Ramen is the quintessential stoner snack. It’s savory, soupy and simple enough to throw together after three bingers too many. And if you’re not into the broth, you can strain it and savor the slurp-able noodles by themselves.
The thing is, it’s as depressing as an empty sack of Strawberry Cough when the ramen you’ve prepared hardly resembles the peacock-of-a-product on the package. Like a fast-food cheeseburger in reality juxtaposed next to its TV-commercial counterpart, it’s a lackluster rendition of something that could have been truly marvelous.
It might seem like an epic pursuit to make your reality-ramen as remarkable as the seemingly unattainable specimen on the wrapper, but ramen can be elevated to gourmet proportions with just a few fast and easy add-ons.
The following ten adulterations make ramen more exciting and flavorful without tacking on too much extra time in the kitchen. Most of the ideas consist of four-ingredient combos, and all suggested ingredients are inexpensive and can easily be prepared in a matter of minutes.
The condiments, such as sweet soy sauce (aka kecap manis), mirin and miso paste, can be found at most supermarkets and almost all Asian grocers, and they’re excellent pantry additions for making amazing munchies and dank dinners on a dime (a bottle of mirin and a pack of miso paste may cost around $5 each, but they’ll last you for months). The proteins and vegetables all cook quickly, so they’ll be done around the same time as your noodles.
Feel free to mix-and-match and add other ingredients to the combinations below, and don’t hesitate to try creating your own heady ramen hack and then sharing your story in the comments below.
Now let’s get to the ramen!
1. Sweet soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, sesame oil and sliced steak - best with beef-flavored ramen
If you’ve never heard of sweet soy sauce, aka “kecap manis,” add it to your list of must-try ingredients. It looks like molasses and tastes similar to a thick teriyaki, much less salty than the soy sauce you dip sushi into. You’ll be licking this stuff straight off a spoon. The same goes for sweet chili sauce. It’s way more “sweet” than “chili,” although there is a subtle hint of heat, and when mixed in equal amounts with sweet soy and a small drizzle of sesame oil, it creates a magical foundation of flavor for anything. Play around with adding different amounts of sweet soy and sweet chili sauce to your ramen, and never use too much sesame oil because a little goes a long way. Thinly slice raw top sirloin or flank steak, and then add it to the boiling water so that it’s perfectly tender by the time the noodles finish cooking. Top with scallions and sesame seeds (black and/or white) if you like.
2. Soy sauce, oyster sauce, spinach and egg - best with beef- or shrimp-flavored ramen
There’s nothing like the salty-savory flavor of oyster sauce to spruce up boring, old ramen. Stir in a tablespoon and see if you like it, then add more to your taste. Supplement it with soy sauce, and consider adding a pinch of sugar if you feel the flavor calls for it.
Spinach and egg are two quick cooking add-ons that you can use in any of the above recipes. For spinach (and other greens, like Napa cabbage and romaine lettuce, for that matter), simply add it at the end of cooking and it will wilt in a matter of seconds.
For eggs, you have many options. Add one or two eggs in their shell to the cold water at the beginning of cooking, and by the time you finish cooking the noodles, the eggs should be hard (or soft/medium) boiled. Peel them carefully, add back to the soup and enjoy. You can also add pre-cooked hard-boiled egg or a fried egg that you cook in a pan alongside the ramen. More advanced stoner chefs can attempt poaching eggs in the same water as the noodles (add the egg right as the water comes to a boil, remove the pot from heat, then cover it and let everything finish cooking for 2 to 3 minutes) or doing the egg-drop soup method (this calls for slowly pouring beaten egg into your soup as it’s being stirred; the egg will fall into the moving broth and create “ribbons” like the in the stuff you get from Chinese delivery joints).
3. Miso paste, mirin, honey, thinly sliced chicken breast - best with chicken-flavored ramen
Miso paste is a game-changer in the stoner chef ingredient arsenal, and to make it even more fun, it comes in a variety of colors and styles (white (shiro) and red (aka) are the most popular, with white being sweeter and red having dominant savory notes, but all types are worth trying). Not only can it can be used in soups, it can also supply the flavor and textural foundation of sauces or be painted over a piece of meat and then broiled for an easy dinner with off-the-charts taste. Mirin, a sweet Japanese rice wine, is another must-add to your pantry, as it can be used to make incredible Asian marinades and sauces, as well as to augment any broth or stock.
