Ramen is just about the perfect food. And no, we’re not crazy.
Ramen isn’t actually perfect when it comes to nutrition, of course. Clearly, a kale salad or some grilled salmon is better for you than a cup of ramen – whether the ramen has been made from scratch in an authentic noodle shop, or it’s instant ramen heated up in a college student’s dorm room.
Here’s what makes ramen noodles so perfect: you can open a package and make a yummy, filling meal in just a few minutes, for less than fifty cents a serving. And a serving of instant ramen contains fewer calories than the other “obvious” alternative, opening a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese.
Oh, and one more thing. All you need to make instant ramen is a pot, a stove, and some hot water.
What’s that you say? You don’t have access to a stovetop in your dorm room or office break room? Or you don’t have a pot available? (That second issue also covers the possibility you wouldn’t touch the disgusting pot your roommate hasn’t cleaned in six months.)
No worries. As long as you have access to water, you can still make ramen in your trusty microwave oven. It takes just a few minutes, with no prep time required.
Here’s how to make ramen in the microwave.
Why Making Instant Ramen Is So Easy
Most people who’ve had trouble paying their bills for the month have “resorted” to instant ramen at one time or another, because it’s so incredibly inexpensive. Many others who are regularly pressed for time keep packaged ramen in their kitchen cabinets or a desk drawer, since it’s a fast way to grab a filling meal.
Why is making ramen so quick and easy? It’s because instant ramen only contains a few basic elements – and only one of them has to be cooked.
That makes it quite different from the meal you’d get at one of the ramen shops that are quickly popping up across America. Based on the ramen stalls and restaurants that have been popular in Japan for more than a century, these shops serve a variety of much more complicated noodle soups that may including pieces of meat or fish, seaweed, veggies, fish cakes and even egg. The predominant flavorings can range from soy sauce and salt, to miso and curry.
(Fun fact: despite the ubiquity of ramen shops in their country, participants in a recent Japanese poll voted instant ramen as the best invention of the 20th century. Karaoke came in second.)
(Interesting but not fun fact: when ramen shops began spreading rapidly in Japan after the second World War, outdoor food stalls were illegal and most were controlled by the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia.)
In contrast with the ramen sold at noodle restaurants, the packaged Top Ramen you buy at the grocery store or the Public Goods ramen you buy online contain only noodles (usually wheat noodles), and a sauce or flavor packet. Sure, some of the flavors of “real” ramen may be in the packet in condensed form, but there’s no food preparation or extra cooking required.
You just have to cook the noodles and add whatever’s in the packet.
How to Microwave Ramen
Microwaving ramen isn’t all that different from making it on a stove. The key to both cooking processes is rehydrating and cooking the noodles, and then adding the contents of the seasoning packet. The only major difference is the caution you have to use if you boil water in a microwave oven. Microwaves heat water so quickly that it can become superheated and “explode” if jostled while it’s still at the boiling point.
Bottom line: when you microwave ramen, be careful and gentle when moving the container.
There are two ways to make instant ramen in the microwave. The first is a bit easier and will make firmer noodles, while the second method results in softer ramen.
- Put a cup to two cups of water into a microwave-safe bowl. Pyrex is the best choice, while Styrofoam (unless it has a “microwave-safe” label) is the worst, and you might want to stay away from plastic because some plastics can supposedly leach hazardous BPAs into food. The more water you use the longer it will take to heat, and obviously, the more broth you will have.
- Microwave the water at full heat for about three minutes and then carefully check to make sure it’s really hot; if it isn’t, heat it for a few more minutes. It may not look like there’s boiling water in the bowl, but there will be – because microwaves come from all directions in the oven, the water usually won’t bubble or produce steam. Be very careful when removing the bowl, since (as we’ve mentioned) microwaved boiling water can “explode” all over the oven – and your hands – when it’s moved.
- While the water is heating, put the noodles and contents of the seasoning packet into a separate bowl. Break up the noodles if you like to eat them that way.
- Pour your boiling water over the ramen noodles, and then cover with a plate (paper plates are fine) or lid and let the noodles steep for 4-5 minutes. Stir after a couple of minutes to make sure the seasonings or sauce are fully incorporated.
- Pull out your spoon or chopsticks, and enjoy!
- Take the noodles from the package and put them into a microwave-safe bowl. (See #1 above for the best and worst choices.) If you like your ramen broken into smaller pieces, this is the time to do it.
- Add water to the bowl until the noodles are completely covered; that will usually require about two cups of water. You don’t have to use hot or warm water, cold water is fine.
- Cover the bowl with something that will prevent the liquid from splattering when it gets hot. It doesn’t have to be a fitted lid; in fact many people prefer not to seal lids when they’re microwaving, in order to let a little steam escape. Plastic wrap or even a paper towel will do just fine.
- Microwave the bowl on high for 4-5 minutes. The cooking time will be different for every microwave, so it may take a little less time or a little longer. Pause the cooking about halfway through so you can stir the noodles to ensure that they’re cooking evenly.
