Recipe Fridays: The Perfect Ramen
Bi-weekly, chatpata flavored Maggi noodles loaded with cayenne pepper, garam masala and lemon remind me of my childhood. I would scarf down serving upon serving of spicy broth-based noodles till my eyes watered and my pores ached and it was beautiful. Enter ramen.
In college, drunk people would make Maruchan noodles in Styrofoam cups and microwaves while I would stumble down to the kitchen to “do it right”, with my pans and seasonings. It was also responsible for a huge chunk of my “freshman 15.”
Since then, my taste palette has broadened. I now enjoy a variety of other noodle-based entrees from all parts of the world. I guess I’m pretty big on noodles. I’m a noodle monster.
Monster or not, I’m sure you love noodles too, so I’ll get to the point.
Recently, I tried my hand at ramen. Not 5-minute ramen, but a take on the real thing. It was glorious; I vowed to never eat any other form of ramen again and have made it into an art form- a canvas for me to experiment on. If you don’t know what ramen is and have read so far into this article, you must have a lot of time on your hands.
Hating aside, I only make one kind of ramen. It’s a combination of recipes I’ve found online and in cookbooks, and has got quite the kick. It also has a depth of complex flavors and uses ingredients that I enjoy rather than forced inclusions.
Ramen’s all about the broth; It’s the sweat and blood that you put into it that will eventually shape the whole dish. Ruin the broth and you’ve ruined the meal.
Speaking of sweat, you’re going to have to sweat a bit of garlic and ginger along with a sliced thai red chilli or two in a drizzle of sesame oil to begin with. Lightly browning these ingredients in a pan till they are aromatic should do wonders. The heat should be relatively high, but not high enough to screw with the sesame oil.
Next up is the chicken broth. After turning the heat down to medium/medium-low, use as little or as much of it as you like, though keep in mind that the ideal ramen is submerged within the broth; some may prefer it a bit on the drier side, however. To this, I usually add a dollop of kimchi base, a spoonful of hoisin sauce, a speck oyster sauce (not too much, it’ll make the ramen sweet) and soy sauce to taste. It’ll be salty, and adding soy sauce means there’s no more room for salt. Be wary here.
Once you have a nice medley of colors going, let it simmer on low to medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes. For the last three minutes of this process, you’ll want to throw your raw protein into the pan. I mostly prefer peeled and de-veined shrimp, as shrimp seems sophisticated and adds an interesting bite- it also goes well with the seaweed I always use. Once your shrimp are done, filter the liquid with a strainer so you can pick out the shrimp. You’ll also be eliminating overpowering particles (garlic, ginger and chili bits), maintaining uniformity throughout the broth.
When it comes to the ramen noodles, I suggest using a Korean or Japanese variant that you have either tried before and are comfortable with, or one from the bestselling brand at the store. The vegetable and broth sachets in all of these packages are crap, and we won’t be using them for this recipe, so it’s really just the noodles themselves that you should be interested in. Anyhow, boil the cake of noodles in this prepared broth as directed by the label.
Now, for the fun part: Before pouring the ramen into individual servings, layer the bottom of the bowl with strips of dried seaweed. You may choose to crush and sprinkle it on top in order to keep it dry, but since I enjoy seaweed with this recipe so much, I do both. It really adds texture and body to the finished product.
Pour the liquid on top of the seaweed, or use a ladle if you’re picky. Once the concoction has settled, you’ll want to wipe the splatters clean. Compose yourself, this next part is money.
So you’ll have a rather regular looking soupy bowl at this point. We’re gonna want to change that by creating sections of space dedicated to a combination of colors and vivid taste.
Boiling an egg for four minutes will give you a semi-runny yolk and a structured white that still has some play in it. Cut and tuck one half of the egg into a corner, atop the noodles- if you’re feeling extra generous, tuck two in there.
Soak some of your favorite dried mushrooms (I prefer shitake or wild mushrooms) in room temperature for about 25 minutes and layer them on there too, they’ll add a lot of depth to the ramen. Tip: Avoid soaking in hot water as a lot of the flavor of the mushroom is lost.
Ideally the shrimp you use will have the tail attached to it. Use this to your advantage and have them work as the centerpiece of the dish. Go nuts, you can’t go wrong.
I always add corn to the mix because I feel like it not only looks good, but also feels good and tastes amazing once submerged in the broth. The yellow corn contrasts the green and red we add through the seasonings.
As for your garnishes and seasonings, you’ll want a handful of chopped spring onions, a generous sprinkling of toasted black and white sesame seeds, a liberal amount Japanese seven spice blend to up the spice, and a few bits of seaweed, either folded into the corner or shredded and distributed evenly.
Patch all of this together and serve with chopsticks for a wholesome and comforting meal you can binge on. You won’t be crawling back to Maggi noodles any time soon.