Cook the noodles according to package directions, using only half of the seasoning packet. To the broth, add the juice of 1 lime, a tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of fish sauce, and a good pinch of pepper flakes (if desired). Transfer to a serving bowl then add 1 to 2 ounces thinly sliced flank steak (it'll cook in the broth), a handful of bean sprouts, and some mixed herbs (basil, cilantro, mint, as desired).
Quickly upgrade the flavor of any bowl of ramen by stirring in miso paste, chili bean sauce, Thai curry paste, Japanese curry powder, fish sauce, or vinegar. If it's a salty condiment, omit about half of the seasoning packet. You can also add spices (white pepper, sichuan pepper, or chili flakes are great), oils (sesame oil, chili oil), or citrus (lemon or lime). Or, whatever you feel like, of course.
Don't have boiling water? Just crunch up the noodles in the bag, tear off a corner, add the seasoning packet, hold the torn corner and shake it up, then consume. Lick your fingers clean after this one. It's like eating Cheetos, but without the orange fingers.
For quick-cooking vegetables like baby spinach, sliced cabbage, or frozen peas, just add them after you pull the noodles off heat. Some vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, or thick snap peas can go in the pot about 2 minutes before its done boiling.
Simple Simmered Meat
Thinly sliced meats can be cooked in a matter of seconds directly in the pot. Chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or flank steak are all great candidates. I like to pick the pieces up one at a time and swish them back and forth in the hot broth until cooked while the noodles are simmering, then set the cooked meat aside and put it back on top right before serving. Cured meats like ham or bacon are great as well, as are cooked meats like leftover chicken or steak, or hot dogs.
Bacon and Napa Cabbage
A simple meat & veg combo. Add 2 slices of bacon cut into 2-inch strips and a couple ounces of sliced napa cabbage to the pot 2 minutes before the noodles finish cooking. The bacon will inevitably get picked out and devoured before anything else, but no worries—like the sweet purple milk left behind by the marshmallows in the Lucky Charms, the bacon leaves behind a lingering smoky richness that makes those last drops of broth the best part of the bowl.
I don't know if anyone in Hawaii would go anywhere near this, but I think it's pretty awesome—super salty sliced of pan-fried spam, sweet pineapple chunks (you can use fresh or canned), a perfectly fried sunny-side up egg (fried in the same pan as the spam, of course), and a generous squirt of Japanese-style barbecue sauce. You can find this in most Asian grocers (look for the bottle with the bulldog on it), or you can make a quick version at home by mixing 2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a half cup of ketchup together. E ʻai ka-kou!
Tom Kha Goong
Spicy, sweet and sour, coconut-scented tom kha goong is a snap when you start with instant noodles. After boiling and draining the noodles, just add half the seasoning pack to a couple cups of coconut milk along with fish sauce, sugar, and Thai curry paste to taste (wanna make it even easier? Just use regular old sriracha in place of the curry paste). Serve it with cilantro and limes for squeezing. A few strips of chicken or peeled shrimp added to the noodles a few minutes before they're done simmering makes for an instant upgrade.
Cold Peanut And Coconut Ramen Salad
Somewhere between a Thai-style peanut dipping sauce and a cold sesame noodle salad. You can barely recognize the low-brow roots of this classy rendition. Boil the noodles as directed, then drain them and add them back to a pot filled with cold water. Meanwhile, mix together a couple tablespoons of peanut butter (chunky!) and half of the seasoning packet along with 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and a tablespoon or so of chili-garlic sauce (yes, sriracha works too), more or less to taste. Add just enough water to get it to a nice saucy consistency, then toss in the noodles along with some chopped cilantro, peanuts, and unsweetened coconut flakes. Coat thoroughly, serve immediately, and wait for the compliments to start rolling in.
Real pad thai is tough. The rice noodles go very quickly from undercooked to overcooked. With ramen-based pad thai, expectations go out the window, which makes it significantly easier to meet them. Cook your noodles just until they start to separate, adding a few peeled shrimp to the pot a couple minutes before they finish cooking. Pull the pot off the heat, then drizzle in a lightly beaten egg. Drain and transfer everything to a large bowl. Add half the seasoning packet, a few nice squirts of fish sauce, plenty of lime juice, crushed peanuts, scallions, bean sprouts, and if authenticity is your schtick, some tamarind paste (I just leave it out—the lime juice is plenty sour on its own). Nobody will recognize your ramen when it's wearing its new Thai hat.
Cheesy Chili Ramen
Now we get into the realm of fusion ramen, and this is an obvious first step. Taking a cue from Cincinnati, the noodles are simply cooked, drained, and topped with a ladel of chili. I've used goopy cheese sauce here, but you can go the authentic route with shredded cheese if you'd prefer. Heck, you can even take it all five ways by adding onions and beans.
Routine (Ramen Poutine)
Okay, before someone goes and calls the Mounties on me, yeah, I know real poutine is made with cheese curd, not shredded cheese like I've got here. But hey, this is a ramen hack, so deal with it. To get your ramen nice and crispy, just crunch them up in the bag, then empty it out into a skillet with a little oil. Toast over medium-high heat while tossing and stirring until everything is nice and golden brown. Top it all off with some gravy and cheese, and broil in the toaster oven until melty. Eat with a fork. And beer.
Ramen Corn Chowder
An elegant soup, from a more civilized age. A balanced sweet, salty, smoky chowder with tender kernels of corn. To make it, start by crunching up the noodles in the bag, then transfer them to a saucepan along with a can of creamed corn and a few strips of bacon, sliced up. Fill the empty creamed corn can with water and add it to the pot. Add half the seasoning packet, then bring the whole thing to a simmer and cook until the noodles are nice and tender. The soup will thicken up into a thick chowder, which you can thin out as desired. Add a handful of thinly sliced scallions, and you're good to go. Want some extra decadence? Replace the water with milk (or cream!), and swirl in a bit of butter before you serve it. This is a dish best served with a tie on.
Ramac & Cheese
An obvious selection, no? Unlike real elbow macaroni, the ramen itself is almost as goopy as the cheese sauce, making this dish texturally… interesting. You can use homemade cheese sauce, or just use a half block of Velveeta mixed with some milk and butter (heat it up in the microwave until gooey). Combine the cooked noodles with the cheese sauce, top with more cheese, and broil until brown and bubbly.
Sounds weird, tastes delicious. A traditional shepherd's (or cottage) pie filling gets topped with cooked ramen noodles then baked. The top of the noodles dry out and become super-crisp under the broiler, while the noodles underneath remain tender. It's a uniquely delicious textural contrast. See the next slide for the recipe.