Sometimes Thursday nights, my wife just wants pasta.
Growing up, my mother used to make me (乾)拌麵 “(Gan) Ban Mien” (Mand.) [“Giao Mi” (TW)] which literally means “(dry) stir noodles”. Basically, it was a ground meat sauce flavored with garlic, rice wine (read: sake), soy with whatever vegetables were on hand and thickened with a starch slurry to top fresh boiled pasta. You might say it was a sort of Asian bolognese. It looked not unlike Zhajiangmian/Jajangmyun or Japanese ankake udon. Anyway, when my wife moved in, this was the first ‘home cooking’ dishes I made for her with which she immediately fell in love. I’m still researching how this dish got introduced into my family.
Remembering my wife’s positive reaction to Cambridge’s Chang Sho Zha Jung La Mian, I thought I’d surprise her tonight with a twist and offer Iron Chef Morimoto’s take on Zhajiangmian. A copy of the recipe can be find online at:
http://www.foodarts.com/recipes/recipes/1482/za-jan-noodles (click on “take me straight to the recipes!“)
For two people, the ingredient list would be –
3/4 cups chicken stock or shanton stock
2 T red miso
2 T soy sauce
1 Tbsps. sake
1 Tbsps. granulated sugar
1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, freshly peeled and grated
1/2 Tbsp. ginger, freshly peeled and grated
1/4 lb. pork, ground
1/4 cup bamboo shoots, julienned
1/2 tsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1/8 cup cold water
3/4 tsps. Asian sesame oil
salt, white pepper, freshly ground
4 cups lo mein or ramen noodles, 1 1/2 6.3 oz package of inaniwa udon noodles, freshly cooked
1/4 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
2 to 3 Tbsps. hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 to 2 Tbsps. scallion, thinly sliced
baby cilantro sprigs
I began by whisking 3/4 cups of chicken stock, miso, soy sauce, sake,
and sugar in a bowl; then
filtering out the miso fiber (ok, ok, that’s not in the book; that’s a step I added from my experience with cooking Nobu and Ming Tsai recipes) and reserved the mixture.
I then quickly pan fried the garlic and ginger in rice oil, taking care not to burn it (I wanted to flavor
the oil for the ground meat). I then added the ground meat; cooked it until any liquid evaporated,
breaking up clumps as needed.
I then added stock mixture and brought the whole thing to a boil.
The cornstarch slurry was added to the pan,
reduced heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickened. It’s my belief that there is a misprint in the original recipe. The 1 teaspoon of starch for the thickening should have been 1 tablespoon; so for 2 people it would have been 1 1/2 teaspoons. The recipe as written didn’t seem to thicken the sauce quite enough.
I removed it from heat and finished it with the sesame oil. When I tasted this to correct the seasoning – I realized the red (aka) miso and soy sauce had supplied plenty of salt and added only 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper.
Finally, I think the use of sugar in this recipe is a nod to the “sweet” taste profile in traditional Zhajiangmian using tianmianjang (especially if you look at the korean “jajangmyun” versions).
So, I remade this dish with a view to a single serving to investigate the thickening issue. I bore in mind that the I was scaling from 1 tablespoon of starch to 3/4 teaspoon for thickening the single serving
So once I got the ground meat cooked and the sauce added to the pan, I now added the starch slurry using 3/4 teaspoons of starch and brought up the heat to get the mixture to thicken.
And thicken as expected it did. It looked closer to what it’s Iron Chef Morimoto’s book and what I used to make [(乾)拌麵]. That convinced me that there starch measurements in the recipe is a typo. So, I removed the pan contents to a small bowl and mixed in the sesame oil.
My wife and both liked the dish; it reminded her more of the Chang Sho restaurant version and not so much of the Korean Jajangmyun [I suppose I could easily make it more Korean by adding tianmianjang].
I particularly liked this variant because I wanted it a bit more savory and not sweet. It also seem to make a connection for me to my memories of (乾)拌麵 [“Giao Mi” ]. Clearly, Iron Chef Morimoto’s take on Za Jan noodles has far more umami than the way I made Giao Mi/(Gan) Ban Mien. Much like the approach to Iron Chef Chen’s Mapo Tofu, I could also use ground dark meat turkey here for friends who might not want to have pork. One modification I could make to this dish would be to take a page from Korean cuisine and use diced onions, julienned zucchini (instead of cucumber), and thinly sliced bacon (I’m thinking of the bacon from Vermont Smoke & Cure that I used in preparing Phillipe Batton’s Cocotte Of Bacon And Country-Style Cabbage). Thank you, Iron Chef Morimoto for sharing this recipe.