Learn the perfect cooking technique for your favorite comfort food. Here’s how to cook ramen noodles the right way.
Anyone who’s into Italian cuisine knows very well that cooking pasta noodles in unsalted water is a cardinal sin. The sea salt, a non-negotiable, gives flavor to the pasta and prevents it from sticking as it cooks.
And if you’re coming into Japanese cuisine with this knowledge, as you probably are, and you’re learning the art and craft of cooking ramen, you can’t help but wonder: do you also salt the water when cooking ramen noodles?
This is a good question—and an important one, for that matter.
Yes, both pasta noodles and ramen noodles are noodles. But then again, Rome, the capital of Italy, and Tokyo, the capital of Japan, are 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) apart. So you might expect there to be differences in the way that these nations prepare their noodles.
And they are.
Do You Salt the Water for Ramen Noodles?
Don’t salt the water when boiling ramen noodles. Unlike pasta noodles, ramen noodles are supposed to be cooked in unsalted water.
There’s a simple and logical explanation for all of this, you see:
Ramen noodles don’t need to be salty because they’re served in a salty liquid, like dashi, pork broth, or mushroom broth. They should even be a little bland because, when they are, they balance out the broth’s saltiness.
Italian pasta needs the added flavor of salt water because it’s served with savory sauces, such as tomato or cream sauce, which aren’t as salty. If you cook the pasta in unsalted water, the finished dish will be bland and insipid.
Do You Cook the Ramen Noodles in the Broth?
No, you shouldn’t cook your ramen noodles in the broth. They’re supposed to be served in hot broth, but they’re also supposed to be cooked in rapidly boiling unsalted water.
To cook ramen noodles, fill a pot three-quarters full with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling vigorously, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the noodles.
Boil fresh ramen noodles for 1 minute and dry ramen noodles for 2-3 minutes. Remove them from the water when they’re no longer frail and crunchy, but they still have some firmness to them and offer a little bit of resistance when bitten into.
Italian chefs call this level of doneness al dente, which literally means “to the tooth.”
The same applies to ramen noodles: they ought to be removed from the cooking water when they aren’t too mushy, and they still stick to the teeth when eaten.
Are You Supposed to Rinse Ramen Noodles?
Okay, here’s another step in which pasta cooking differs from ramen cooking.
You never, ever rinse Italian pasta after it’s cooked. But you do rinse ramen noodles under a stream of cold water after they’re done cooking. The main reason is to stop the cooking process before you put them in the bowl and pour the broth over them.
Of course, that doesn’t apply if you use instant ramen noodles. They may not taste as good as fresh or even dried ramen noodles, but they’re a blessing when you’re craving Japanese ramen and you’re running low on time and/or energy.
If you’re using instant ramen noodles, just mix them in with the hot broth and add the toppings.
Psst! Check out our list of 49 things to add to your ramen bowl right now. (You can thank us later.)
So there you have it!
To recap, the right way to cook your ramen noodles is:
- In unsalted water;
- Until they’re tender but still firm;
- Rinsing them under cold running water when done.
It turns out that the way to cook ramen noodles is exactly the opposite of the way to cook pasta noodles. And yet both taste their best when cooked to tender, but still firm, a.k.a. al dente.
So there is one similarity between them after all.