20 November 2010


Urged on by my sister, who is also developing a taste for all things Korean, I have been pushing forward in my course of self-instruction in Korean cookery.  My latest favorite is jjajangmyeon, a single-dish meal of wheat noodles (myeon, traditionally hand-pulled) covered in a thick and glossy sauce of meat, chunks of vegetables, and an amazing salty black bean paste.  Though it's actually derived from the Chinese zha jiang mian, it is now considered to be one of the national dishes of Korea and is enjoyed both as a snack and as a quick meal.

After making it a number of times with noodles, I was tipped off by a Korean friend that the sauce goes great over rice (bap) as well.  Though I think I prefer the noodle version, the pictures I managed to snap were made with rice.  And in honor of my sister's visit this week (hooray! one week of getting time with my baby nephew!), I'm sharing this recipe with you today.  Hopefully you will all have a chance to try this deliciousness for yourselves!

The plating can be simple: for each person, one bowl of noodles, another bowl of warm sauce, then a few side dishes of garnishes like cucumber, danmuji, and kimchi.  Or you can compose each plate immediately before serving by pouring the sauce over the noodles and adding some garnishes on top.  In either case, the diner should be the one to actually mix the sauce together with the noodles, right before eating, lest the noodles become "bloated."  Plus, watching the dark jjajang coat each white noodle strand definitely whets the appetite!  If you're unable to find Korean noodles, linguine might be a possible substitute, but rice also makes for an easy alternative and is popular among many Koreans.  (Made with rice, this dish would then be called jjajangbap.)

One substitution that you shouldn't make, though, is for the bean paste, as Korean black bean paste (usually sold by the name of chunjang) has a distinct flavor.  Before adding the chunjang (literally “spring sauce”) to the rest of the ingredients, it traditionally is fried in oil (and then becomes jjajang, literally “fried sauce”).  You are welcome to fry your bean paste (see Maangchi's video), but for the sake of simplicity and health, I have omitted this frying step, even though I know many Koreans have told me that it doesn’t taste quite the same!  I haven't been able to figure out how cooking it by frying could make that much of a change in flavor, if the sauce is going to be cooked with the boiling vegetables anyway.

Strips of fresh cucumber, as well as 단무지 (danmuji), are great for nibbling on in between bites of jjajangmyeon.  Often bright yellow in color, danmuji is a pickled radish that Koreans love to eat along with any Chinese-style dish, as it provides a cool and refreshing counterpoint to the rich and savory sauce.

Jjajangmyeon Recipe 
Adapted from Maangchi, Makes 4 servings

½ lb. pork belly meat (uncured bacon meat, samgyeopsal/삼겹살) or pork butt
Vegetable oil, for sautéing
1 cup carrot, ½-inch dice
2 cups onion, ½-inch dice
1 cup Korean radish, ½-inch dice
2 cups zucchini ½-inch dice
½ cup Korean black bean paste (chunjang/춘장 a.k.a. jjajang/짜장)
2 Tbs. potato starch (or corn starch)
1 Tbs. sugar
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
½ cup frozen green peas, thawed.

Cooked rice or Korean noodles
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds
Cucumber, julienned
Yellow pickled Korean radish (danmuji/단무지)

Cut pork into ½ inch cubes, then fry in a large-bottomed pot, wok, or dutch oven over medium high heat until fat has rendered and meat is crispy and golden brown.  Drain any fat and set meat aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons oil in the pot and sauté carrots and onions for a few minutes, then add the radish and zucchini and continue to sauté a few minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Add the crispy pork and enough water to cover all the ingredients.  Stir in the black bean paste, then cover and bring to a boil and cook 10-15 minutes, until carrots are done.

Whisk the potato starch into 2 tablespoons water, then stream the starch slurry into the boiling sauce, stirring to mix thoroughly.  Let boil a minute more, until sauce becomes thick and glossy, then remove from heat and stir in the sugar.  Just before serving, stir in the green onions and peas.

