How to make instant ramen better instantly

Make a bowl of ramen that the whole household is jealous of.
Make a bowl of ramen that the whole household is jealous of.
Photo: Allison Robicelli

Instant ramen is not just for poor college students, the massively hungover, and the frequently stoned. I’m a former professional chef and current professional recipe developer, and I serve my family instant ramen for dinner regularly. The trick to these noodles is treating them like an ingredient rather than a ready-to-eat meal. Do that, and instant ramen checks off all the boxes for an ideal dinner: fast, cheap, easy to prepare, and, most importantly, results in very few dishes. It’s the ultimate work-from-home lunch, too, because it won’t cause a mess in a kitchen that might be doubling as your workplace.

The following eight recipes turn instant ramen noodles into a full-fledged meal, and for the most part it does so with many common fridge and pantry staples, since no one is going to go out and buy special groceries on nights when you can barely motivate yourself to move from the couch to the kitchen. Treat the measurements as approximations; there’s no need to dispense ingredients precisely, and it’s fine to add a little more of this or a little less of that based on your personal preferences. Allow yourself to get creative with add-ins, too, because ramen is a great way to use up leftovers or odds and ends in your refrigerator.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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Bacon, egg, and cheese ramen

Bacon, egg, and cheese ramen

Illustration for article titled How to make instant ramen better instantly
Photo: Allison Robicelli

Cut 2-3 strips of bacon into 1" pieces and put into a small saucepan filled with 1/2" of water. Cook on high, stirring occasionally, until all the water has evaporated and the bacon is brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.

Stir one half of the ramen flavor packet (your choice) into 1 cup of water; standing at arm’s distance to protect yourself from steam, pour into the pan with the bacon fat. Bring to a boil, then add the noodles and turn the heat to medium-low. Crack two eggs into a small bowl, then gently pour them on top of the softening noodles and cover the pan. Let it simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the egg whites are mostly set but the yolks are still runny. Turn off the heat and use a pair of chopsticks to pierce the yolks, then rapidly stir so the eggs help form a creamy sauce. Pour into a bowl, top with one or two slices of American cheese, then scatter bacon and chopped scallions on top.

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Miso shrimp and corn ramen

Miso shrimp and corn ramen

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

In a saucepan over high heat, whisk together 2 cups of water, 1/2 the flavor packet from seafood or spicy ramen, and 1 teaspoon of white miso. When it comes to a boil, add the noodles and reduce to a simmer; when they soften, stir in a few raw frozen shrimp, making sure they’re submerged in the broth, and cover the pot. Cook for 2-4 minutes until the noodles are cooked and shrimp is opaque, then stir in 1/4 cup frozen corn kernels. Pour into a bowl and serve with sliced scallions and generous dollop of chili-garlic sauce.

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Hot & sour ramen

Hot & sour ramen

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

Add a palmful of dried wood ear or shiitake mushrooms*, about a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, and one clove of finely minced garlic to 2 1/2 cups of water. Bring a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms are rehydrated—about 3-4 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, four teaspoons of soy sauce, and 1-2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce, then add dried ramen noodles (discard the seasoning packet) and simmer for about 5 minutes until cooked. Stir together 1 teaspoon of cold water with 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, then stir into the ramen and cook until thickened. Turn off the heat and beat one egg in a small bowl; slowly stream into the hot ramen while stirring. Pour into a bowl and serve with a bit of sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, and sliced scallion greens.

*Dried wood ear mushrooms (pictured) and dried shiitake mushrooms are readily available at most Asian markets, or online, and are an excellent addition to your pantry.

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Kimchi ramen

Kimchi ramen

Illustration for article titled How to make instant ramen better instantly
Photo: Allison Robicelli

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, then add an egg (or two) and set a timer for six minutes; when it goes off, drain the water, then put the egg(s) into a small bowl filled with ice water.

Pour two cups of water into the saucepan with half a flavor packet from spicy ramen and bring to a boil, then add the noodles and a few tablespoons of liquid from a jar of kimchi. When the noodles have cooked, stir in about a teaspoon of soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce, then pour into a bowl. Top with a mound of kimchi, julienned cucumbers, and the egg.

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Faux pho

Faux pho

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

Bring two cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan, then whisk in two teaspoons of beef bouillon paste, one teaspoon brown sugar, one teaspoon five spice powder, and one teaspoon fish sauce. Once the bouillon paste dissolves, add the ramen noodles, saving the seasoning packet for another use. When the ramen noodles are cooked, stir in a tablespoon or two of cilantro stems that have been cut into 1/2" pieces, then pour the ramen into a bowl. Garnish with bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, fresh limes, deli-sliced roast beef, chili-garlic sauce, and whatever else you like adding to your pho.

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Japanese curry ramen

Japanese curry ramen

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

Slice a handful of baby carrots into circles, then add to small saucepan with a bit of butter and cook over high heat until just softened. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then whisk in one half of a Japanese curry cube, about 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon ketchup. Add a package of ramen noodles, saving the seasoning packet for another use. Just before the ramen noodles are done add some frozen peas, stir well, and serve.

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Sesame Spinach Miso

Sesame Spinach Miso

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

Cut about half a brick of firm tofu into 1/2" cubes, then place on a paper-towel-lined plate, making sure they do not touch. Microwave for 2-3 minutes until they begin to brown slightly, then set aside.

In a small saucepan over high heat, saute one tablespoon each of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Cook for about 2 minutes until they begin to toast, then remove to a small bowl. Carefully pour in two cups of water and bring to a simmer, then whisk in two tablespoons of white miso until dissolved. Add dried ramen noodles, saving the seasoning packet for another use. Once the noodles have softened considerably, add a handful or two of fresh baby spinach leaves. Pour into a bowl, then top with tofu, sesame seeds, and a drizzle of sesame oil.

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Spicy tomato ramen

Spicy tomato ramen

Illustration for article titled How to make instant ramen better instantly
Photo: Allison Robicelli

In a measuring cup, stir together 1 1/2 cups of water, two teaspoons of rice wine vinegar, one teaspoon mirin rice wine, two teaspoons ketchup, one teaspoon garlic powder, and half a spicy ramen seasoning packet.

In a small pan over high heat, cook two tablespoons of tomato paste in two tablespoons of sesame oil for about 3 minutes, smooshing and stirring regularly, until it leaves a golden film on the bottom of the pan. Standing at arm’s length to protect yourself from steam, pour in one quarter of the contents of the measuring cup, then stir well to dissolve the tomato paste. Add the remaining liquid and the ramen noodles and bring to a boil.

When the noodles have softened just enough that they can be pulled apart slightly, crack an egg into the measuring cup and gently pour it into the center of the pan on top of the ramen. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pan to help steam the top of the egg. Check the ramen after 2 minutes, and if the egg is cooked to your liking gently lift it up with a spoon, pour the ramen into a bowl, and lay the egg on top. Sprinkle with a thinly sliced scallion and the remainder of the spicy seasoning packet as desired.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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