Case Study: Ramen
Friday, March 8, 2013
Yesterday at work I started thinking about ramen. Not straight-up five-for-a-dollar grocery store ramen, but not David Chang ramen, either. Something in between.
I had driven to work because I had to go to the post office, so that meant I had more options for stopping points on the way home. Usually I walk, and in theory I could walk to more than one store, but the two stores I generally go to are not in the same direction, so it makes for a long trip, and rarely am I up for that on my way home.
But this time, car. The world was my oyster.
So I stopped at Food Lion and bought three packages of ramen for eighty-nine cents. Then I drove to Whole Foods and considered the options for vegetable and meat additions.
I thought about getting chicken and poaching or roasting it but decided against that, I wanted something simpler. I’m not much of a beef eater at this point, so flank steak or something like that didn’t feel right either. I decided to go with the Other White Meat, and got a small boneless pork chop, around five ounces.
Then I was thinking I should get some kind of greens, bok choy or napa cabbage or baby spinach.
The bok choy and napa cabbage were both HUGE, I knew it would be too much of a challenge for me to use that all up before it went bad, and also they were both $2.99 a pound or something like that, it was going to be way over $5, which is out of my price range for vegetables. Sometimes they have loose baby spinach, you can buy just a handful, but I didn’t see any yesterday. But they did have baby bok choy, so I bought a small one of those for around a dollar. And some green onions for $1.49, which always feels like highway robbery, but I decided to just suck it up this time.
And on the way home, I thought about how I was going to cook it.
And then by the time I got home, I was tired and hungry, so I ate leftovers instead. (Wonh, wonh, wonnhh. You lose. No soup for you.)
But tonight. Tonight! I took a nice afternoon nap and had energy for dinner.
I cut the pork chop into bite-size-ish pieces and marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, chinese rice wine, while I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. (Things are kind of a mess around here, don’t ask.)
I took a quart of chicken stock out of the freezer, ran the container under water to loosen it, slid the big frozen chunk out of the container into a pot on the stove, turned the stove to medium high and left to thaw.
I chopped the green onions, minced a clove of garlic (from the pantry), grated some ginger root (from the freezer).
I chopped the baby bok choy into bite-size-ish pieces and heated a frying pan in which I’d cooked some bacon earlier in the day and added a little bit of canola oil and sautéed, with some salt and pepper for seasoning. When it was tender but not cooked all the way through, I poured in some of the stock (which was by now thawed), covered the pan, brought to a boil, and simmered until seemed sufficiently done, cooked but not mushy. I tasted and decided to add some soy sauce for flavor.
I heated a little bit of canola oil in a pot, and when it was hot threw in the garlic, ginger, and white part of the onion. Stirred for a minute, when that was fragrant, added the pork. When the pork was browned and seemed more or less cooked, I poured the chicken stock into the pot and tasted and adjusted seasonings — added salt, pepper, chili salt (salt a friend gave me — kosher salt plus some kind of crazy spicy chili, it’s totally spicy, a little goes a long way). Tasted again, needed more … something. Added msg (figured it would not be a true ramen experience without msg) and a little bit of chili paste with garlic. Tasted again. Salty, spicy, good. Brought to a boil, then let simmer.
In the meantime, I cooked the ramen noodles the normal way, boiled in water.
When the noodles were about ready, I added the cooked greens to the pot with the pork and heated those together for a minute. Put the noodles in a bowl, ladled the broth/pork/greens over the noodles, added the green part of the chopped green onions for garnish.
Not the cheapest thing in the world, because of the pork — around six dollars for two servings (with almost half of that being the pork). But cheaper than going out somewhere for a noodle bowl, and better too.
And these are the kinds of things you can make that aren’t very expensive, and aren’t very hard to make, and use some things you buy fresh (vegetables, meat) and some things you have in the pantry (noodles, garlic, condiments, spices) and some things you have in the freezer (chicken stock, ginger).
And are really, really good.