The blog’s been quiet for a while, so I figured I’d post a recipe-ish thing that I’ve been meaning to write up for a while. So, this is how I cook ramen.
You will need:
- A pot or saucepan. I’ve never tried this in anything else but I can’t see why any other thing you can put on a stove that holds lots of water wouldn’t work
- Ramen packets. Not the kind that comes in a styrofoam bowl; the kind that’s just a brick of noodles and a flavoring packet.
- Spices (various; I use ground garlic and ginger, turmeric, lemon peel, and sometimes coriander, cumin, and probably some other things)
- Soy sauce
- Maybe some other cold things (I use, variously, Chinese mustard, Hoisin sauce, and plum sauce). These can usually be found in little jars in the “ethnic” food aisle of a grocery store. I call them “cold” because they should be refrigerated after opening.
- I also use sesame seeds, sesame oil, chili oil, and sriracha. The latter two can be ignored if you don’t like spicy food.
I usually cook two “single-serving” packages at a time, so I take my saucepan (a pot will also do, or anything else that can hold a bunch of water) and put in about twice as much water as the package says (the exact amount isn’t important; it’s usually about a pint (two cups) per package). Put it on the stove and put it on high to boil it. Open the packs of noodles and throw away the seasoning packet; you won’t need it.
When the water boils, add the noodles. Stir to break up the blocks as they soften. Boil them for the time indicated on the package (usually 3 minutes), maybe a little longer if you’re doing two. Then, add your seasonings and turn the heat off or to its lowest setting.
I don’t actually measure out how much of anything I add except the turmeric (1/8 teaspoon, give or take a bit because I just half-fill a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon). This is a thing you have to get a feel for. Depending on the order you add things (mix it up as you try to get a feel for it), the water should be tinted slightly brown after you add the soy sauce, yellow after the turmeric, and red after the sriracha; in the end it should be a little brownish but no color should dominate. Exactly how much of each thing to add to get this is something you learn from experience and doing it wrong.
The oils (sesame oil and chili oil) are just drizzled lightly over it (one circle over your pot, very quickly, at a slow pour). You should get tiny oily beads on the surface of the water when when you do this and stir.
Except for the turmeric, the other spices are a few shakes/to taste. Put in more of the ones you like most and less of the ones you don’t like as much.
The other things (hoisin sauce, plum sauce, mustard) I generally add one spoonful with a ordinary eating spoon small enough to fit through the mouth of the jar. Again, these are added to taste.
Stir it all together so that you don’t have clumps of anything, and there you go. Remember to turn the stove off completely when you’re done.
For more ideas for things to add, you can read the ingredients list for the seasoning packet (it’s usually printed on the outer package). Most of the seasoning packet is salt. You might want to add some, or not because soy sauce already has a lot of salt.
This bit is going to be less a recipe and more general talking about things you can do and how to do them.
When I want to add tofu or onions, the recipe changes. These things are best sauteed (fried in a little bit of oil) first. If you’re careful it’s safe to do this in the same pot you later will cook your noodles in, adding the water on top of them. If you don’t trust your motor skills or luck here it might be better to saute it in a wok or frying pan. I can’t speak to cooking meat since I’ve been vegetarian for as long as I’ve been cooking, but it’s probably not too different from this procedure.
Before you saute anything you have to cut it. A future post will address how to cut onions because there are a bunch of ways to do it, so I’ll focus on tofu. Tofu’s a gooey brick; you’re not going to get one cut making parts flake off in the way they do for an onion. They’ll be doing that like they do on tofu instead.
Generally I use Extra-Firm tofu. Anything softer breaks apart too easily for me. Next, you want to decide how large you want to cut it. The more surface area you have, the more highly-cooked tofu you get; the less, the more less-cooked tofu and difference from inside to outside you’ll have. So if you can’t stand raw tofu, you want to cut it finely. Generally the largest I cut tofu is cutting a grocery-store sized block of tofu once in its shortest dimension, four times in its middle dimension, and five times in its longest; I can also go finer (up to twice in the shortest). You can also make different shapes than plain cubes.
Optionally, you may marinate the tofu. Set out ideally a large flat dish, and add soy sauce and other things to it (actually, take all the stuff you would add to the ramen above at the end and mix it in here). Then set your tofu cubes in it. Ideally they are all able to lie at least partially in the marinade (rotate them periodically so that all faces can soak it up), but if you only have a bowl you have to pile them up in, you can put a lid on it (or hold a plate over it really tightly), turn it upside down, and shake it. This gets the taste of all that stuff into the tofu. Onions don’t need to be marinated.
Next, you saute it. First you pour a little bit of oil (like, a teaspoon or a couple teaspoons) into whatever you’re going to saute it in. You want to use your regular cooking oil for this; others are 1) too expensive and 2) smoke at too low of a temperature to be good here. Put the heat on medium-high to high. You can do this while you cut too, if you have a feel for it, time it right, and don’t want to marinate the tofu.
Pick up the thing you’re heating the oil in every minute or so and roll it around so that the oil can coat the entire bottom and some of the sides. Be very careful not to pour any out. If your stove has an exhaust fan, you’ll want to turn it on now. You’ll know the oil is hot enough when it’s thin, like water. Once it is, add the food. Even with good cooking oil, if you wait too long, it will start to smoke. Don’t panic if it does; turn the heat down or add your food immediately.
When you’re adding food onto hot oil, be very careful. Tofu, onions, and most other things you might be adding contain water. Water is heavier than oil, but it boils at a much lower temperature, and the suddenly-boiling water can make the oil splatter. The oil. I got a mild burn on one of my hands that I got a couple weeks now and now I can still see it, but only because I know what to look for. The oil will continue to be a splatter risk for as long as its sizzling, which is basically as long as you’re using it, so don’t put your hands any closer than they need to be.
Also, you want to stir your food up constantly while you’re doing this so that it doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom. You can use pretty much anything for this if your cookware has a metal surface. If it has a nonstick coating, you’ll want to use a wood or teflon spoon/paddle because metal tools can scratch the coating. Teflon is also better for tofu because tofu tends to break up if you hit it with hard things. Your stirring should also move things from the top to the bottom and flip things over
When I’m doing both tofu and onions, I generally put the tofu in first because I like it cooked a lot longer than the onions. I like my tofu a little (or a lot) browned and crispy, while onions should be generally not brown (more transparent in color). The timing isn’t really precise; I judge when my food is done by its color.
If I didn’t marinate the tofu, or am cooking onions, after sauteing for a while, I add some spices.
Once I feel it’s done sauteing, I add it to the soup. I generally make this in the saucepan and “add it to the soup” by pouring water over it and picking up the above recipe when the water boils. If you’re cooking it in a separate pan you can add it later to the soup-making (like at the end, with the spices). You can turn the heat on the lowest setting to keep your food warm while you wait if you check it frequently.
Finally, if I marinated the tofu, I just pour the marinade into the soup when it’s done, because those are the same spices.