Perfecting your ramen game
I have spent a lifetime experimenting with variations on basic instant ramen, with the vague goal of someday reaching noodle soup perfection.
As with a lot of things, there were instances when I believed I had reached the pinnacle of homemade ramen, only to see a new idea bubble up, hinting that there could be more greatness to be achieved, and tempting me to tweak the recipe again.
My life of instant ramen, and the endless variations on it, started decades before ramen was cool, pre-dating this period of young professionals celebrating their birthdays over $12 bowls at trendy ramen restaurants.
I’m Asian American, and ramen was a staple of my childhood — a simple and comforting meal, easy to turn to anytime.
My parents made a more involved saimin, a noodle soup popular in Hawaii, where they grew up. But, we occasionally would turn to ramen, with accouterments similar to saimin: julienned omelet, char siu, green onions from my mother’s garden.
As soon as my older brother Roy was tall enough to boil water on the stove, he started making his own ramen, and would make a double batch for both of us.
That’s the point in my childhood when I learned preferences for ramen can vary. My brother would take his share of noodles and broth from the pot, before it even reached the golden 3-minute mark, and leave the rest on the stove for me — telling me that it was because I liked my ramen “overcooked.”
I told my brother I was writing an article on weird variations on ramen and asked if he still likes his “crunchy.” He responded: “Yes. And it’s not weird.”
Besides, he said, when he was in Boy Scouts, they would eat ramen raw, “but that’s because we were hiking and too lazy to cook.”
And, my brother revealed his current unauthorized method: He boils water, turns off the heat and then drops the noodles in.
“Sacrilege!” I responded.
“I’d call it al dente,” he claimed.
At my friend Shanna’s house, after middle school got out, I learned another twist: She drained cooked ramen noodles and added butter and the seasoning packet — a sort of Asian-inflected butter noodles.
College was a chance to expand my ramen horizons. There, I learned my friend Emily added a raw egg to the pot when cooking ramen — quicker than making a separate omelet for garnish, as my parents do. I’ve been dropping in an egg ever since.
Over time, I’ve adopted an unusual method of eating ramen, probably because I grew tired of juggling two utensils. Dispensing with chopsticks, I use only an Asian soup spoon to cut through the noodles, and scoop the perfect ratio of broth to noodles for every bite.
I view ramen as comfort food, the way others look at mac-and-cheese. But, when I asked my husband, Ron — who did not grow up eating ramen — what his corollary is, he said: “Nothing. I don’t like anything as much as you like ramen. You eat it for breakfast!”
I informed him that plenty of people eat ramen for breakfast, which he questioned. So, of course, I searched Twitter to back me up. I found 13 tweets with the term “ramen for breakfast” in the previous 24 hours, and thousands more in the broader Twitterverse.
I knew this to be true, because my best ramen buddy — my friend Ashley — also loves ramen for breakfast. I know this because, when playing the card game Ramen Fury, the player who goes first is whoever ate ramen most recently. Ashley’s answer: This morning.
Ashley and I regularly gift each other instant ramen in different flavors — new ones discovered at the Asian supermarket, favorite flavors to share, unusual varieties found during travels. I think she might love ramen as much as I do.
But, the real point of this story: I believe I may have found what’s close to the perfect ramen — at least, until I find something better.
The genesis was an electric smoker I found at an estate sale. Upon hearing of my smoker purchase, my dad told my mom to find their “basic smoked fish” recipe to send to me. It yielded some tasty results.
Then, while visiting my parents, I thumbed through some old family recipe binders and found a “Yamanouchi smoked fish recipe” — something I apparently could not be trusted with, in my father’s eyes. As I skimmed the more extensive list of ingredients, I felt simmering rage and jealousy — wondering if my brother had gotten the family smoked fish recipe after he bought his smoker, and how long he had to wait for it. But, I said nothing. Instead, I surreptitiously shot a photo of the recipe with my phone, and flew home.
Back at home, I fired up the electric smoker for four beautiful fillets of smoked trout, made with the smuggled Yamanouchi recipe.
The next morning, as a pot of water boiled on the stove for my breakfast ramen, I started to sense a synergistic opportunity.
I had been experimenting with ways to enhance ramen made with Lotus Foods’ brown rice noodles, which don’t come with a soup base and, thus, offer a blank slate for innovation.
While some of my dependable flourishes include homemade stock and kimchi, this time I tried miso paste and hot sesame oil with egg and … flaked smoked trout.
The result: a spicy sesame miso broth and alternating spoonfuls of noodles with the rich egg yolk and the smoky trout.
Perfection. For now.
Almost-instant Spicy Sesame Miso Ramen
This is a twist on instant ramen, a recipe quick and easy enough to make in between Zoom calls. It is not a traditional miso ramen recipe and has a lighter, simplified broth that lets the flavor of the smoked trout shine through. You can add complexity by replacing the water with stock, or you can dress up the ramen with your favorite vegetables and garnishes. Look for hot-smoked fish in seafood coolers at grocery stores. Do not use cold-smoked or salt-cured fish, such as lox or gravlax, for this recipe. Hot sesame oil is spicier than regular sesame oil, because it holds the flavors of red chile peppers.
- 2 teaspoons miso paste
- 1 package instant ramen (omit seasoning packet) or 1 block ramen noodles, preferably Lotus Foods Millet & Brown Rice Ramen
- 1 egg
- 2 ounces hot-smoked trout or salmon
- 1/8 teaspoon hot sesame oil
In a one-quart pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. While it’s coming to a boil, transfer 1/4 cup of the hot water into a small bowl. Add miso paste to the bowl and stir to make a slurry. Pour the miso slurry back into the pot.
Add ramen noodles to the boiling broth. Cook the noodles for 3 minutes, or according to package directions. One minute before the noodles are done, add smoked trout and crack an egg into the pot. Do not stir.
Once the egg white has cooked, pour the ramen into a serving bowl and top with sesame oil. Break the egg yolk into the broth and let it rest for 1 minute before eating the ramen. Serves 1.
Nutritional information per serving: 481 calories (percent of calories from fat, 23), 28 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 12 grams total fat (2 g saturated), 199 mg cholesterol, 879 mg sodium.