Divide cooked noodles or rice among bowls and spoon warm sauce over.  Garnish with a sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds and julienned cucumber, and serve with danmuji.

14 November 2010

This is The Pie


Every year at Thanksgiving, pie-duty inevitably falls to me.  And my family is very specific about which pies I am to make.  Apple pie--our family's favorite.  And pecan pie--it's such a sweet indulgence, and we're all about treating ourselves since it's Thanksgiving.  And pumpkin--well, because it's tradition, right?  Recently we've started having a berry pie show up at the table too.  But, I think everyone in my family knows that the pumpkin pie is the ugly duckling of the lot.  We have it there for show, and everybody takes a little taste, but what we really want is the apple or the pecan or the berry.

Well, all that is going to change this year.  It's high time that if I'm going to invest so much energy in making a pumpkin pie on top of all the other ones, it had better be swoon-inducing too.  And with this new recipe I've developed, I know the pumpkin pie will finally take a competitive place among its cousins.

My strategy?  A crisp crust (fully blind-baked before adding the filling), a silky-smooth pumpkin filling with the nuanced addition of candied yams, and a topping of sweet and crunchy pecans resting on top.  And the nice news for me, Miss Pie-Baker?  This Thanksgiving, I won't have to make a separate pecan pie--this single recipe lets the best of both types shine!

I think you'll absolutely love this pie...I know I'm already looking forward to it being a recurring part of Thanksgivings to come! 


Pumpkin and Caramelized Pecan Pie
Makes 2 (9-inch) pies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. fine-grained salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/4 cups cold (salted) butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 Tbs. ice-cold vodka (do not substitute! alcohol evaporates during baking)
4 Tbs. ice-cold water

Pumpkin Filling
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams (or sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fine-grained salt

Pecan Topping
1 1/2 Tbs. salted butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups pecan pieces

For the crust, place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 2 seconds to mix.  Add the butter and gently pulse on/off until butter is blended to the size of peas.  Sprinkle the mixture with vodka and water, then continue to gently pulse just until dough starts to hold together in large clumps.

Divide dough into two portions and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening into 6-inch discs.  Chill for at least 45 minutes and up to two days.  For each disc, roll dough out between two layers of plastic wrap into 12-inch circles.   Peel away the top layer of plastic, then center a pie plate over the center of the dough and carefully invert the pie dough together with the pie plate.  Gently rearrange the dough to fit into the corners of the plate, and then chill for 15 minutes, keeping the plastic wrap still on top.

Remove plastic wrap and fold all ragged crust edges under to make it flush with the pie plate.  Using thumb and fore-finger, pinch crust to form a fluted edge.  Chill again for 15 minutes.

Line both of the pie crusts with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or pennies.  Bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for 15 minutes, then remove foil and weights and continue baking for 5-15 more minutes, until crust is golden brown.  Remove crust from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 F.  Note: It is important at this point to fill the crusts while they are still warm from the blind-baking step and to proceed with the final baking step, as the residual heat of the crusts will help set the pumpkin filling.

For the filling
While the pie crusts are chilling and baking, prepare first the pecan topping and then the pumpkin filling.

For the pecan topping, melt the butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Remove from microwave and whisk in the sugar and corn syrup, then the eggs, vanilla, and salt.  Fold in the pecan pieces to coat each piece thoroughly with the sugar mixture.  Set aside.

For the pumpkin filling, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Combine the pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small pot and bring to a sputtering simmer over medium heat.  Cook for about 15 minutes more, stirring constantly and mashing yams to form a smooth mixture.

Remove pumpkin mixture from heat.  Add pumpkin to egg mixture in 4 separate additions, whisking to fully incorporate pumpkin between each addition.

Strain pumpkin mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula to press solids through.  Divide pumpkin mixture between the two warm pie crusts, then top with pecan filling, being sure to evenly divide the pecans over each pie.

Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil (to prevent your perfectly-baked crust from getting burnt!), and place pies in oven (now at 300 F).  Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until filling puffs up.  Remove pies from oven and let cool slowly to room temperature for at least 3 hours.