I used to live in an apartment in Brooklyn directly across the street from Chuko, a ramen restaurant with a pretty tasty bowl of kimchi ramen (not to mention the best vegetarian ramen I've ever eaten). Whenever I had a craving, I'd just walk across the avenue and perch myself at the counter. It was almost too easy to scratch that ramen itch.
Earlier this year, I moved to Jackson Heights in Queens, and while it's an amazing food neighborhood, there is nowhere nearby for any kind of ramen. That hadn't been much of a problem over the summer, but the other night I was hit with such a strong desire for a spicy, kimchi-loaded broth that I became incapable of doing or thinking about almost anything else.
With my job, the solution is obvious: Make myself a bowl of kimchi soup, then write up the recipe for Serious Eats. I had a giant vat of kimchi in the fridge from my Korean pork-and-kimchi stir-fry recipe, and I had plenty of chicken stock in the freezer from my stock recipe tests. What I didn't have were ramen noodles.
That's when I messaged Kenji and he wrote back asking if I'd ever tried the baking-soda trick that turns regular pasta into ramen-like noodles.
As you can probably guess, the trick worked, and I was able to have my ramen fix for the night.
Kenji has already written a recipe for the ultimate Korean kimchi ramen (or ramyun, if you're using the Korean transliteration), and that's the one we should all use when we have the time to plan ahead. But when you don't have the time, this version won't let you down. It's shockingly flavorful and satisfying—nothing about this soup suggests it's a shortcut that can be thrown together in under an hour.
If you are able to buy ramen-style noodles, or even Chinese ones like fresh lo-mein noodles, you can use those instead of this baking soda trick. That's what I love about this: there are enough options here that everyone should be able to make this without much work or planning.
Beyond the noodles, the key is to use ingredients that do all the work for you. To do that, I started with sauteed shiitake mushrooms, which add an earthy depth, meatiness, and plenty of umami. I sliced them and cooked them in the pot until browned, then removed them from the pot and set them aside—the mushrooms themselves make a nice garnish for the finished ramen. If you brown them enough, they'll leave a good amount of mushroom-y bits on the bottom of the pot.
After the mushrooms, I added plenty of minced onion, garlic and ginger. As they cook and steam, you'll be able to scrape up any of the browned mushroom bits from the pot, capturing all of that flavor. Once they're translucent I added the chicken stock.
For best results, you should use homemade stock if at all possible, ideally one with enough gelatin in it to give the broth some body. If you don't have homemade stock, you can use store-bought, but I recommend adding some unflavored gelatin to it to compensate for its otherwise thin and watery texture.
From there, I turn to umami-rich fermented ingredients, like miso, soy sauce, and kimchi (along with some of the kimchi liquid) to really punch up the flavor of the soup. Those are all ingredients that take weeks or even months to make from scratch, which means all you have to do is stir them into the broth to give it layers and layers of complex flavor. It will taste like it took a long time to make—except that it didn't!
Once the broth is ready and the noodles are cooked, it's time to eat. Just top each bowl with a soft-cooked egg, those sauteed shiitakes, and maybe some tender greens like watercress, some thinly sliced scallion, and a small sheet of nori.
I love my new neighborhood, and now I love it even more since I no longer feel like this ramen is out of my reach.
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