Inmates don’t only eat the gruel served by jail chefs. In a quest to recreate the comfort of home cooking, they get creative with what’s available. Everything in this collection of jail house recipes is made using ingredients purchased from the jail commissary or taken from the cafeteria. Ramen noodles are the base for most meals. According to whoever put together the collection, “Prison food leaves a lot to be desired so microwave cooking becomes a way of life in prison. Quite frankly some of the tastiest food I have ever eaten was cooked in the microwave.”
For Crime Library‘s first foray into jail house cooking, I made “Sweet and Spicy Coke Ramen.”
Since no jail commissary was available, I went to the tiniest corner store I could find. Unfortunately, they did not have Texas Beef Ramen or any beef flavored Ramen in the plastic packets. I ended up buying the regular beef flavor that comes in the styrofoam cup.
I microwaved water for the Ramen in a mug and shook the Ramen into a bowl. This is where the styrofoam cup became an issue. Unlike in the plastic packets, the flavor powder in the Cup-o-Noodles comes mixed in, which means that when I drain the water from the Ramen and pour in the Coke, my noodles will lose some valuable beef flavor.
While the noodles are cooking, the instructions say to “use one of your work boots and the concrete floor of your cell to crush the peanuts inside the bag.” No concrete floor was close by, so in the spirit of jail house ingenuity I used the hardwood floor of my cell-sized bedroom. The peanuts made a very satisfying crunch underfoot. I stomped around on them for what felt like a while, but they did not come out as crushed as I had hoped.
While the Ramen and peanuts were steeping, I ate the remaining peanuts as instructed, despite being quite sensitive to salt.
I considered saving the beef water for another recipe, but ended up draining the noodles into the sink and watching the precious bouillon disappear into the drain.
The instructions call for the beef stick to be “sliced,” however inmates aren’t allowed real knives and I didn’t have a plastic one, so I picked the sausage apart with my fingers. I used only one and saved the other for a later recipe, to make up for my lack of resourcefulness with the beef water.
I added the cola and it fizzed menacingly.
The Verdict: I would by no means call this dish “spicy.” Sweet, maybe, but not spicy. This is most likely due to my having used regular beef flavor rather than Texas beef, because in the world of flavor names, “Texas” equals “hot.”
Despite throwing out the beef with the beef water, the dish retained a nice meaty flavor. The cola did not taste as sweet as I expected but it did significantly cool down the noodles, making them unpleasantly tepid. Next time, I would consider microwaving the whole dish after assembling it. However, to do this would be to risk losing the carbonation that adds a lovely playful note to the meal.
The beef stick lends a gentle smokiness to the broth, while the peanuts, though salted, provide a very mild and pleasant crunch.
The remaining Coke was a perfect beverage pairing, highlighting the cola flavor while also delivering a much-needed sweetness to offset the somewhat harsh saltiness of the meal.
Stay tuned tomorrow for day two of Jail House Cooking, when we’ll be making a dish called simply, “Break.”