Tuesday 13 March 2012

Five ways to Jazzing Instant Noodles:

Manila is a city of convenience. McDonald, Burger King, KFC, Jolibee etc. all deliver 24hrs a day. This seems slightly wrong to me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy eating out in Manila due to great value for money you get for the wide variety of cuisines, but I also actually enjoy cooking instead of taking out every night, it can be hard when you fancy something substantial but don't fancy making anything too fancy and costly. This is when my economically practical, but still creative cooking hat has to be put on.

I live right next to what I personally consider the best Korean supermarket in Manila: the staff are friendly, and give me free treats after every purchase; their homemade kim chi is THE best I’ve ever had; their selection of instant noodles has happily sustained me after long days when I don't feel like standing over a stove for the whole night; and best of all, they’re open till 2 in the morning. So hurray! for great food on tap….  I have fallen back on a few simple recipes, which I have developed during my stay here in Manila. Recipes that can vary depending on seasonal produce and what I have available in the fridge.  The following recipes are instant noodle based, cutting out the time required in making complex stocks and sauces. Every country has some sort of instant noodle: from Supernoodle in the UK; Knorr in Poland; Maggi in Malaysia; Indome in Egypt; Shin Noodle in Korea; and QuickChow in the Philippines, and all are great in their own right. I’m sure everyone has had some sort of instant noodle. It’s hard not to succumb, especially with a wide range of flavours, noodle types and the enticingly kitschy packaging.

So I though I’d share with you some simple, and I mean really simple, ways to jazz up your ramen, soba, and vermicelli. The following recipes have used ingredients in my fridge.  I haven’t had to go out to buy anything, apart from the meat/prawns and a few packs of my favourite instant noodles.

1.Crispy Ramen

Crispy Ramen Noodles with Prawns
1 Packet Spicy Ramen Noodles
1 Large leek
2 Large (medium hot) Chillies
4 Large Tiger Prawns
Dark Soy Sauce
Chilli and Garlic Paste
Coco Sugar (honey would works just as well)

Cooking time: 20 mins including prep

Place a large sauce pan of water to boil. Take the dried noodles out of the packet, do not break the noodles - keep intact as much as possible. Keep the flavour sachet to one side. Once the water has boiled, place the noodles in. The noodles should be able to “swim” in the water, which will prevent them from sticking. Do not add any oil or salt at this point. Once the strands of the noodles have lessened, remove them from the water, but try and keep as much water in the pan as possible for the sauce. Wash the noodles in cold water and drizzle some oil over to prevent them from further cooking and clumping together. Ramen noodles should ideally be slightly chewy. Just like pasta, noodles need to retain their integrity. Over cooking them ruins the taste, the texture, and is better off in the bin then on the plate. In this dish especially, the noodles will not crisp up the way they should if over cooked.

Whilst the noodles rest, reheat the noodle water. The water in which the noodles were cooking is full of starch, this will help thicken and flavour the sauce. Add the flavour sachet, the chopped leeks and chillies (I personally like them chopped at an angle, as this allows for maximum flavour release), and the whole prawns. Let this simmer away. 

Now it’s time for my favourite bit…. The crisping of the ramen! Heat a frying pan with a table spoon or so of a low burning oil, I used canola/rapeseed oil. Evenly distribute the oil in the pan, and wait till the oil starts to smoke. Add the noodles and quickly distribute them out evenly. The aim is to get the base really crispy, almost nearly burnt, but to retain the chewiness of the top. If the oil is not hot enough, the noodles will go soggy. This should only take a few minuets. Slide the noodles of onto some kitchen paper, to allow the excess oil to drain off.

By now the prawns should be cooked. Remove them and allow to cool. There is no point in peeling hot prawns. I personally think resting them after cooking, like meat, keeps them tender. To the sauce, add a few drops of soy sauce, some garlic and chilli paste and coco syrup (this is just my personal preference in taste, you can add oyster sauce, black bean, hoi sin, or just leave the stock as it is). Allow to reduce by half at least.

Assemble as you like, as much or as little sauce as you like, it wont ruin the crispy base…. And enjoy a plate of crispy, spicy, chewy ramen.

