices, 1 egg per bowl, nori sheets and (if using) peppadew peppers. Serves: 2
Per serving: 762 calories (percent of calories from fat, 16), 29 grams protein, 113 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 12 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 237 milligrams cholesterol, 4,884 milligrams sodium.