Imagine this: it’s late at night, and you’re hungry. You go downstairs to the kitchen and decide to make a bowl of ramen, because it’s quick and easy. And because you’re a person with excellent taste, you’re using Mike’s Mighty Good ramen noodles.
Unfortunately, you run into a snag; you don’t have many ingredients. It’s been a busy few weeks, and you haven’t been to the store in a hot second. There are a couple of onions and some condiments, but not much else in the way of toppings. Do you just eat your ramen plain?
Instead, try adding some peanut butter to your ramen bowl. Sounds weird, we know, but trust us here; it’s so good. It contributes a rich flavor, and with crunchy peanut butter, it even adds some peanut chunks. Even if there’s not much else in your pantry, chances are good that at least you’ve got some peanut butter.
But peanut butter isn’t just an emergency topping – it’s something you can add to many recipes to enhance the flavor and texture. Here’s everything you need to know about peanut butter ramen, and why it’s such a delicious combination.
What Does Peanut Butter Ramen Taste Like?
The first thing you probably want to know is what peanut butter ramen tastes like. The short answer is that it tastes like peanut butter! But that’s kind of like saying that chili sauce makes ramen taste like chili sauce; it doesn’t really get to the root of the question.
Peanut butter contributes a nutty flavor and a rich, fatty mouthfeel and, as you might expect, makes the broth thicker. But in many ways, it depends on how the peanut butter is added. It makes a big difference whether it’s blended into the broth or fried up with the noodles in a pan. In the first case, you can expect a smoother, more subtle flavor. In the second case, the flavor will be more powerful and roasted.
Another important factor is the type of peanut butter you use. If you’re like most people, you have a major commercial brand. This peanut butter has added sugar, so it’s much sweeter than unsweetened peanut butter. As such, a brand like Jif goes well with sweeter or more savory recipes. If you have an unsweetened organic peanut butter, expect less sweetness, but a more robust nutty flavor.
Whatever you do, be careful about adding too much peanut butter. It can easily overpower the other ingredients, particularly in a milder recipe. Start with a teaspoon or so, and work up from there. Of course, there are exceptions; if you’re making a pad Thai, two heaping tablespoons is not an unreasonable amount.
How Do You Use Peanut Butter to Make Ramen?
Now that we understand how peanut butter contributes to your dish, the next question is how to incorporate it. If you’re making broth with your ramen, you can simply dissolve the peanut butter in the broth. It will contribute flavor, and thicken the broth so it sticks to your noodles. This works best if you add the peanut butter when the broth is piping hot, when it will melt and dissolve easily.
Another alternative is to make your own sauce. Use your plain noodles, then mix them with some peanut butter and hot sauce. You can even sprinkle in your noodles’ spice packet to boost the overall flavor profile. This is great for drier recipes that don’t include an entire bowl full of broth.
Another option is to fry the peanut butter along with your noodles. This is a critical part of making pad Thai, as well as many other peanut-heavy recipes. The key here is to be careful, and not to exceed medium heat. There’s a fine line between melting peanut butter and burning it. It helps to use a splash of oil, but no more than a splash! Otherwise, your noodles will come out greasy.
Any time you’re using peanut butter with ramen, it’s wise to add some spice to counteract the sweetness and add some kick. One way is to use hot sauce, at a ratio of one part hot sauce to two parts peanut butter. Another way is to use a spicy oil, such as chili oil, during the final stages of preparation. But be careful! Different chili oils have different flavors and can be pretty powerful on their own. Depending on what was used to make the chili oil, it may or may not pair well with your peanut butter.
What Type of Peanut Butter Works Best for Ramen?
If you visit some online ramen enthusiast forums, whether or not to use peanut butter isn’t one of the hottest questions. Most people agree that it’s a great idea! Instead, the controversial, hot-button question is whether it’s best to use creamy peanut butter or crunchy peanut butter.
In many ways, this is no different from the general debate between crunchy vs. creamy. People have their own personal preferences, and there’s no real “right” or “wrong” answer. That said, the different types of peanut butter do have their own characteristics that are worth taking into consideration.
Creamy peanut butter is best used when you’re blending the peanut butter into your broth. When it melts down, it won’t leave any little chunks of peanut at the bottom of your bowl. Then again, this might not be a bad thing. Some people love having some tidbits to munch on after they’ve finished the rest of their meal.
If you’re making a pad Thai, crunchy peanut butter is best. This helps to replicate the authentic recipe, where chunks of peanut butter are sprinkled over the noodles. The smooth bits will still melt away, providing plenty of flavor for your dish. For any other recipe, it’s just a matter of preference.
What Type of Ramen Goes Best With Peanut Butter?
Depending on the recipe, peanut butter can go well with just about any kind of ramen. That said, its rich, nutty flavor pairs particularly well with a vegetarian flavor. Kimchi ramen is a great example. It’s just tart enough, with just enough bite, that the peanut butter is able to mellow it out.
As for other ingredients, flavorful veggies are the name of the game. Garlic and onions are obvious choices, because of their bold, powerful taste and aroma. But peppers, shallots, green onions, and even shiitake mushrooms all go well. In general, anything with a strong flavor is going to be a good choice. This is one area where it’s hard to go overboard. Because peanut butter is such a powerful flavor, it goes better wherever it’s paired with other strong tastes.
Conversely, peanut butter can overpower the flavor of a mild ramen. If you’re having a bowl of smooth chicken ramen without a lot of other ingredients, peanut butter won’t likely pair well. That’s where hot sauce comes in. Even if the rest of your ramen is pretty mild, a splash of your favorite spicy sauce can kick things up enough to provide some contrast.
Peanut Chili Oil Ramen Recipe
Before we wrap up, we thought we’d give you an example of how peanut butter can be used in a real-world recipe. Our peanut chili oil ramen starts out with a Mike’s Mighty Good Fried Garlic Chicken Pillow Pack. You can also make this with any one of our vegetarian ramen flavors if you’re vegan.
Prepare the pillow pack, but drain out all but around 3-4 tablespoons of ramen water, and set the noodles aside. Add the water to your peanut butter in a bowl, and mix in garlic, soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame oil, and the flavor packet. When your sauce is thoroughly mixed, add your noodles, and you’re ready to serve.
The Final Word
No matter how you cut it, peanut butter is a delicious addition to many ramen recipes. Creamy or crunchy, mixed in or fried, there are plenty of ways to prepare it. Add some of your favorite veggies and a little bit of hot sauce, and you’ll have a tasty meal in no time.