     2.  Korean Bulgogi
It was an especially nice evening to cook: the Manilan sky was pink from the setting sun in the smog; Monday’s rush-hour jeepneys honked in the near distance; and the giant cockroach that had been inhabiting my kitchen for the last few days had moved on to better things. I feel rather lucky to have a wonderful open kitchen, over looking a reasonably quite street lined with exotic berry barring palm and coconut trees. To match the freshness of my mood, I felt like cooking something equally fresh for dinner... Korean Bulgogi.

My outdoor kitchen

1 Packet instant Vietnamese Noodles (thin noodles)
100grams of Beef Rib Steak
2 Large Shitake Mushrooms
Leafy Lettuce
1 Large Springonion
2 Large Chillies
Mint basil Leaves
Soy sauce
Corn Flour
Chilli Powder
Brown Sugar
Korean BBQ Sauce

Cooking time: 30 mins including prep


The ingredients here, do not have to be strictly followed. Typical Bulgogi is eaten with rice instead of noodles, but both work well. I have actually fused Korean/Vietnamese and Thai flavours here but you can leave out what you don't like or exchange it for an ingredient you do like. I fist made this a month ago when I was cooking for a friend who hates spicy food, so I used chicken in a honey/soy marinade, with cucumber, sesame seeds along with vermicelli tossed in light rice vinegar. This was really nice, light and wonderfully fragrant… but today I fancied something a little bit spicier and meatier!

I first sliced the beef steak thinly. The beauty about using the intercostals muscles of beef (or from any other meat for that matter) is the layering of lean meat and fat. This makes it great for the barbeque and for stews. It’s the typical meat used in bulgogi, and as it happens, was on sale at the butchers around the corner from me. I got what I needed, cut the way I wanted, even though it took about twenty minutes of me trying to explain what cut of meat I wanted to the butcher. The meat was marinated in soy sauce, corn flour, sugar, chilli powder and crushed garlic for about 15 minuets.

The noodles were cooked exactly how it was suggested on the packet, although I removed them from the heat a little earlier then recommended and drained all the stock off. The noodles should have soaked up enough flavouring by this time. I didn't want them tasting too strong, as there were quite a few distinct ingredients which were to be part of my bulgogi.

I quickly fried the meat, and let it rest whilst I flash fried the shitake mushrooms in the left over fat in the pan. I assembled the spring onions, chillies, mint basil, noodles, beef strips, mushrooms and lettuce. One reason why bulgogi is so much fun is the “mix and matching “ of every mouthful. Choosing what gets wrapped up in the lettuce parcel creates a great sense of anticipation and mid mouthful reflection. Each mouthful has the possibility to be different to the last, and this makes the dinning experience exciting and fun. 

I must confess that I made way too much for one person. It’s surprising how filling bulgogi can be. I personally think this may have something to do with the self-assembly process.  I did a little swap with Mr Khelm, a few doors down, some bulgogi for a slice of his wife's Ube Cake. A perfectly sweet ending to a spicy meal.  

    3. Chicken and mushroom noodle soup with egg
This is probably one of the simplest instant noodle combinations I make. For those really lazy evenings, when you don't feel like being crazy or creative, when you need something that you know tastes good every time, and something that fills the belly with warmth. For me, this has to be chicken and mushroom noodle soup with egg. Of course I put loads and loads of chilli in, but it isn’t necessary. If you don't like mushrooms, you can leave them out or substitute. If you don't like chicken noodles, you can use any flavour noodle you like… but the one thing I ask you to keep… the egg. Since trying egg in my noodles, I have never looked back. I remember being served it in a street stall in Quezon City when I first arrived to Manila, and I though… oh no… I’m gonna be ill tomorrow. But after one slurp… that was it, I didn't care if I had the poops the next day, it tasted so very delicious, and I new from that day every noodle soup deserved an egg. 