For one package of ramen, start by putting 1 TBSP each of miso paste and mirin in a small bowl. As you cook your ramen, spoon a small amount of boiling water into the miso-mirin mix, add a teaspoon of honey, then mix it with a fork or whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour this mixture back into the boiling water and add slightly less seasoning than you normally would, then top your finished ramen with cooked, sliced chicken breast. If you are starting with raw chicken, slice it extra thin and add it to the boiling water as the noodles are cooking. It should be cooked to tender perfection by the time the noodles are done.
4. Peanut butter, coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar - good with all ramen flavors
Instead of eating it like soup, you can simply cook ramen noodles with or without the seasoning, strain them, and then combine them with this simple peanut sauce that you can make in a separate pot or pan. Start by cracking open a can of coconut milk and pouring it into your cooking vessel. Then, add 1/3 cup of your favorite peanut butter, a tablespoon of sugar, and a splash of Thailand’s soy sauce-equivalent, fish sauce, and stir with a fork or whisk until creamy and smooth (save for some peanuts floating around if your PB is chunky). You can also squeeze in some lime juice to cut through the richness, if you’re into that.
This works with hot or cold noodles. Make the sauce and noodles ahead of time, mix them, then chill in the fridge for 30-45 minutes. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds if you want.
5. Shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro - best with shrimp-flavored ramen
Turn ramen into makeshift Pad Thai by adding these signature ingredients. Shrimp cooks very fast, so if you add it toward the end of boiling the noodles, it will be finished by the time you’re ready to eat. The rest of the ingredients can be added just before serving, and you can squirt in some fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind juice or any other typical Pad Thai garnish to round out the flavor.
6. Ram-lette - good with all ramen flavors
A ram-lette is an omelette made with ramen noodles and any meats, vegetables and seasonings you like. The noodles can be fully cooked or raw -- crunchy, uncooked noodles will soften slightly in the egg as it coagulates -- and it comes out resembling a frittata when finished. Beat three eggs in a cup with a pinch of salt, pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil (you don’t need the sauce or oil, but it adds a touch of Asian flair). Then, melt enough butter or use oil to coat a nonstick pan. Add in diced onions, peppers, ham/bacon/sausage and anything else you’re craving, then sauté for a few minutes. Add the ramen noodles and cook for another minute, then pour over the egg. Continue to heat on medium-low, using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan as the omelette cooks until there is no more runny egg, then serve immediately with more soy sauce, sriracha and/or sambal oelek.
7. Ramen 5-Way Chili - chili, red kidney beans, cheese, onions and oyster crackers - best with beef-flavored ramen
In Cincinnati, chili is traditionally spiced with a hint of cinnamon and served over spaghetti with a heaping helping of shredded cheddar, diced onions and oyster crackers (beans are optional, but encouraged). At your house, it doesn’t matter how you season your chili as long as you like it; it can come out of a can if that’s the kind you dig. Supposing you have one of those handy cans of chili laying around your cupboard, heat it up according to the package and boil up a batch of ramen noodles without the seasoning and strain them. Place the noodles on a plate, then blanket them with hot chili, diced onions, and however much cheese you can handle. Top with oyster crackers and a few dashes of hot sauce, and you’re good to go after any cypher.
8. Butter, grated Parmesan, Chopped Italian parsley and black pepper - good with all ramen flavors
Fuse some Italian essence into your ramen with this easy hack. Simply cook ramen noodles without or with less than the full amount of seasoning, then strain and return to the pot. Add in a pat of butter (or many), a heavy handful of grated parmesan, fresh chopped Italian parsley (you can substitute fresh basil, dried Italian seasoning or other dry herbs) and cracked black pepper, and get ready to mangia. Sure, you can do this with a box of spaghetti or angel hair pasta, but nothing quite matches the soft, stringy mouthfeel of buttery, cheesy ramen.
9. Bacon, sour cream, shredded cheddar and chives - good with all ramen flavors
Too hungry to wait for baked potatoes? Scratch that starch and switch it up for some ramen. Cook the noodles with or without the seasoning and strain; then, add them to a plate and decked them out like a loaded spud. It’s up to you how much of each ingredient to use, and you can certainly sub in scallions or onions for the chives. Don’t limit yourself in any way -- add in a little butter, black pepper, and any other topping you typically toss on ‘taters.
10. Ham, pineapple, scallions, sriracha - best with pork-flavored ramen
Salty, sweet, savory and spicy notes make up this Hawaiian-inspired flavor profile, and it takes minimal time to doctor up your ramen in this style. Add in thickly diced Virginia ham (or any other pork product you like) to your cold water so that it infuses extra flavor into the broth as it comes up to a boil. Then, add strained canned pineapple chunks (or cut up some fresh), sliced scallions and a shot of fiery sriracha once the noodles are cooked to complete this piggy Polynesian feast.