By Jillian Fraioli
I worked for over two decades in professional kitchens and restaurants. There’s a phenomenon that you might not yet know about most chefs: when they’re in their own kitchen, they often don’t cook.
Well, let’s look at that for a moment. They don’t cook much. They don’t cook fancy. They keep limited ingredients on hand. They know of every place in their town that delivers or serves food until 4:00am. And they eat there, often.
In my experience, this is due to a few things: they’re at the restaurant too long, they’re too tired, they don’t have anyone else to cook for by the time the get off work (see: late nights), they’re just plain out of inspiration, or they don’t want to even look at another dirty dish.
But on the flip side of this, it means that they all have that one thing in their repertoire that’s easy for them to whip up. Something in one pan, something fast. Grilled cheese. A perfect omelet. Popcorn. Quick mac-n-cheese (yep, sometimes from a box!). I used to make a batch of sautéed greens with garlic and onion once a week on my one day off. During the work week, I’d grab leftover bread stock from the restaurant. I’d pile buttered slices high with the cold greens and call it dinner (while sipping a glass of wine and watching Star Trek reruns).
At one time, my house became the go-to for after-service liaisons. After moving from the kitchen to the front of the house, I tended to cook more often. By “cook more often,” I mean on the day I’d make greens, I’d also make a pot of rice. Maybe I’d make stock. I made sure I always had eggs on hand. After working for at least ten hours, we’d clamor up to my apartment in the dead of night (for most people, but not us), and I’d whip up a batch of eggy-rice and greens for the crew (while sipping glasses of wine and listening to Wilco).
Since I cook a lot now — and I do mean a lot, like five-or-six-nights-a-week a lot — there are times I look at the fridge and groan. Everything in there has to be prepared. There are no “grab and go” items.
But old habits die hard. I always have eggs. I always have greens (including frozen). And in my pantry these days, I always have instant ramen packets or packages of udon noodles. And I don’t hide that. I’m actually pretty proud of my turnaround ramen. And I’ll tell you what, if you have fresh stock and any of the ingredients below, instant ramen can be curative.
This is all to assure you that dinner does not have to be “all from scratch” to be legit. That means knowing where to cut corners or what to have on hand so you can save yourself time in the kitchen in order to spend more of it with the fam.
- 4 packages of instant ramen (I prefer Nissin Raoh or Koyo)
- OR 1 full package of udon or soba noodles, cooked according to the package and tossed in 1 tsp of sesame oil
- 8 cups of stock or water (2 packages = 4 cups)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 onion, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1 cup of protein leftovers: rotisserie chicken, pulled pork, meatballs, tofu
- 2 cups vegetables: quick cooking greens are my go-to, like spinach, bok choy, bean sprouts, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, or sauté some diced carrot, zucchini, broccoli, and/or cauliflower in step 2 (between onion and garlic)
- OR 2 cups frozen vegetables: corn, peas, frozen greens, green beans.
- Up to 6 tsp of condiments: soy sauce, sesame oil miso paste, Thai curry paste, fish sauce, vinegar, ponzu (my mix: 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 heaping tsp miso paste, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp rice wine vinegar)
- 1/2 lime (or 1/4 lemon), juiced
- 1 tsp sugar
- Fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, mint, or basil — I like a combo of them all, if I have them.
- Scrambled egg: take 2 eggs, 2 tsp of milk, and whisk lightly. Right before you serve the ramen, swirl the broth and then add the egg to the moving broth, making long ribbons.
- Ramen eggs:
- Instant pot: use egg trivet, 1 cup of water, 4 minutes on manual, instant release, immediate ice bath.
- Stove top: bring water (enough to cover the eggs) to a boil in a saucepan (just big enough to hold your eggs). Carefully submerge the eggs in the water with a ladle or mesh spoon. Reduce heat to a simmer (very low boil), and cook 7 minutes (seriously, be exact or you won’t get the custardy yolk). Immediately move cooked eggs into an ice bath. Let sit for 10 minutes before you peel and cut in half to serve.
- Heat up your saucepan; when hot, add olive oil
- Add minced onion and cook until translucent, 3 minutes
- Add garlic until fragrant (about 60 seconds)
- Deglaze with a splash of vinegar, beer, or wine
- Add your broth (or water) and half of the seasoning packets in the instant ramen pouch, and any condiments you’ve chosen
- Bring to a boil
- Add the noodles and cook for 3 minutes (if using udon or soba, do not add it here)
- Add your frozen or quick cooking vegetables and cook for 2 minutes
- Add protein to heat through for 2 minutes
- If you’re doing egg drop, add your scrambled egg here (if using udon or soba noodles, this is where you add them, too!)
- Add your lime or lemon juice and sugar, heat for 1 more minute
- Separate into serving bowls
- Top each bowl with a ramen egg, herbs, bean sprouts, and serve with lime or lemon wedges on the side, diced green onion, and more fresh herbs
Note: If you have picky eaters, you can heat the vegetables, eggs, and protein separately, put those on a platter with the herbs and citrus and onion, and just have them build their own bowls. When I do that, I put everything in the middle of the table, and just let them have at their favorite things, keeping the broth steaming hot so everything gets heated through.
Jillian moonlights in her own kitchen as Executive Chef. She comes from a long line of at-home chefs, making Sunday sauce and homemade pasta as soon as she was knee-high with Grandma Fraioli. Jillian used to work at such illustrious restaurants such as Emeril’s Fish House in Las Vegas (where she was a Pastry Chef), and both in the front and back of the house of Serafina and Tango in Seattle. She ended her career in restaurants many lives ago, and now supports women-owned businesses. You can follow along with her cats and knitting (and sometimes food), if that’s your jam, on Instagram @yarnologie