Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Ramen is a food I’ve loved since early childhood. No, not the traditional soup of handmade noodles and unctuous pork broth that takes hours to achieve. I'm talking about the instant variety with dried noodles and a spice packet. For some reason, it was my favorite after-school snack, particularly the soy sauce flavor, which I’ve always found has more umami and less of an artificial taste than the classic chicken.
About a year ago, I started keeping them in my pantry for when I needed a comforting bowl of nostalgia. I’d doctor them up, spiking the broth with mirin or miso or sriracha for spice, or topping the finished bowl with a poached egg or shallot-sesame crisp. That soon evolved into tossing the spice packet completely and whipping up a quick stir-fry with the dried noodles, which is what inspired this recipe.
Dried noodles like the ones in instant ramen do indeed work well here, but I still prefer fresh, as they’ll taste better and have a nicer chew. They’re available in the refrigerated sections of specialty grocers such as H-Mart and, increasingly, in larger stores like Whole Foods too. They cook very quickly in boiling water, so make sure to keep an eye on them once they’re in the pot. To help them cook evenly and keep the water at a true boil, let the noodles sit at room temperature for a few minutes before use, if you have time.
Another star of this dish, other than beef of course, is the scallion. Thick slices get added to the pan and tossed in with the noodles, and thin slices are sprinkled on top for garnish. The thicker cuts soften and develop a light char but still maintain their shape, as well as some bite to their texture, rather than melting away. They’re probably my favorite part. Eight scallions might sound like a lot, but you’ll want more than you’d think. The first several times I experimented with this dish, one note was consistent: “More scallions.”
The meat should be cut into roughly 2-inch-long pieces so they cook quickly but are still large enough to create a satisfying bite. Everything’s enhanced by a soy-based sauce featuring numerous ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. If you’re turned off by the inclusion of MSG, don’t be; numerous studies have found no proof that this compound, which naturally occurs in some foods, is linked to negative side effects at normal levels of consumption. The compound will only boost umami and overall flavor, not give you a headache, but it’s optional if you don’t have it on hand. A healthy amount of ground pepper creates a tingly sensation à la Szechuan peppercorn; scale back a bit if you’re sensitive to spice.
While Syrah is a classic pairing for a peppery dish, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the wine complemented the other bold components of the meal. I went with a California pick, 2018 Qupé Syrah from the Central Coast. Its savory and spice notes were a nice match for the sauce, while it had enough acidity and tannins to balance with the dish's salty, meaty flavors.
It would be fun to experiment with wine pairings for this dish, so play around with some of your favorite wine types. The same goes for the recipe itself—pretty much any vegetables you’ve got in your fridge could be used in place of the scallions, and pan-fried tofu would be a great swap for the beef.
Stir-Fried Ramen with Beef and Scallion
Pair with a medium-bodied California Syrah such as Qupé Syrah Central Coast 2018 (89 points, $20).
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound flank steak or sirloin, cut into 2-inch slices
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 8 scallions, trimmed, with the top inch or so thinly sliced and the rest cut into 2-inch pieces
- 10-ounce package of fresh ramen noodles, cooked in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and then drained
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, black pepper and MSG. Set aside.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a large pan set to medium-high heat. Add the beef slices to a large bowl with the cornstarch and a small pinch of salt, and toss to coat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the beef and stir fry until browned on the outside and mostly cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and drain excess oil from the pan. Do this in two batches if your pan isn’t large enough.
3. Add in thick slices of scallion and cook until softened and charred in spots, about 5 minutes.
4. Toss in the cooked ramen noodles and add the sauce. (If you prefer a slightly drier noodle, you may want to leave out a tablespoon or so.) Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 2 more minutes until the sauce thickens slightly, then add beef and cook for 1 more minute, tossing to make sure everything’s coated.
5. Transfer to bowls and garnish with the thinly sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds, if using. Serves 4.