Around three years ago, I rediscovered ramen. Before that my go-to soup when I wanted something easy and comforting was either cream of tomato or pho with fatty brisket and lots of lime. Ramen, in my mind, was still classified as a cheap college food, one that I hadn’t contemplated since graduation. Then one day, either sick or hungover, I was at Safeway when these intriguing “fresh” ramen bowls caught my eye. That was when I had my first Annie Chun Soup Bowl (Chinese Chicken flavor) and my whole world changed.
I won’t delve too much into the company, you can read about it yourself if you’re curious, but I will say what interested me from the beginning was that they are natural (no MSG), fresh (no fried noodles) and low in fat (only 2 grams of fat per pack). My first soup bowl was actually only a minor success. I liked the noodles, especially their texture, but it was bland. There was no love in that bowl. Then I read the recommendation for throwing in whatever veggies/protein you have around, which strangely hadn’t occurred to me before then. So I bought a second package and gave it another chance.
This time I was hooked.
It helped that I bought a more exciting flavor, the Hot and Sour, which remains my absolute favorite. I used part chicken stock, part water, a few vegetables and because I was feeling fancy, a poached egg and some sliced (very rare) duck breast. This ramen put my first batch to shame. It was glorious.
But, let’s be honest here, that’s a little too much effort for most nights.
Usually ramen nights mean I am tired, lazy and hungry. So after indulging in this fancy bowl of goodness, I fell into a more simple routine. And since I am a creature of habit, most of the time I don’t stray too far from my “recipe.”
I start with water (and a splash of chicken stock if I have it around), add sliced carrots and bring it to a boil. I should mention I use a lot of liquid because I add a lot of ingredients and the broth is one of my favorite parts. Once the carrots are almost tender, I throw in chopped cauliflower, then after a minute or two, some broccoli. Now I’m a little OCD about this part — I usually eat the florets in salads and save the broccoli stems for my ramen nights. I’ll peel them a little so they aren’t too fiberous, but what I like about the stems is they keep a good texture even if you accidentally overcook them. Mushy broccoli is one of the worst things ever.
Those are my basics. Then comes the fun part — any seasonal veggies that might be around. Maybe some asparagus, diced zucchini or chopped kale. I’ve put in sweet potatoes, snow peas and shaved brussels sprouts. The noodles come next, plus the flavor packet and an egg. I used to poach the egg in the liquid and try to keep it whole but after while I realized I liked it even better stirred in because it gives the broth good body and flavor. If I have cooked chicken or (yum!) braised pork, I might add that too, but honestly I usually prefer it vegetarian.
Plus if you do decide to do a poached egg and you have a fun silicone poacher, you can make your ramen pretty! Cute food can be fun.
After the egg is just barely finished cooking, I take the pan off the heat and add green onions and frozen peas and corn. The frozen veggies cool down the soup so you can eat it instantly without burning your tongue and you don’t have to worry about overcooking the peas. (Clearly I’m a little picky about my vegetables being on the al dente side.) Then season to taste with chili flake, lime and maybe a dash of soy sauce.
Sure, it’s not Momofuku but it’s still pretty satisfying. And you don’t have to be in New York to enjoy it! Also if you’re lucky, you can convince a friend to make you a batch of David Chang’s tare to put in your noodles. It’s basically like a Japanese barbeque sauce and it will make your broth divine. In fact, now that I’m out of my personal stash I guess I need to get motivated to make more because it’s really a handy thing to have around.
Now since I eat ramen about four times a week, I have tried to branch out in terms of Annie Chun’s flavors, styles and even other brands entirely. I gave Annie’s Noodle Bowls a chance and hated them all. And even though I love, love, love her Hot and Sour Soup Bowl, I hate all the packaging it comes with. If you’re not using it as an away-from-home lunch, it seems so wasteful.
So I started buying these Fortune brand udon noddles instead because they are cheap and the packaging is minimal. You can find them at Winco, Fred Meyer, pretty much anywhere, always in a chilled section. A little note here: these have a ton of noodles in them so I usually only cook about three-quarters of them at a time, and wrap up the remainder and freeze it. Then when I get up enough little bundles, I’ll cook those up. I’m kind of a weirdo.
But recently Annie Chun launched their new “Ramen House” line and I was smitten. The spring vegetable flavor is a bit meh but the spicy chicken is amazing. Plus it’s shelf stable, which is nice when you’re buying a bunch of them at a time.
I mean, sure frozen pizzas are easy when you’re hungry and cooking just for yourself, but don’t these look a hell of a lot better?