Chapchae/Japchae

by Kiko Matsing

A celebratory Korean dish. My aunt prepared some for my despedida party when I left for the US in 2006. I wanted to prepare this to celebrate with my friends, so I skyped my aunt for the exact recipe.

Chapchae are greenish cellophane noodles made from sweet potatoes. They are thicker than the Philippine pancit sotanghon, so it takes longer for them to cook. The green color makes them look like seaweeds when rehydrated.

Boil a big pot of water and blanche a bunch of spinach in a strainer for about 20 seconds. Run cold water on the spinach, drain, and set aside.

Now add the noodles to the pot and let it boil for 5-10 minuntes or until they are bouncy (rubbery) and easy to the bite. Drain into a strainer, and run cold water to stop the noodles from further cooking. This should fix their viscoelastic properties, as they become mushy when overcooked. Put the noodles back into the empty pot, add sesame oil and dashida powder (beef flavor), and mix thoroughly by hand. Dashida is the soup stock powder in Korean and Japanese cooking. I would put about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and 2 teaspoons of dashida for two bundles of noodles. Sesame oil is very viscous and powerful, and dashida is salty, so check as you add them until the noodles are just seasoned to your taste. I find that kneading by hand is the best way to mix the noodles thoroughly. (It’s also easier to check the oiliness.) Also sprinkle roasted sesame seeds. Set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, marinate bulgogi beef in soy sauce, sugar (3 tbsp), minced garlic (3-5 cloves), black pepper powder, and bay leaves (a Filipino touch!). Let it sit for 10 min. For veggies, I use carrots, green beans, and red bell pepper, all sliced lengthwise. Sprinkle lots of salt crystals and let them sit for 5 min, then wash and drain with water, and stir fry quickly with minced garlic. This treatment makes the veggies both flavorful and crunchy. To make sure each veggie is cooked just right, stir fry them separately. Dump the vegetables (including the spinach) on top of the noodles.

Now throw in the bulgogi beef into the skillet with the marinade. Let it simmer, turning the beef occasionally to evenly cook. Finally, let it reduce and allow the sugars to caramelize until the meat looks brown and glazed. Put this on top of the vegetables. With the remaining hot, oily glaze, stir fry sliced shiitake mushrooms. (This is where I find the dehydrated stuff works better than the fresh ones. Just reconstitute the mushrooms in some of the boiling water used for the noodles.) Add soy sauce to season, and place/mix with the meat. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds.

Eat the noodles warm or cold.

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