For today’s recipe, we’re taking the noodles portion of the ‘ramen equation,’ combining it with chicken, red peppers, onions, and carrots, along with a medley of seasonings, and then stir frying that together to create a deliciously complex ‘Ramen Stir Fry.’
What ‘is’ Ramen – really?
Ramen is a Japanese soup prepared with Chinese wheat noodles, originating sometime around the turn of the last century in Yokohama, Japan. According to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (more a food court than a museum), the dish was first recorded in 1859, being introduced into Japan by Chinese immigrants. While the first ramen shop appeared in Tokyo in 1910 – named ‘Rairaiken’ – ramen’s explosion in popularity within Japan wouldn’t occur until the early 1950s postwar period, due in part to a poor rice harvest coupled with access to copious amounts of cheap American-sourced wheat. This had the effect of turning wheat noodles into a national staple, while ‘ramen’ provided an interesting and nutritious way to consume those noodles.
These early incarnations of ramen were not entirely dissimilar to the ramen one might encounter today, but were generally simpler. Chinese gyoza dumplings were a popular topping, especially when served by Chinese immigrant vendors, along with familiar mixes of vegetables, chicken, and pork, with beef being particularly popular in urban areas. Again, not entirely dissimilar to what you might find on offer at ramen noodle stands and specialty shops today, albeit modern ramen has become a fair bit more ‘colorful.’
However, there is no escaping that here in North America, from the southernmost tip of Mexico to the arctic reaches of Canada, the word ‘ramen’ is sadly synonymous with prepackaged noodles that come with a packet of dehydrated seasoning; a seasoning mix that somehow manages to compress ‘chicken and vegetables’ into a single teaspoon of questionably sourced brown powder. Whether you get your pre-portioned serving of noodles and powdered flavor in plastic bags, sealed foam cups, or in wrapped paper bowls, these premade soups have at one time or another seen us all through late nights at the computer, sustained us through power outages, or served as ‘something warm’ when there’s no time for anything but boiling water, all while serving as the staple dormitory foodstuff for legions of college kids.
Today, we’re taking the noodles and leaving aside the powdered mix, since the wheat noodles are perfectly serviceable for today’s purposes.
However, egg noodles, rice noodles, and regular pasta will all serve just fine, as I’ll explain below.
Ingredient Notes, Tips, and Substitutions
1) Bagel Seasoning. This is currently one of my favorite seasonings…or is it a spice mix? Regardless, I’m currently putting this on everything, from eggs to chicken to today’s stir fry. While the ingredients differ slightly from brand to brand, the one I’m currently using is a delightful mix of poppy, sesame seeds, garlic powder, large grain salt, and dried grilled onion chunks.
Substitution: A roughly even mix of the aforementioned ingredients, and you can use finely chopped fresh onion or fresh garlic in place of the dried grilled onion chunks – no worries.
2) Hoisin Sauce. While regional variations exist, hoisin sauce is typically some combination of bean paste, peanut butter, molasses, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, red chilies, and garlic. Thus, ‘good’ hoisin sauce manages to be sweet, spicy, and salty all at once. As such, hoisin sauce is a great way to add layered flavor complexity to recipes, pairing particularly well with meaty dishes and stir fries. Flavor aside, hoisin also serves to thicken the recipes to which its added.
Should You Make Your Own? One of the first things you’ll see online when searching for ‘Hoisin Sauce’ is a collection of recipes proudly proclaiming how easy it is to make your own, but is it worth the effort? No, no not really. In all honesty, premade store bought Hoisin Sauce is generally just fine for its various and most common kitchen applications.
3) Fish Sauce. Think of fish sauce as ‘anchovy flavor in liquid form.’ Fish sauce is used to give recipes a distinct ‘umami-fish’ flavor, carried on abundant ‘saltiness’ or ‘brininess.’
Substitution: Anchovies. As always, you’ll want to use about one fillet per one-half teaspoon of fish sauce, or about six fillets for today’s recipe.
The Noodles – Your Choice
1) Egg Noodles. These are actually the ideal noodle for stir frying, since their trademark ‘sturdy-yet-pliable’ consistency makes them perfect for the stirring and tossing portion of the stir-fry process. However, being noticeably denser than plain wheat noodles, these ‘will’ change the texture of today’s recipe, but pleasantly so in my opinion.
2) Rice Noodles. Perhaps the most ‘polarizing’ noodle (since I’ve yet to meet someone whose doesn’t either absolutely love them or hate), the ‘gummy’ texture and ‘elastic’ consistency means that these noodles will change the mouthfeel of today’s recipe quite a bit – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your personal preference. Prepared from rice flour and water, rice noodles are typically transparent in appearance, but are sometimes colored with cornstarch or tapioca to make them similar in appearance to egg or wheat noodles.
3) Pasta Noodles. Since ramen noodles are simply Chinese wheat noodles, this means your choice of pasta will work just fine in today’s recipe – although I would strongly suggest sticking to a tube-shaped pasta, such as spaghetti.
If You Liked Today’s Recipe, You’ll Love
1) Homemade General Tso’s. Crispy fried chicken chunks bathed in a dense sweet and spicy dipping sauce, this one of my all-time favorite recipes, and I’m positive it’ll be one of yours too. As a nice bonus, not only is deceptively simple to prepare, but the entire family will love it.
2) Crispy Tofu Steaks. Moist tofu blocks crisped to perfection, creates a decadenly crunchy exterior with a blissfully airy interior, creating a delicious contrast of texture. Pairing with a spicy dipping sauce, this is one of my must-have recipes.
If You Enjoyed Today’s Recipe…
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