Instant ramen has been popular in the states for decades, and restaurants that serve the real thing in any variety you can imagine have been popping up everywhere in the last few years. But you don't have to go out or spend all day cooking to have a gourmet ramen experience.
The little spice packet that comes with your noodles is a good starting point, but if you want to take ramen to the next level, just look in your fridge. There are tons of super easy ways to upgrade cheap instant noodles, and most of them can be done in the time it takes for your water to boil.
Adding meat almost always makes instant noodles taste better, and you can use just about any kind. It's a great way to repurpose leftovers or use a piece of meat that's about to go bad. Slice up a leftover steak, or shred that last piece of chicken from last night's dinner and add it to your noodles.
If you don't have anything that's already cooked, you can fry up a piece of beef, chicken or pork and add it to your ramen. Or, if you slice it thin enough, raw meat will cook in less than a minute if you add it to the hot broth when the noodles are done. Even lunch meat will work, for those of you without a stove top.
Ramen is perfect for using up extra vegetables you have in the fridge. They add both flavor and texture, but since the noodles have such a short cooking time it's best not to use anything too tough. Saute some aromatics like garlic, ginger, green onions and dried or sliced fresh peppers before adding water to infuse the broth with flavor.
Tender greens like spinach and baby bok choy only take a few minutes to cook, and you can add some crunch with sliced peppers, corn or bean sprouts. Toss in a handful of fresh herbs like basil or cilantro at the very end to finish it off.
There are a couple of ways to add eggs to your ramen. If you've already got some hard-boiled eggs, just peel them and add them halved or sliced. You can also add raw eggs to the water when you put it on to boil and they'll cook in about the same time as the noodles.
For a texture like egg drop soup, beat an egg and stir it into the noodles when they're done cooking. You can also poach an egg directly in the soup by taking the finished noodles off the heat, cracking a whole egg in the pot, and covering with a lid for about 2 minutes.
If you prefer your noodles a little drier and less soupy, a fried egg is a great way to top them off.
Sauces and condiments are a super easy way to add depth to the flavor of your broth. If you do any Asian cooking, you probably have ingredients like fish sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil, which all provide more flavor than just the included spice packet. Miso paste and soy sauce are great for an umami kick.
If you like a little heat, add some Sriracha, sambal oelek, garlic chili paste or a dash of your favorite hot sauce. Try a few different combinations, or mix something spicy with peanut butter and a little water for a super quick peanut sauce.
A few seasonings like cinnamon, star anise, white pepper, red chile flakes, curry powder or even cumin will add some depth and make instant ramen taste more authentic.
There's no right or wrong here, just use what you like and don't be afraid to mix. A good rule of thumb for spices is if they smell good together, they'll probably taste good too.
What do you add to upgrade your instant ramen? Share your favorite "secret" ingredients with us in the comments.