Simple Chicken and Mushroom Noodle Soup

     1 Packet Instant Chicken Noodles
     1 Free Range Egg
     1 Large Shitake Mushroom
     2 large Chillies

     Cooking time: 12 mins

Firstly, boil a pot of water. Chop the mushroom thinly, as well as the chillies. Add the noodles to the water, along with the sachet flavouring. Simmer with a lid half on for about two minuets. Switch the heat off. Crack and egg, but only add the egg whites to the noodles. Mix well, then add the mushrooms, chillies and season with pepper. Cover and leave for about a minuet. Serve and place the egg yolk on the top. Mix in the egg yolk before eating, the chicken broth will thicken and taste richer.

4. Kim Chi Jigae Noodle Soup

Kim Chi Jigae Noodle Soup with Tofu and Leeks

Kim Chi soup (Jigae in Korean) is a lot easier to make then it looks. The kim chi makes the base of the soup, creates the stock if you like. What you add after that is entirely up to one’s personal taste: mince beef and potatoes is a classic; pork and leek is also popular; but today I felt like leek and tofu. Noodles aren’t normally added, instead, Kim chi soup is eaten with rice… but I like breaking the rules. I must say though, it is essential to have good kim chi. Normally I stay away from the pre-packaged kim chi as the quality tends to be poor, but for the purposes of the soup, it’s actually okay. I used home-made kim chi from my local Korean store. It’s also better if the kim chi is old (three to four, even five months old!) and smelly.  I love one-pot-cooking; it’s easy, simple, and saves on cleaning up!

The pressure was on. I was cooking for a Korean friend, and was closely watched. She suggested frying the kim chi before adding the water, and I must say, this intensified the flavour ten fold! The reviews were rather good, although apparently it wasn't spicy enough! 

Old Kim chi
1 Large Leek
4 Large Chillies
Silky Tofu
Noodles of choice (I used flat noodles instead of Ramen)
Crushed Garlic

Cooking time: 30 mins

Heat about two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add as much or as little kim chi to the hot oil, remember to add both the stems and leafy part of the cabbage. The more kimchi you add, the ticker the stock will be. Fry for about five minuets, or until the kim chi turns a darker, richer redish colour.

Fill the pan with boiling water from a kettle, add some crushed garlic and leave to simmer on a low heat for about 15 minuets.

Season with pepper then add the chopped leeks, chillies and noodles. Just before the noodles are cooked, add the tofu to warm through. Serve piping warm with a cold beer or Soju. 

5. Soba And Dumplings

Soba with spring onions, chilli, and pork and egg dumplings

I love love LOVE soba noddles. I can eat them plain, with a pinch of pepper and salt, and be perfectly happy. This is because, like most beautiful Japanese things, soba is complexly simple. The first time I had soba was actually in London. It was served cold with a dipping sauce and a selection of Japanese pickles. Soba is made from 80% buckwheat and 20&% wheat flour. The technique in making really good soba takes years… maybe even a life time. So it’s something I’m rather scared of trying to do at home. Till i pluck up the courage, I have tried a wide variety of dried soba noodles. The best dried soba I’ve tried are available at the Japanese grocery store - Arigato in Soho, London. They come in white packaging… I don't know what the name is, as it’s written in Japanese, but it's easy to find. Sainsbury’s actually stock Organic Soba Noodes in their specialist section, which I’ve found to be quite good. I’m sure none of the above actually compare to proper fresh soba made by the hands of a Japanese soba master and eaten in Japan… but till that day comes, I can only rely on what’s available to me.

So this is actually something I make on a regular. I can’t even begin to explain to you how simple this recipe is. It’s substantial, filling and so very delicious! The dumplings I get frozen, again, from the Korean store close to my house. They’re filled with egg and pork. If you can’t get dumplings, soba tends to go well with almost anything, as long as the flavour doesn't over power the taste of the soba. Salt and pepper tofu is a good accompliment as well. 

Soba noodles
2 Small or Half a big Spring onion
2 Chillies
Soba Sauce (dashi stock, soy sauce, anchovy paste, mirin)
A couple of dumplings

Cooking time: 20 mins

Boil a pot of water. Add the dried soba to the boiling water. They only take a couple of minuets to cook. Remove from heat, drain and wash with cold water. Mix in the chopped chillies, spring onions and a few table spoons of sauce. Don't over do it with the sauce, it should just cling onto the soba.

Fry dumplings, let rest on some kitchen paper, then serve.

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