On the Cheap

Ramen: The Ultimate Broke Food, and How to Make It at Home

February 19, 2014

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: The next best thing to a SAD lamp this time of year? A giant bowl of real ramen.

How to Make Ramen

Nothing is quite as emblematic of broke cuisine as a cup of instant ramen. 

And the truth is, that stuff ain't so bad. But it's got nothing on real ramen: oversized, steaming bowls of savory broth and satisfyingly chewy noodles, with a spectacular assortment of proteins and a perfectly soft-boiled egg swimming on top. 

This winter -- a particularly long and harsh one, as we all know -- I haven't been able to get enough of the stuff. It truly is the perfect antidote to combat the most bitterly cold nights. But at about $12 per bowl, my ramen habit was progressively putting a dent in my wallet. 

Assembling your own fancy ramen at home takes time -- and as L.V. Anderson points out, all the ingredients need to be cooked separately, which can feel overly intensive if multi-tasking is not for you. But it will certainly be more satisfying than boiling water and pouring it into a styrofoam cup. (Unless you've got a thing for that, in which case, you do you.) 

A heads up: Before you start, you're going to want to invest in some miso paste. It's not cheap, but I promise that it will quickly become a workhorse in your kitchen, adding next-level flavor to everything from roasted vegetables to soups and salads

Every ramen recipe I've come across is slightly varied. But here are the basic tenets, loosely laid out: 

1) Boil and drain a package of ramen noodles. You can even use the instant variety if you'd like, sans weirdo MSG packet. Drain and set the cooked noodles aside for later in the recipe.

2) Roast your selected vegetables, and cook your meat. A little bit of sesame oil goes a long way.  

3) Bring your stock to a boil and place a few tablespoons of miso paste in an empty bowl. You can't just mix the miso directly in, so remove about a quarter cup of boiling water and whisk it together with the miso paste, then pour that back into the larger pot. Keep it at a simmer.

4) Soft-boil an egg -- about 6 minutes should do it. If you're feeling ambitious, marinate it as the Japanese do. (Bonus: My friend Anna keeps the marinated ones in her fridge for a quick, flavorful addition to weekday lunches.) 

5) Put your ramen, vegetables, meat, and egg in a bowl. Garnish with sliced scallions and ladle in your broth. Top with a healthy dose of Sriracha

 

Need some inspiration and detailed instructions? Here are some recipes to get you started:

Bacon & Egg Ramen 

Spicy Miso Ramen Express 

Mushroom Ramen 

Chicken Miso Ramen 

Miso Ramen with Chicken and Tofu 

Tell us: What are your favorite ways to make ramen at home? 

26 Comments

Tina B. February 29, 2016
I first started eating Ramen in America in the late '80's....it had been there at least since the early to mid 80's (according to my American husband)....cheap meal...the Nissan and Top Ramen you could buy for between five and seven cents a pack!! I would have to say the stuff I have seen over her in restaurants is overpriced....it is not gourmet food, and the broth looks too thick, it is not a sauce or a gravy, it is a consomme!! I would never go to Wagamama, and buy something I could 'jazz' up myself for a fraction of the price!!
 
Roberta B. April 21, 2015
Anyone know where I can get gluten-free ramen that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? I'm on fixed income, and I cannot afford $3 a package.<br />
 
Vully F. September 24, 2014
Checking out the soup ideas for inspiration, though I tend to make my noodles from scratch. Even if I'm not too great at it yet, practice. :3
 
Jay N. June 4, 2014
Looks Delicious! Yumm! Have you tried the Rapid Ramen Cooker? you can create all these same recipes without the stove. www.RapidRamen.com<br /><br />Thankyou Gabriella for sharing this recipe :)
 
Mary March 19, 2014
Dear Gabriella, I am at a loss; how do you make the broth? You cook the noodles, cook the veges, cook the meat, and bring stock to a boil. How did you get from the meat to the stock?
 
Author Comment
Gabriella P. March 19, 2014
Hi Mary,<br /><br />I didn't include instructions for the stock -- I typically like to use a 50-50 vegetable stock and water combination, and then add the miso paste like in step 3. The recipes I listed have more extensive instructions for stock, and this is a great guide to making your own dashi: http://food52.com/blog/9800-how-to-make-dashi<br /><br />G
 
Mr_Vittles February 25, 2014
You should also look into Korean "Ramyeon", which even in restaurants, is never made with fresh noodles, but instant, fried noodle bricks. It is probably the number two most eaten food in Korea after kimchi, of course. It will never win any awards, but it is darn tasty, especially for 3,000 Won, about $2.75. Variations can be had with Ddeok, Korean rice cakes, Mandu, Korean dumplings, and even a slice of American cheese (don't knock until you try it).
 
