With grocery trips being limited, pantry meals have been a key part of quarantine for so many home cooks, and one of the most popular pantry dishes around is, of course, instant ramen. Since it's easy-to-prepare and oh-so-delicious, a packet or cup of instant ramen is a great go-to during this time, but what should you do if you're getting bored of the same-old quarantine dinner of stove-top or microwaved ramen noodles? Hiro Mitsui, executive chef and founder of Ramen by Uzu in Washington, D.C, has the answer.
Chef Mitsui has tips, additions, and genius hacks that will take an already-tasty, easy meal to the next level. Pick and choose from his tricks depending on what ingredients you have on hand and how simple or spectacular you want the dish to be.
Cook the ramen noodles to al dente
Forget being a stickler for instructions. Chef Mitsui suggests ignoring how long the instant ramen package says to cook the noodles and instead go with how you like them. "I personally like my ramen noodles al dente, so I usually don't let my ramen sit for quite as long as they tell you to on the package," he shares. "I pour my boiled water and eat as soon as the noodles are the consistency I like them at — it's a little closer to traditional ramen noodles, and not as mushy!"
Add stir-fried vegetables and protein
Adding vegetables and protein is a good way to switch up almost any dish, but Chef Mitsui has a special recommendation for how to prepare the veggies and proteins you add to instant ramen. He suggests stir-frying vegetables like onion, carrot, broccoli, and spinach and meat in sesame oil. According to him, this type of addition adds both protein and flavor.
Spice things up
Even something as scrumptious as instant ramen can start to taste a little stale if you eat it over and over, so Chef Mitsui suggests spicing things up — literally. "If you like a little extra spice shichimi togarashi — a traditional Japanese blend of red chili peppers, sanshō or Sichuan peppercorns, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, poppy seeds and nori (seaweed) — on top is a must," he explains. If you don't have that, the chef says simple black pepper can also kick your instant ramen up a notch.
Add traditional toppings
It should come as no surprise that one key to making ramen taste better is to make it more authentic. To do this, Chef Mitsui recommends reaching for traditional ramen toppings like sweet corn kernels, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), seaweed, or a poached or seasoned egg.
Finish with scallions
If you don't have time to poach an egg or don't have menma on hand, a simple topping can make a world of difference. "I like to eat my ramen with thinly sliced scallions," Chef Mitsui shares. "The more scallions, the better!!"