Monday, October 20, 2008

Korean for Barbarians

Jap Chae

I first encountered Jap Chae at a little hippie food joint near my college. This is a Korean noodle dish made with beef, mushrooms and vegetables in a light but flavorful sauce, often served over rice. It was delicious. Unfortunately, most of the other stuff on the menu tasted like wood, and before too long the place went out of business. So I had to learn to make Jap Chae myself.

The noodles used in Jap Chae are made from sweet potatoes. They're translucent green when uncooked, and transparent when done, so they are often called "glass noodles" in English. The texture is similar to rice noodles, but their greater elasticity gives them a nice bounciness and lets them hold up better in this dish. As for the mushrooms, I like this best using a combination of "tree ears" (which need to be rehydrated by boiling) and shiitake mushrooms sliced very, very thin. I've also used canned straw mushrooms and regular button mushrooms.

You can add carrots, snap peas, or other vegetables if you like- it will still be delicious. The recipe I've posted actually isn't based on any traditional Korean preparation at all, but it does make something that tastes pretty much exactly like the Jap Chae I remember. Authentic or not, Korean food as prepared by Western barbarian hippies can still be damn tasty.

Ingredient of the Day: Tree Ears
Tree ears are a type of mushroom used in many Asian countries. They have a mild smoky flavor and a slightly snappy texture. You have almost certainly seen them before if you've ever eaten hot & sour soup in a Chinese restaurant. It's easiest to find them dehydrated, and you'll need to boil them for a few minutes before use. I also recommend examining them once cooked; sometimes the centers are slightly woody and should be cut out, but overall they are easy to use and add visual and textural interest to your dishes.

Jap Chae

2 tbsp cooking oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/4 cup mushrooms of your choice (see above)
1 lb stir-fry beef, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup Soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp kecap manis (thick, sweet soy sauce- *optional)
2 tsp black pepper
*1 tbsp gochujang (spicy Korean pepper paste- *optional)
3-4 scallions, cut to 1" lengths
1/4 cup basil, shredded
2 'bundles Sweet potato noodles, cooked

Start your water boiling- this dish cooks fast once all your ingredients are lined up. In a deep skillet, sautee garlic and ginger in oil to release flavors, then add onions and stir-fry until lightly brown. Add the pepper and sautee until lightly browned, then add the beef and mushrooms and stir together briefly. Add seasonings and stir until incorporated; there should be enough liquid in the pan to make a light sauce. Put the basil and scallions in last, just before the noodles. The noodles should cook in about 5-8 minutes, but sample a noodle to test that they're cooked all the way through. Remove noodles and drain, then add them to the skillet and stir together until the brown sauce covers everything. Depending on how saucy and veggie-intensive you made this dish, you may want to serve it over rice.

1 comment:

adele said...

At some point, I am going to branch out and learn to cook some Korean and Thai and Indian dishes.

Maybe I should make this dish a project for the weekend.