The Cheap Little Hack I Use to Get Big Flavor in Almost Any Dish

published Jul 21, 2022
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Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Let’s hear it for instant ramen. Whether you prepare it as intended by the package directions or doctor it up with your own soy eggs and fish cakes, instant ramen has always been there for us, and it always will be. But when I stumbled on a simple hack that gave me big, complex flavors wherever I happened to need them, my gratitude for those pre-packaged noodles hit a new level.

I was texting with a friend about our dinner plans, and she asked what I used to season my schnitzel. I replied with the standard garlic powder and Aleppo pepper and then lobbed the question back her way. Her response made me almost drop my phone. “I just use a ramen packet,” she texted back. Checkmate. It was right then that I decided to explore the depths of ramen packet seasoning.

Typically, ramen (which I’m using as a catch-all for the category of pre-packaged noodles dishes, including instant pho, lo mein, pancit, and so on) comes with noodles, plus two or more seasoning packets. There’s a soup base and then extra seasoning, which might be in the form of an oil or paste. My favorite ramen, Nissin’s Black Garlic Tonkotsu flavor, has two such packets — one a powdered soup seasoning, and the other a thin packet of black garlic oil, aka a concentrated umami blast that’s perfect for finishing sautéed mushrooms or drizzling on top of brothy dishes.

With so many different types of instant noodles, the options for boosting different dishes are almost endless. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use those wonderful little packets.

4 Ways to Use Instant Ramen Seasoning Packets to Amp Up Flavor

Fried Chicken

I started my ramen packet tests with chicken schnitzel to test my friend’s claim, and what I found was that a tiny packet of chicken essence and MSG was exactly what my dredge needed to rocket that chicken straight to Planet Flavor.

For this application, I went with Maruchan Chicken Ramen, those bright orange packages I associate with elementary-school sick days and college-era hangovers. I saved the noodles for another day, and added the entire seasoning packet — half to the flour and half to the breadcrumbs — and that was it. The result was a souped-up chicken schnitzel that bested any recipe I’d tried. Try it yourself the next time you make breaded chicken cutlets.

Credit: Stephanie Ganz

Deviled Eggs

Not content with fried foods alone, I turned my gaze toward other dishes that might benefit from a ramen seasoning boost and landed squarely on deviled eggs. I figured the creamy, yolky, mayonnaise-based filling would absorb any flavor I threw at it, and I was right. I decided on Korean Nongshim Shin Ramen, which has a kind of spicy beefiness. A little goes a long way, and after a few trials I realized that half a packet is the perfect amount for a half-dozen eggs, swirled into the mayo, vinegar, and relish I usually use.

Rice & Potatoes

It was no surprise that my favorite blank canvases, rice and potatoes, took well to the ramen packet treatment. For roasted potatoes (and other root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and beets), I mixed the seasoning from a package of Hao Hao noodles (onion flavor) with olive oil and tossed the vegetables before roasting on a sheet tray. For rice, I swirled a little seasoning into the water in my rice cooker, and the finished rice was fluffy and flavorful.


Of course, for a popcorn-lover like myself, it was only a matter of time before I added a ramen packet to my bag of popcorn, and it was great (although I still prefer mine with a liberal sprinkling of Hidden Valley Ranch powder), but I saw more snack-time potential, so I took a package of Lucky Me! Pancit Canton and added its seasoning packet and oil packet, along with the zest and juice of one lime, and a little extra olive oil to two cups of raw cashews before baking them in a 300°F oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. What I got was a lip-smacking snack that would be welcome at any cocktail party. 

The cashews gave me another idea, or rather a question: What crunchy, baked snack wouldn’t be improved by the concentrated flavors of a ramen seasoning packet? Chex Mix, baked Saltines, oven roasted chickpeas! They’re all perfectly suited to these concentrated seasonings. To be honest, I haven’t found a snack yet that doesn’t benefit from this kind of flavor blasting — and I’ve been looking.