Author Comment
Gabriella P. February 26, 2014
Adding American cheese sounds genius. I need to try that.
 
bnirvana February 22, 2014
This is a great recipe but please take the time to find ramen that is not the brick-like stuff found in packages -- homemade noodles are best. Your body cannot break down the cheap packaged ramen noodles -- they actually have TBHQ which is in fact a chemical preservative which is a form of butane. I love ramen but source healthy noodles -- your body deserves it!
 
Laurie February 25, 2014
Thanks for posting the TBHQ fact I have many food intolerances and appreciate knowing when there are hidden chemical additives. Where would you suggest looking for fresh ramen noodles?<br />
 
bnirvana February 25, 2014
You can usually find them in an Asian market or if you don't have one you can buy them here http://www.drvita.com/product/annie-chuns-gluten-free-maifun-rice-noodles-8-oz/7545?mkwid=zT5F9W9m_d{device}&pcrid=36173551353&gclid=CITozPub6LwCFURsfgodnQoAEg
 
bnirvana February 25, 2014
or here for fatter noodles: http://www.vitacost.com/koyo-dry-ramen-garlic-pepper-2-1-oz?csrc=GPF-PA-Food-813551002139&ci_gpa=pla&ci_kw=&ci_src=17588969&ci_sku=813551002139&gclid=CLbziqOc6LwCFYqPfgodGTgAXA
 
Laurie February 25, 2014
Thx. I have never looked for fresh at the Asian markets because it seems everything is in plastic. Thx again:)
 
Lauren's P. February 22, 2014
I'm going to try this.
 
Daniel D. February 22, 2014
I love the direction of all these new articles. I tend to buy things like Ramen and canned beans and never actually cook them because they are either boring or unhealthy or unsatisfying. Playing dress up with these kinda things is so clever and fun!
 
Ele L. February 21, 2014
Beautiful! Even more special with homemade noodles. "Japanese Farm Food" has a lovely, simple recipe for ramen noodles that are satisfyingly chewy and quick to make.
 
Kari G. February 19, 2014
Here's my favorite, cook ramen, any flavor, I prefer the Creamy Chicken. Drain, don't shake, you want it a little wet. Pour back in the saucepan, use 1/2 the seasoning packet, a few shakes of curry powder, ground ginger and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix and enjoy!!
 
Deedledum February 19, 2014
I love ramen! A few months ago I noticed that over at Serious Eats, there's an extensive thread on ramen hacks. There's some great ideas in those posts
 
Philomena M. February 19, 2014
You can make the broth much more authentic by first making dashi stock, and even maybe boiling a ham bone for two hours first. If you're going to invest in miss paste, invest in some kombu and Bonito flakes. <br />Miss soup is made by adding miss paste to dashi stock. Ramen sock is made by boiling pork bones for hours, so adding those two would made it much more tasty, and they're not a huge thing. So I would boil a ham bone in 2 quarts of water for at least two hours. Let it reduce a little. Then to make dashi, I take a mesh teabag. Many Japanese food marts carry them, and I put two heaping tablespoons of Bonito flake in it, seal. Then I take one medium sized kelp/kombu piece. Put both again into two quarts of water. Bring to a boil. Let boil about three minutes. Remove mesh bag and kombu, voila, dashi stock. Combine it with the pork liquid, and maybe even freeze some. To make your broth, add miss paste to takes to it, and just continue as directed. Just NY thoughts on it, but I'm very picky about my Ramen broth. If it's not right, it ruins it for me.
 
Author Comment
Gabriella P. February 19, 2014
Thanks for the tips!
 
Little E. February 19, 2014
Why is your Ramen costing $12 a bowl? Take out ramen? Also miso paste is so cheap and basically never goes bad. A big container of that stuff can easily be found for $5.00 and will last months and months and months. Also if your at home ramen costs are high maybe add less meat. Ramen is the perfect vehicle for so many delicious and cheap vegetables.
 
Author Comment
Gabriella P. February 19, 2014
In New York, speciality ramen restaurants are typically charging $12-$15 bowl (even for vegetarian options). Great stuff, but much cheaper at home.
 
aargersi February 19, 2014
now THIS I can handle - I was taken to task for not cooking Ramen for my Ivan Ramen review but it was too much, this is great! (And I sealed and froze some of Ivan's pork belly!)
 
AntoniaJames February 19, 2014
Who took you to task for not spending three entire days or more (not counting sourcing the ingredients) to make Ivan's ramen? I checked that book out of the library and had precisely the same reaction that you did, e.g., "Huh? Don't think so . . . . Maybe in another life." ;o) P.S. I liked your review!
 
aargersi February 19, 2014
Aw thanks AJ! I did have fun reading and reviewing the book!Another Food52er felt that if I didn't make the ramen I shouldn't review the book - well everybody is entitled to their opinion - ha - but I am still not making that ramen. I will make THIS ramen!!
 
Author Comment
Gabriella P. February 19, 2014
That pork belly's gonna be amazing in there -- let me know how it goes!