There are many ways to spice up your ramen bowl. Try these stocks, broths, seasonings, proteins, carbs, and spices to create your own unique flavor!
What makes a good ramen recipe? Well, a home-cooked bowl of ramen should be delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare. Here are some ideas for adding variety to your ramen dish:
- Chicken stock
- Pork stock
- Beef stock
- Mushroom broth
- Root vegetable broth
- Shio tare (salt)
- Miso (fermented soybean paste)
- Shoyu (Japanese-style soy sauce)
- Fresh, dried, or instant ramen noodles
- Boiled egg
- Marinated egg
- Scotch egg
- Beef steak
- Pork chashu (roasted pork shoulder)
- Pan-fried bacon
- Grilled chicken, turkey, or duck
- Kurobata sausage (Japanese black hog sausage)
- Narutomaki (cured fish surimi)
- Seared tuna steak
- Grilled octopus
- Pan-fried beer-battered yellowtail or blue mackerel
- Honey glazed salmon
- Tofu (block, silken, dry, smoked, deep-fried tofu)
- Maitake, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms
- Bok choy
- Mustard greens
- Green onions
- Shiraga negi (white-haired onion)
- Nira (leeks)
- Wakame seaweed
- Bean sprouts
- Baby broccoli
- Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
- Canned bamboo shoots
- Sweet corn
- Baby corn
- Roasted Japanese sweet potatoes
- Chili peppers
- Bell peppers
- Radishes (fresh, roasted, or pickled)
- Pickled sushi ginger
- Pickled red onions
- Sesame seeds
- Katsuobushi (fermented Skipjack tuna)
- Red chili flakes
We’ll dive deeper into each of these—and why they belong to ramen—below.
The Elements of Ramen
A bowl of ramen consists of three elements, and its preparation requires the appreciation of simplicity and attention to detail characteristic of Japanese culture and cuisine.
There’s the broth, the noodles, and the toppings. Neglect even one element, and your ramen won’t be as delicious. Give each of these elements its due attention, and the whole—or should I say the bowl—will turn out greater than the sum of its parts.
The broth for ramen is made of the base and the seasoning.
The base is the plain, unsophisticated stock made by simmering the carcass and bones of a land or sea animal without the addition of salt, spices, or herbs. But it can also be the broth of one or more vegetables.
Dashi, chicken stock, pork stock, beef stock, mushroom broth, and root vegetable broth are among the best liquids to use as a base for your ramen broth.
The seasoning is the rich, delectable concentrate added to the broth or stock to give it aroma, flavor, and umaminess.
The traditional seasonings for a bowl of ramen are shio tare, which translates to salt, miso, the fermented paste of soybeans mixed with koji, and shoyu, a Japanese style of soy sauce made from fermented soybeans, wheat, and salt that can be light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi).
There is also tare, a mixture of shio tare, miso, shoyu, and/or seaweed that’s boiled down to a thick, dark, and savory sauce that’s used as an intense and deeply flavorsome seasoning for ramen stock.
Together, the plainness of the base and the richness of the seasoning form the broth, the foundation without which no ramen dish can do.
Ramen noodles come in all shapes and forms. Some are thick and curly, while others are thin and long. They’re typically made from high-gluten flour mixed with salt and water. Some have eggs, with fresh eggs added to pricier noodles and egg powder used in cheaper noodles.
So how do you choose?
Thick ramen noodles soak up the flavors and aromas of intensely flavored broths. So if you’re making very rich ramen, such as pork ramen or tare ramen, you should opt for thick, curly noodles. This also means that thin noodles are best for lighter ramen dishes.
Fresh noodles can sometimes be found in the refrigerated or frozen foods section of a well-stocked supermarket. But by far the two most common types of ramen noodles in home cooking are dried noodles are instant noodles.
Nothing compares to fresh ramen noodles. Nevertheless, dried noodles are good enough for 99.9% of your home cooking, provided you have the time to boil them properly. When you’re short on time and low on energy, there’s nothing wrong with instant noodles.
A good bowl of ramen has diverse toppings that nourish the body, which means both carbs and proteins. The toppings should also tempt the palate by creating a balance between the flavors of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy.
There’s more to ramen than just the boiled egg (although many would say that ramen without an egg, whether soft- or hard-boiled, is no ramen at all). If you’re willing to go the extra mile, try marinated egg ramen or scotch egg ramen.
When craving protein from the flesh of land animals, consider beef steak, pork chashu (roasted pork shoulder), pan-fried bacon, grilled chicken, turkey, or duck, kurobata sausage (Japanese black hog sausage).
For proteins from the flesh of sea animals, shrimp, narutomaki (cured fish surimi), seared tuna steak, grilled octopus, pan-fried beer-battered yellowtail or blue mackerel, honey glazed salmon are most suitable for adding to your bowl of ramen.
We get to the best vegan protein toppings for your ramen, namely, tofu. If you know your way around tofu, there are endless varieties of this vegan protein: There’s block tofu, silken tofu, dry tofu, smoked tofu, and even deep-fried tofu.
For carbs and fiber, opt for bok choy (Chinese cabbage), mustard greens, green onions, shiraga negi (white-haired onion), nira (leeks), wakame seaweed, maitake, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms, carrots, baby broccoli, bean spouts, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), canned bamboo shoots, sweet corn, baby corn, roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, chili peppers, bell peppers, radishes (fresh, roasted, or pickled), pickled sushi ginger, pickled red onions.
And, of course, let’s not forget the mandatory sprinkle of sesame seeds, Katsuobushi (fermented skipjack tuna flakes), and red chili flakes on top.
Assembling the Ramen
To assemble a ramen dish, start by cooking the noodles in boiling water. Don’t add salt to the water and cook the noodles until they are no longer difficult to chew but still have some firmness and bite.
Once the noodles are ready, rinse them under cold running water to stop the cooking process and place them in the ramen bowl. Heat the broth or stock, mix it with the seasoning, and then pour it on the noodles.
Add the carbs and proteins, which should be side by side on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, katsuobushi, and/or red chili flakes, then serve. Then don’t wait up; ramen should be eaten hot because that’s when it tastes its best.