Many of us are accustomed to throwing a few inexpensive packets of dried ramen soup into our grocery cart to save our weary weeknight cooking in a pinch. But making the best restaurant-quality ramen at home begins at the Asian market. Most of the ingredients are long-lasting pantry ingredients that make keeping a ramen-ready kitchen almost as easy as cooking up a cup of noodles.
While most American ramen eaters recognize the difference between our once-loved dried ramen packets and the quality noodles found in our favorite bowl of restaurant ramen, few of us know how to track down the latter. At most Asian markets you can find a selection of both fresh and dried ramen noodles.
Fresh ramen noodles are nothing more than wheat noodles, made from flour, salt, and water, but treated with an alkaline agent that gives the noodles their yellow hue and springy, curly texture. Fresh noodles are more common in major metropolitan areas where local ramen noodle producers are within close proximity. You might also be able to beg fresh noodles from your local ramen shop during your next visit. If you get your hands on fresh ramen noodles, refrigerate them and use within a few days.
Dried or instant ramen noodles are also made from wheat flour, but fried and then dried before packaging. At most Asian markets, you can find packets of these noodles without the tiny soup flavoring packets — grab these and keep multiples on hand for making ramen anytime.
No Asian Market Nearby? Order These 3 Essentials Online!
Essentials for Ramen Broth: Chicken Wings, Kombu, & Shiitake
Chicken wings make a rich base for ramen broth. Their connective tissue, tender bones, and skin make them ideal for turning into broth (they're also less expensive than their whole chicken or pork counterparts). But ramen broth isn't standard-issue stock — it must be flavored in two stages to satisfy ramen-lovers.
Read more on wings for broth: The Secret to Richer Chicken Broth
As ramen is a Japanese soup, it takes some cues from dashi — a delicate vegetable broth made from kombu. Kombu is a dried sea kelp full of glutamic acids. Glutamates are responsible for the super-savory sensation of miso soup and do similar work in ramen broth. Buy kombu covered in chalky white crystals (that's the good stuff) and keep it on hand for everything from miso soup to cooking beans.
Learn more about kombu: Ingredient Spotlight: Dried Kombu
Kombu is supported in its savory role in seasoning ramen broth by dried shiitake mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are powerhouses of umami and earthy flavors. Simmering them in ramen broth adds a depth of both flavor and color. Keep dried shiitakes on hand for making ramen or vegetarian miso broth.
Essentials for Ramen Tare: Soy Sauce and Mirin
The second addition to ramen broth that is unique is a system of flavoring known as tare. Tare is a mixture of intensity flavorful liquids or pastes that are added to the ramen broth just before serving. The most basic of which is a 50/50 mixture of soy sauce and mirin. Some are made with miso, or include chili pastes.