How To Turn Instant Noodles Into A Gourmet Meal

I have a confession to make. Despite my cooking-from-scratch-is-best mantra and occasional preaching about healthy eating, I’ve recently resumed a bad food addiction.

You’ve guessed it- Instant Noodles, aka instant ramen. Probably Japan’s most famous invention, along with MSG.

I had been so good. In fact, I hadn’t touched the stuff in years, until a recent holiday to China on a Silk Road tour (which I will blog about shortly). It was about five or six days into the tour, I had barely eaten the entire time thanks to a bout of diarrhoea and not liking the food served on the tour. And I was starving. A fellow tour member saw this and kindly gave me some cup noodles she had brought with her.

And in my semi-emancipated state, that steaming cup of instant noodles tasted divine. Soft, yet springy noodles in a MSG-laden broth — I got hooked, once again.

Since my return from the trip I’ve been stocking my pantry with instant noodles. I just can’t help myself. Unfortunately, while convenient and rather tasty, instant noodles are highly processed and hence not very good nutritionally. That said, there’s no reason why we can’t make a purse out of a sow’s ear. So, I’d like to show you how easy it is to take a simple bowl of instant ramen and turn it into a gourmet meal.

Turning a bowl of plain noodles into something a bit more appetising and exotic can be summed up in one word — balance.

By adding fresh meat and/or vegetables to the noodles, we can raise the nutritional value of a meal that would otherwise consist of empty calories. The flavour of the broth can be improved by adding some basic condiments easily bought from supermarkets. And all this can be done without sacrificing extra time- five minutes from the time the water boils, max.

I’ve found that the best vegetables to use are those that cook quickly. Think leafy Asian greens, like choy sum, spring onions, or bok choi. These vegetables cook in mere seconds, as does lettuce, such as cos or iceberg. Preparation is also quick, simply wash and rinse, then tear into bite-size pieces. If you have a bit more time, sliced button or portobello mushrooms are great options, too.

If you want to add meat to your noodles, use minced pork or chicken. Mince requires little preparation and cooks quickly. Otherwise, leftover cooked meat such as roasts can be used instead. Seafood also works well if you’re willing to spend some extra time with preparation. I recommend using prawns and sliced fish fillets.

And, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even poach an egg in the same pot while the noodles are cooking.

Meanwhile, add some extra flavour to the broth by using a few drops of sesame oil, fish sauce or soy sauce. There’s no reason why you have to limit yourself to the flavour sachet that comes in the pack.

The idea is to add each ingredient to the boiling water in order of cooking time. Ingredients that take longer to cook go into the pot first, and before it is fully cooked, the next one is added. This will allow all the ingredients to be cooked together in minimal time.
Note: In the interests of food safety, always cook raw meat first and ensure it is cooked thoroughly before adding anything else.

Here’s how you put it all together, instant-noodle-packet-instructions style. It all boils down to timing (pun intended).

Step 1. Bring 500ml (2 cups) of water to the boil in a saucepan.
Step 2. (Optional) Add meat (eg, pork, chicken, or beef), and bring the water back to the boil. If using raw meat, ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked.
Step 3. Add the instant noodles and flavour sachet. Cook until the noodles begin to soften.
Step 4. Add seafood, and/or vegetables, stir, and cover. Allow to cook for about 30 seconds.
Step 5. Remove cover, stir again, and check that the vegetables are cooked. Add condiments, then pour into a large bowl and serve.

Easy, isn’t it? Of course, it requires a little bit more work than simply boiling the noodles alone, but the results are worth it. Meanwhile, here’s a recipe you can follow along to get started. Once you get the basic idea, feel free to use whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Seafood Instant Noodles (with Real Seafood and Vegetables)

Serves 1

1 packet instant noodles, seafood or kimchi flavoured
1 handful choy sum or other Asian greens
3 prawns
approx. 100g firm white fish fillet (bought deboned)
1 egg, very fresh and preferably free-range
500ml (2 cups) water
1 tbsp cornstarch + 3 tbsp water, mixed together
2 tsp sesame oil, to serve

Wash the vegetables, then rinse and drain. Using your hands, tear the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Wash and peel prawns. Slice the fish fillet, then pour the cornstarch mixture over the fish slices. (The cornstarch holds the fish meat together during cooking). Set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the instant noodles and flavour sachet. Return the pot to the boil, and cook for about 1 minute until the noodles begin to soften.

Crack the egg on top of the noodles, and cook until the egg white begins to coagulate. Add the fish slices and cook for about 30 seconds, then add the prawns. When the prawns begin to change colour, add the vegetables and cover.

After about 1 minute, uncover the pot and stir the ingredients. Check that the seafood and vegetables are cooked. If the seafood is still raw, continue cooking until done.

Add the sesame oil and serve in a large bowl. Enjoy.

Additional tips:

  • Instant noodles made in Japan, Korea or Taiwan are generally of better quality.
  • Do not overcook instant noodles or they’ll lose their springy texture.
  • Sesame oil is best added just before serving as heat destroys its delicate flavour.
  • There is no need to use the entire flavour packet that comes with the noodles. Half the packet is usually sufficient, and you’ll reduce your MSG intake as well.

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