One of my favorite comfort foods is ramen noodles with butter. This goes way back. My mother always liked to have some ramen packages on hand, and would make them with butter for me now and then when I was younger. They’re nice on the stomach that way, and she always likes to save the flavor packets to use in other recipes like when she cooks chicken and potatoes and carrots in a crock pot. (Also a comfort food. It’s not quite chicken soup but it’s in the neighborhood.)
In the last few years I’ve branched out a little more and done some experimenting with ramen. I’ve tried it with cheese, which I like but it’s a bigger production than I want it to be. All you do there is reserve a little of the broth but drain off the rest, and “crumble” in a couple of slices of American cheese. This ends up kind of sticky and is hard to mix in, but it does work and it tastes good if you have the patience for it. I’ve also tried cheddar powder or some of that Mac Yourself powder with milk and butter, although again mixing is really problematic. I think to achieve ultimate perfection, I’ll have to pre-mix the cheese sauce in another container.
But lately I’ve also been thinking in more of a soup direction. To this end I decided to add some things to the arsenal. First, eggs; I like egg drop soup, and you really can’t go wrong throwing in an egg. I also went onto Amazon and picked up some dehydrated celery and mushrooms (separate containers, obviously); I went with the Mother Earth brand mainly because of availability and good reviews. The reason I wanted to do celery this way was that I almost never buy it fresh; I don’t really snack on it, although I’ll eat it if it’s around with wings or something, and my wife finds celery toxic in nearly the same way that I can’t handle onions and peppers.
My first test with these ingredients was to take a regular package of chicken ramen, with the flavor packet (not really my favorite, but I wanted a strong broth to start with), a little bit of the celery and mushrooms that I added with the noodles, a bit of dry minced garlic, and then near the end of cooking I poured in a beaten egg and stirred very fast like you would with egg drop soup. This had mixed results; I think the celery needed longer to rehydrate, and the egg sort of broke up into crumblets instead of the nice chunks you get in a good egg drop soup. It was however satisfying, and the mushrooms were very welcome in there. The garlic was unnoticeable.
The next experiment involved adding some beef jerky into the equation. I’ve read that when you rehydrate beef jerky in soup it’ll give a lot of its flavor up to the liquid, so I left out the flavor packet this time. I chopped up two nuggets of Jack Links tender bites, teriyaki flavor, and put them in the water with the celery right from the outset, along with about a quarter to half a teaspoon of garlic powder. Most of the rest I did the same way, except I did not pre-beat the egg; I cracked it right into the pot and let it sit for a minute before stirring it in.
The post-mortem from the second try was interesting. First, the beef jerky obviously needed way longer to flavor the broth, because it didn’t do anything; and while the texture was decent and slightly softer than eating it straight, every time I got a piece it was completely unsubtle, screaming BEEF JERKY against all of the other flavors in disharmony. So if you’re looking to meat up your ramen, I don’t recommend this approach. The broth needed quite a bit of salt, and again the garlic didn’t stand out. I added a couple tablespoons of butter after cooking to give the broth more flavor, and that helped a ton. The celery came out slightly better. The egg again ended up as crumblets, which tells me I should have let it go in earlier and sit longer, and stirred only when it was nearly cooked through.
Armed with those results, I have a plan of action for next time. If there’s to be any meat, it has to be something leftover that I can dice up quick and throw in near the end just to warm it up—ham being an excellent choice. Celery will go in before the boil again, and I’m gonna bomb it with a larger amount of the minced garlic (not garlic powder), maybe also some dry herbs, and maybe half a teaspoon of salt to start. Although I like a little black pepper, I don’t see it adding anything to this dish. Again I’ll use about 2 tbsp. butter, but that will go in at the very end of cooking; it melts fast. After the noodles go in, then there’s the mushrooms. About halfway through cooking when the noodles have softened a little, in goes the egg, and I’ll leave it alone till the end. Then I’ll stir, add the butter, and taste for seasoning to see if more salt is called for.
And that, I think, is going to be my go-to ramen soup for chilly fall days.
I may decide to try throwing in some high-quality chicken bouillon at some point. I’m not a big fan of the flavor packet, because I find it a little too spicy for my liking. I don’t mind that it’s mostly MSG, but if I want to add MSG I can do that myself, and with all the other ingredients (especially mushrooms) I don’t think it’s needed. I do however think starting with chicken broth, or a faked-up version from bouillon, will still give the whole thing a nice touch of extra flavor.
Quick review of the celery and mushrooms: The dehydrated celery is okay by me, although I think that freshly sliced would be superior in texture and flavor; if nothing else it would be bigger chunks, since the stuff I have is pretty small even after a good soak. But I do like the crunch and bit of flavor it adds, so it serves its purpose. The mushrooms are fantastic; I’m thrilled with their flavor and they rehydrate fast. Some Amazon reviewers have said they’re a little pricey by the pound, but basically what you’re paying for is to always have some mushrooms readily on hand to throw into a soup or whatnot on a moment’s notice, and that container’s going to last me a good while.