I recently turned 28 years old, but I’m going with 24 instead because I like the sound of that better. I know everyone older than 30 will read that and laugh—I can just hear my New Yorker relatives now, telling me to just wait until I’m their age—but I will not accept that I started college 10 years ago, so 24 it is.
Anyone familiar with the original Picky Eater Chronicles, where I documented such culinary adventures as eating strawberries and tacos for the first time, will know that I was objectively P-I-C-K-Y back then. For most of my college years, I mainly survived on Cheez-Its, peanut butter, and cookies.
It’s everyone’s favorite cliché to say that college students live off ramen, and yet I never touched it while at BU. I’ve surmised that its popularity among students comes from it being cheap, instant, and comforting, but until this week, I couldn’t have told you any of that from experience.
Ramen was never on the dinner menu when I was young either, so the nostalgia factor was always lost on me. With all that said, I wanted to understand the hubbub.
I started by making a noodle stir-fry with steak for dinner. This was an easy (read: cowardly) introduction to ramen since the sauce contained ingredients I already like, and there’s no way I’m going to just not like a noodle. I’m picky, but not that picky.
As expected, this was very yummy. I based my dinner off of a saucy ramen recipe from The Foodie Takes Flight. To mine, I added shichimi togarashi, garlic, and steak marinated in soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. I’m adding the recipe below both for your benefit and my own—this one is going in the weeknight rotation for its quick prep, riffable options, and big flavor!
It was salty, savory, sweet, and a little spicy—it had it all! And the noodles were the perfect chewy vessel to absorb the sauce. It could definitely use some veggies, but—go figure—we didn’t have any! Next time.
It wasn’t exactly a college student’s go-to, but it prepared me for trying truly instant ramen the next day.
As much as I like saucy noodles (hi, pasta), I was unsure about noodles swimming in broth, particularly pre-packaged, microwaved broth. And the mysterious, unmarked flavor packet didn’t quell my hesitation (I prefer for my food not to be coy with me). But in a quest for the “college ramen” experience, I sucked it up (broth humor!) and had a bowl for lunch today.
OK that’s not true. I had one sip/bite of a bowl for lunch today and then promptly moved on to yogurt.
I can confirm that noodles swimming in broth is not my cup of tea. Do you eat this with a fork or a spoon? Also, having to add in “vegetable mix flakes” was reminiscent of feeding my goldfish when I was 5, so there’s that nostalgia factor!
I may not have enjoyed the instant ramen, but I did add a new weeknight dinner to my repertoire that I plan on riffing on with different proteins and veggies. Not a total loss of a week! Besides, whether I like it or not, I am 28 (24), and it’s probably best that I not regress to college eating habits.
Who has a ramen-in-broth recipe that might tickle my fancy? Or another saucy noodle recipe? I’m open to non-instant, non-fish-food options! Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @thepickyeaterchronicles. And check out the (successful) ramen recipe below for the next time you’re craving noodles!
Recipe for saucy ramen with steak
Adapted from The Foodie Takes Flight
Yield: 2 servings | Prep time: ~ 10 minutes | Cook time: ~15 minutes
1 lb thinly sliced steak
1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves minced garlic, divided
1/2 cup water
1-1/2 Tbsp corn starch
2 Tbsp brown sugar (can sub honey)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp shichimi togarashi (can sub any chili or hot sauce of your choice)
Pepper to taste
4 oz uncooked ramen noodles
Sesame seeds for garnish
Scallions for garnish
Optional add-ins: bell peppers, broccoli, or other stir-fry veggies*
- Marinate and cook the steak. Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, 1 clove of garlic, and steak in a bowl and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours. Sear the steak in a high-rimmed skillet over medium-high heat for about 60-90 seconds on each side. Transfer steak to a plate, and leave drippings in pan.
- Make the sauce. Combine the rest of the garlic, soy sauce, water, corn starch, brown sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, shichimi togarashi, and pepper in a bowl. When the steak is done, add this mixture to the same pan you used for the steak and simmer over medium-low heat.
- Parboil the ramen. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water, and cook the ramen for about half the time indicated on the package, until chewy but not yet done (about 3 minutes for me).
- Combine the ramen, sauce, and steak. Once parboiled, add ramen to skillet with the sauce, and raise heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup water if needed to thin the sauce, and cook until ramen is done (about 3 minutes for me). Add the steak back to the skillet and stir with the noodles. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions, and serve immediately.
*Note: Although I didn’t do it this week, I also suggest sautéing bell peppers and broccoli (or any other stir-fry vegetable you prefer) in the skillet after the steak and before making the sauce. Then just add the veggies back in at the end with the steak!