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.
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
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.