I learned this dish originally from my friends Insook & Huang, and it’s one of the dishes I love the most even though it is a labour intensive cooking project in my less-than-fabulous kitchen. A gleaming mound of transluscent sweet potato noodles shot through with jewel-like bits of bright vegetable colour, smelling deliciously of toasty sesame and sweet-savory soy. It’s delicious either chilled or at room temperature. Not bad hot either :-)
A bowl of japchae goodness
A few friends hadn’t heard of it, so here is the recipe I made yesterday. It’s adapted from one I found here, but that one needed a little more intensity for my taste.
This is one of those recipes where you want all your ingredients prepped and in place well before you start heating your wok up. In addition to this, keep a little bowl of sugar, your bottle of soy sauce, and your dark sesame oil and cooking oil within easy reach while you’re cooking this dish.
This dish is nice in that it is cooked in stages, so I can use my relatively small cast iron wok, but a large heavy skillet would work too. I heartily recommend using a good sturdy wok spatula; it makes it easier to do the vigorous stir-frying and scraping up that’s necessary. You’ll also want a few bowls to put things in as you cook them, and a large bowl (like the one you soak the noodles in) to assemble and toss the finished dish in.
This recipe makes 9 8oz servings. For me, this means 9 bento-sized servings, or 4-5 bento-sized servings and a couple of dinner-sized servings. Nutrition info follows at the end. Note that T means tablespoon and t means teaspoon.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 12 oz dangmyeon (sweet potato starch) vermicelli noodles
For the Yang Nyum Jang Sauce:
- 6 T soy sauce
- 3 T sugar
- 1.5 T honey
- 1 generous T sake or other rice wine or, in a pinch, dry sherry
- 1.5 T dark sesame oil
- 1 T gomashio *
- 3/4 t ground pepper, green if you can get it
- 2 scallions, minced
- 2 t minced garlic
- 2 t minced ginger
The meat & veggie ingredients:
- 3/4 lb lean beef, cut into strips 2″ by 1/2″ by 1/4″
- 5 large or 9 small dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 large onion
- 1 hothouse or English cukes worth of skin (use cuke itself for sunomono)
- 2-5 carrots, to make 1.5 cups of fine long julienne
- 2 large peppers, to make 3 cups of pepper strips
- 2 more t minced garlic
- 3-4 good-sized scallions
Start by placing the noodles in as large a bowl as you have. The noodles are often dried in a U-shape, and they’re very long. They’re too hard to snap or cut in their dried state, but since I like them shorter in the finished dish, here’s what I do: I tie a piece of kitchen string around the bend in the noodles, i.e., in the center of their length. I put them in a shallow big bowl, and I pour on enough boiling water to cover. Let them soak for 20 minutes or so, turning them carefully once so that everything gets equally soaked. Use scissors to cut the noodles in half, around where you tied the string, and then rinse and drain the noodles in a sieve or colander. Set aside.
Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with warm water to cover and set aside.
Put all the yang nyum jang ingredients in a pint jar or bowl and stir well. The honey will dissolve, honest.
Now is the time to cut your beef into strips, and in a bowl just large enough, mix the julienned beef with 5 tablespoons of the yang nyum jang sauce and set aside.
Prep all the vegetable ingredients and set aside in little piles or in bowls or on plates. I just make little piles on my cutting board.
For most stir-fry dishes, I do my onions thus: peel, cut in half, and then make thin slices lengthwise.
For the cucumber skins just peel them, then julienne them, put in a little bowl and sprinkle with salt. Before using, rinse with cold water, and gently squeeze them dry. The original recipe calls for 2 cups of these, but I only had the one cuke, so I had about 3/4 cup before salting & squeezing. Certainly make sunomono salad or agurk salat with the cucumber itself!
I used sweet pepper strips which I had in the freezer. I just rinsed them and put them in a colander to drain, and they were room temp by the time I got to cooking them.
Slice the scallions, both green and white parts, finely.
Last of the veggies, squeeze as much liquid from the shiitakes as possible. Cut the stems off with scissors or a sharp knife, and slice into 1/8″ to 1/4″ julienne.
Save that mushroom reconstitution liquid as it’s soup-making gold which you can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a month or so.
Okay, now we’re ready to cook! It all goes very fast now ..
Heat your wok over med-high heat for a few minutes. Swirl a tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, and add the seasoned beef. Spread it out and let it sizzle there for a minute or two before stir-frying; this will make the beef have a nice carmelized side. Then stir-fry until the meat no longer shows any red. A lot of juice will have formed, and this is fine. It’ll add nice flavor to the dish. Scoop meat and juices into a bowl and set aside.
Add a scant teaspoon of peanut oil to the wok and swirl around. Add approximately 2/3 of your yang nyum jang sauce to the pan along with 1/3 cup of water. Add your drained and cut dangmyeon noodles and stir-fry vigorously. You’ll be turning the noodles over and over so that they all have a chance to soak up the sauce & water, and so that they all get some of the heat at the bottom of the wok. If the noodles stick a bit, just stir-fry faster, and scrape the bottom of the wok with your wok spatula. Faster! Faster!
When the noodles have all changed from opaque (milky and not see-through) to transluscent (like pale amber glass), transfer to your Big bowl and spread out as much as possible so they can cool quicker.
Swirl a teaspoon of peanut oil into the wok. Add the julienned shiitake mushrooms and add a teaspoon-sized splash each of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, plus a pinch of pepper. Stir-fry for 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are fragrant and a bit carmelized. Sprinkle over the noodles in the big bowl.
Another teaspoon of oil into the wok, and add the onion slices. Stir-fry for a minute, sprinkle on a 1/2-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry a bit more, maybe 3 minutes in all. You want these scorched against the hot part of the wok, but not limp or soft. Add to the big bowl.
A half-teaspoons worth of oil into the wok, and add the cucumber skin julienne. Stir-fry for 2 minutes and add to the big bowl.
Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the carrots. Stir-fry for a minute, add a half-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until softened but not altogether limp. Add to the big bowl.
Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the sweet pepper strips and 2 teaspoons of minced garlic. stir-fry for a minute, add a generous 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the peppers are just softened. Turn off heat, and add the scallions. Toss to combine, and then add to the big bowl. Add the beef to the big bowl, and the rest of the yang nyum jang sauce. Mix well, and enjoy your first bowl right here and now. You must be famished!
As I said, it’s a lot of work, but it makes a lot of really delicious food. I like that it’s well-suited to my bento box lunches, and it is chock-full of nutritious veggies. And it’s pretty.
Yesterday's lunch with japchae
Each 8oz serving contains 349 calories, 47 grams of carbohydrates, and 14 grams of fat.