- Remove the bowl from the microwave, stir in the contents of the flavor or sauce packet, and then let the ramen cool down for a few minutes before enjoying it. It’ll be way too hot to eat right out of the oven. (Some people prefer to wait until the broth cools down before stirring in the seasonings, but that may prevent the noodles from absorbing all of the flavorings.
- You may want to pour the ramen into another bowl before eating it, since the bowl will stay hot for a while.
Whichever method you use, we have one important safety caution: use potholders, oven mitts or a kitchen towel to handle the bowl after it’s been heated in the microwave.
There are some who will suggest that you put the ramen noodles into the bowl with water before heating it. That will certainly “work,” but the noodles may not cook all the way through, especially if you don’t break them up before cooking.
Instant ramen is filling and tasty, and it can warm you up. It’s also usually quite bland, not to mention loaded with salt and MSG.
Want to take the next step? Here are a few tricks you can use to liven up instant ramen noodles – and yes, you can still use your microwave to do it
Making Microwave Ramen Even Better
We wouldn’t exactly say that these are real ramen recipes, or that they’re a way to make your own ramen noodles. Replicating the food you’d get at a ramen shop would require quite a bit more work.
Instead, we’d call these “suggestions” that can make instant ramen tastier and healthier. Most will also create ramen that’s closer to the authentic Japanese dish.
Suggestion 1: Choose the Right Instant Ramen
This one would be like telling you that drinking water is better for you than drinking soda – if water also tasted better than soda. (Yes, we know, some do people prefer the taste of water.)
But compare these two ingredient lists. First, we have one of America’s top-selling instant ramen products:
Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Contains One or More of the Following: Canola, Cottonseed, Palm) Preserved by TBHQ, Salt, Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Potassium Carbonate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Monosodium Phosphate, Sodium Carbonate, Monosodium Glutamate, Dehydrated Soy Sauce (Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Sugar, Dehydrated Vegetables (Garlic, Onion, Chive), Caramel Color, Spices, Beef Extract, Maltodextrin, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Natural Flavor, Yeast Extract, Lactose.
By comparison, this is the ingredient list for America’s best instant ramen product:
Wheat flour, salt, water, soy sauce (soybeans, water, salt, sugar), white sesame oil (soy oil, sesame oil).
Which would you feel better eating?
Exactly. Not only does the first option sound like a chemistry class while the second one is vegan and contains just a few all-natural ingredients – the first option has MSG (monosodium glutamate) tucked in among all of its ingredients, while there’s half the fat and no MSG in the second one. And as you probably know, MSG may be linked to a laundry list of toxic health effects.
What are the two products? The first is the one prominently displayed on the shelves of every supermarket in America, Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup. The second, the one made from just a few all-natural ingredients, is Public Goods Original Ramen Noodles.
Public Goods Ramen isn’t available in supermarkets, or for that matter, anywhere except from the company’s website. Like all Public Goods products, it’s designed and sold in a minimalist and sustainable manner, ensuring quality while keeping prices low. For example, this ramen comes in a package of five servings instead of a single-serve envelope.
If you look at the cost per serving, though, it’s just as inexpensive as the ramen you may have been eating for years. It’s just much healthier and – if you buy ramen for flavor instead of salt and MSG – it tastes better, too.
So our first suggestion is to skip the colorful packages on store shelves and buy the healthier, more delicious alternative, which can be made in the microwave just as easily.
After that? It’s time to get creative.
Suggestion 2: Make Your Ramen Restaurant-Quality
When you order ramen at a noodle shop or restaurant, it’s much more than just noodles and generic Asian-style spices. You can create your own, similar delicacy at home. Once you’ve cooked the ramen in your microwave, skip the flavor packet and customize your noodles by mixing and matching some of these yummy ingredients.
For the sauce: soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime or lemon juice, hoisin sauce, miso paste, sriracha, honey, curry hot sauce.
As added ingredients: Chopped scallions (green onions), bean sprouts, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, snow peas, seaweed, bok choy, chopped herbs. Depending on whether you’re vegan or not, you can also add tofu, meat, chicken or fish.
If that sounds like overkill, you’ve probably never ordered ramen in an authentic noodle shop.
There’s one other ingredient that’s traditionally used in many ramen dishes: egg. You can finish off your noodles with a halved hard-boiled egg, a whole soft-boiled egg, a poached egg prepared in the soup – or even by scrambling the egg with the boiled noodles. (You can boil or poach eggs in your microwave, but you’ll need a pan for that last one.)
There’s one last question to answer: can you enjoy ramen if you’re on a gluten-free diet? Well, all instant ramen products use wheat noodles, because ramen is traditionally made with them. That’s obviously a problem, of course, for those who don’t or can’t consume gluten. But you can come close by using rice noodles or vermicelli rice noodles instead.
Their shape and texture won’t be exactly the same as ramen noodles, but the beauty of ramen is that the add-ins are really what makes it so delicious. Dress up your rice noodles with some delicious Asian ingredients, and you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the true ramen experience.
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