Dinner for two on less than 6 bucks
Cook Healthy, Cheap Noodles at Home
It’s the New Year, thank goodness, but many of us are scrambling to recover from the annual financial hit of the holidays. Maybe your resolution is to eat healthier or be more frugal. This column comes just in time.
The stereotype of poor students living on ramen noodles may be true, but you can have a healthier version with just a bit of prep time in the kitchen. Authentic ramen restaurants make their names on the broth and the toppings for their dishes. You can get similar results and eliminate much of the sodium and additives by making ramen at home.
There are several great recipes for homemade ramen noodles, but that’s a subject for later. It takes more effort than the average home cook wants to invest.
However, the cheap packaged noodles work fine if you throw away the “flavor packet.” The seasonings in instant ramen are little more than salt and additives. There is as much sodium in a single package as the average adult should consume in two meals. The packaged noodles are not health food by any means, but work as a base for homemade ramen.
I went to my local grocery store for the ingredients I needed to cook a large portion of ramen for two. Total cost was less than $6.
Simple Chicken Ramen Broth for Two
4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/2 small white or yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 large carrot, grated
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
5 to 7 (or more!) large cloves of garlic, crushed
A pinch of aromatic spices from your collection: anise, star anise or fennel, coriander seed or cumin seed, bay leaf
First, cook the salted and peppered chicken in a skillet over low to medium heat. I left the skin on and cooked the chicken until it was just short of done all the way through. Remove the skin and reserve.
Cut off most of the meat from each thigh, leaving the partially cooked flesh around the bone intact. Half of the cooked chicken will go on the ramen later, so store it in the fridge until dinner time.
In a medium to large pot, place the chicken bones and other ingredients. If, like me, you save chicken bones and carcasses in the freezer, add more bones for even better richness. Cook without water for a few minutes to brown the bones and release flavors. Add a quart of water per chicken thigh bone and bring to a simmer.
The longer the bone broth simmers, the better the flavor. I like to prep everything the night before and then let the broth cook low and slow in a crock pot overnight. If you want to serve the same night, simmer for at least 45 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water to keep the volume. An added benefit is that your kitchen will smell awesome.
While the broth deepens in flavor, prep the garnishes and toppings. I like finely shredded carrot, green onions, sliced snow peas, paper-thin radish and crisped chicken skin. Soft-cooked eggs are also terrific in ramen.
Strain the solids from the broth and return it to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding soy sauce for saltiness and umami, and Sriracha or other spicy condiments for heat. If the broth seems thin or under flavored, low-sodium broth – store-bought or homemade – or bouillon can bolster the savoriness.
Bring the broth to a rolling boil and add one block of packaged ramen noodles per person. After a minute or so, break up the noodles and serve in large bowls. Warm up the chicken with a ladle of hot broth. Finish the dish with the chicken and the rest of the garnishes, arranging everything for a nice presentation.
Make sure to provide chopsticks for the true slurping ramen experience. Spoons are not necessary; just drink the tasty broth straight from the bowl.
This recipe is just a starting point. The technique will work with nearly all proteins and vegetables. Experiment with subtle seasonings, just a bit of each. The broth should have a deep, complex flavor without any one ingredient shouting over the rest. Since most appropriate ingredients are among the cheapest available, this is a perfect way to practice and develop your culinary palate.
One big batch of broth made every couple of weeks can be easily frozen in small portions and can be turned into ramen quickly, with each meal for two to four costing less than buying a fast-food combo meal for two people.
Green onion $.79
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