Now, whilst this site is entitled ‘What I Feed My Family’, as somebody who mostly works from home, I also spend quite a bit of time feeding myself and only myself. Also, based on the first-three posts I’ve made, this is the one that’ll burst the bubble of anyone thinking we (or rather ‘I’) only eat beautiful, painstakingly prepared food.
As anyone who follows me on social media will be only too aware, I have a peculiar fixation with Instant Ramen (the gory details of which can be found by following the hashtag #ThreeMinuteNoodleFam on twitter; my attempt to galvanise as many people into eating instant ramen for their lunch as possible, and posting the evidence online. It’s mostly just me) which, I think, stems from a delight at upscaling what is seen as a very low-rent meal, but is also essentially just because I think they’re delicious.
Don’t get me wrong: there is no substitute for ‘real’ ramen. I’ve boiled pork bones and skin for 24 hours, made tares, oils, extracted fats and amassed intricate garnishes, but I always come back to those little foil packets. They fascinate me in a way all of their own.
If I’m busy and have a couple of work projects on the go, that window between 9am, when I drop the children off at their nursery and 3pm, when I pick them up, can sometimes feel like a fairly brief working day, and so a lunch that feels satisfying but can be thrown together in under five minutes (admittedly with a very modest amount of preparation at an earlier stage) and eaten in under ten is a very good thing.
For those who have read this far, I can already hear your snorts of derision; Instant Ramen has, possibly quite rightly, a bit of a reputation, in several ways. You often hear the phrase ‘no nutritional value whatsoever’ bandied around, and maybe envisage a student in their underwear, eating Super-Noodles at the stove, straight from the pan. Both these things are probably fair.
I have two counters to them though:
- If you’ve already eaten real food for breakfast, and are going to have real food for dinner, lunch doesn’t really matter so much, provided that it tastes delicious.
- The real secret is, the instant noodles are nothing but a vessel for whatever other things you put in them. This is where things get more interesting.
As anyone who has seen the film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea knows (I said at the top that I mostly only make this for myself, but the one exception to that is occasionally being nagged into giving the children ‘Ponyo Ramen’, which delights them beyond measure), the real exciting part of eating instant ramen, is the things you put in it and, once you start thinking of fun combinations of garnishes, you never, ever stop.
My view is that a bowl of any kind of ramen, real or ‘fake’ like this, usually isn’t worth eating without a shredded spring onion and a boiled egg, marinated if you have time (I use a liquor made of 1 part Japanese Soy Sauce, 1 part Mirin, 3 parts Water, and leave peeled, boiled eggs in it for anywhere between about 5 hours and, at a push, three days), but you could also add any leftover cooked meat, any cooked fish, south asian fish balls, shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated wood-ear fungus, Sweetcorn (along with butter, like in the Miso Ramen bowls of Sapporo) Korean chilli paste, sheets of nori, cut into squares, peanut butter (seriously), pak choi, beansprouts, cooked for a few moments in boiling water, sesame oil, black garlic oil, Sriracha, roasted sesame seeds, shredded pickled sushi ginger and really anything else besides. Whatever’s in the fridge that looks like it needs using up.
In readiness for the week, on a Sunday, I sometimes prepare a few things in the evening to have in the fridge, ready to throw together a bowl at a moment’s notice. I boil a few eggs for exactly seven minutes, then plunge them into a bowl of iced water for a further three, before peeling them carefully (a seven-minute egg is pretty soft, but this is doable if you really wait a full three minutes for them to cool) and putting them in a zip-lock bag with the marinade mentioned above. I also often roast a piece of pork to the Momofuku recipe, which is literally just 50/50 salt and sugar on a piece of pork, which you then roast, slowly (I tend to use the Swedish cut Revben, which is a thick rib cut which incorporates a muscle from the upper leg but belly, as suggested by the recipe, is perfect) before chilling ready to be sliced, reheated (either in the pan or in boiling water) and added to your bowl, but also can happily be eaten over rice, in a sandwich, a salad, or whatever really. It’s just delicious.
For one bowl of Good Instant Ramen, you will need:
- One packet of Instant Ramen Noodles. I favour the Nissin brand, but anything will do. I’ve noticed, hugely unsurprisingly, that Japanese and South Asian brands are universally better
- A Boiled Egg, marinated if you have time
- A Spring Onion, finely shredded at an angle and, if you have the time, soaked in a bowl of iced water for 30 minutes (this just takes the edge off the flavour and accentuates the natural sweetness as a result)
You can also add:
- Any leftover meat, especially pork; any fish or shellfish, fish balls, mushrooms, wood-ear fungus, Korean chilli paste, nori, peanut butter, pak choi, quickly boiled beansprouts, sesame oil, black garlic oil, Sriracha, roasted sesame seeds or indeed anything you like.
Bring a pan of the specified amount of water to the boil (usually 500ml) and add the noodles and any flavouring sachets, then boil for three minutes (or whatever time is specified on the packet), given them the odd stir to separate them, with a fork or a pair of chop-sticks. Whilst the noodles cook, cut your egg in half, reheat whatever meat you’re using, if you are, either in a hot pan, or in a little boiling water, and generally assemble whatever garnishes you’re using, in little bowls on the counter, as if you were on a daytime TV cooking slot. Decant the noodles and their cooking water into a deep bowl, arrange your garnishes on top however you wish, and dig in.
Having covertly studied many Japanese people eating their lunch-time bowl (I have visited the incomparable Kanada Ya an embarrassing number of times, and I’m often the only European in there, so I’ve had the good fortune to do a little cultural espionage) I suggest you hold a soup spoon in your left hand, a pair of chop-sticks in your right, get your face good and close to the bowl, and slurp with all your might. Do what you want though; this is only a bowl of instant noodles, after all.