Jap Chae

19 Feb

What is life without Korean food? If someone said to me, “You can’t create stories anymore!” My heart and mind would shrivel. If someone said, “You are forbidden from eating Korean food.” My body would become dust.

Given this, it’s kind of sad to see my country phobic of cooking! I had two grandmothers in my Korean family that cooked meals–fabulous meals. Food is culture and is Korea forgets how to cook its own food, we’ve truly lost something dear to us. How come China is making Kimchi? And do people remember Kimchi from the pottery jars without plastic liners that taste an awful lot like plastic? Cooking makes you remember. For me, who forgot and regained, this is special and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Food feeds your body, your mind your environment, your soul, your spirit. How can you seriously forget and leave it to other people?

And so I bring you this simplified version of Jap Chae, because TV shows keep going on and on about how hard it all is–which is crock. It’s just that people have forgotten how to make it properly.

Mandolin. Chops Vegetables. BETTER than a food processor–believe me. I’ve tried both.
1 pot, sieve, 1 large container (or serving dish) and something to stir with.

Beef stock– low salt, low fat. I’m an advocate of salt and fat, but I’m an advocate of knowing when to add it and adding it yourself, not letting others add it for you. No beef stock? Water will do.

Shitake mushrooms dried. OK. You don’t like them. Fine. You can add them to the stock, but not eat them. They give a very nice earthy flavor which can substitute the above if you so wish with some soysauce.

Carrots–Asian style are best because they are HUGE and they grate nicely on the Madeline. Try to get strips of them. Leave behind at least a cup or so. A few can go to your mouth. You must feed the chef.

Spinach- That bunch you get in the super market–you only need a handful of it. Make sure to wash it well! Eating Jap Chae with sand is nasty. Uhh… call that personal experience.

Ginger Fresh. MUST BE FRESH! I’m a ginger addict. I don’t mind putting in a half a cup of it, but most people can only tolerate a tablespoon of it. (Wimps.) A little of it will help the flavor.

Garlic–as much as you want! In the pan it’ll become mild. I’ve been known to put the whole head in… But people are not so keen can put in something like 3-5 cloves.

Sweet Potato Starch noodles. (You can buy these online from Koamart) 1 package, you only need say half of that?

Meat made like bulgogi… or leftover bulgogi. (Marinate meat, chicken or whatever, beef is traditional, in a bunch of soy sauce, sesame oil, a bit of sugar and a whole ton of garlic and ginger with green onion. 1:1:1/8:infinity:Infinity is about the right proportions. I usually peel gralic until my fingers are tired.)

Other veggies. I hate onions in this. The tooth feel doesn’t do well. Generally things that are soft when cooked do well in Jap Chae. Not corn, and not broccoli (if you cook your broccoli until its soft, you seriously have issues). Peas are alright as long as you are aware they aren’t supposed to be olive and hallow and have that weird dried-on sheen like someone poured oil over them. ELEW.

Tips for peeling ginger: When you chose your ginger, it was firm, wasn’t it? It didn’t have a thick peel, did it? Peel your ginger with a spoon. Scrape the surface.

Garlic Peeling Take a hammer and smash it (put something between the hammer and garlic. Garlic tasting like metal/motor oil is nasty. Peel is off, your frustration is out, you are done.

Alright, bring your beef stock to a boil. You may pad it by adding 1 cup of water if you are short.

Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat off. Put in the mushrooms first, the carrots second, any harder vegetables like Bok Choi, and any other veggies. Do not put in leafie greens like spinach. I guarantee they will overcook. Press down the noodles. They will inflate without heat. Don’t sweat it. Once the noddles are soft, but not cooked, strain the whole thing to the large container. Take out the mushrooms and chop them. I eat the stems, but some people don’t like them. Do whatever suits your tongue. You can add the whole thing back into the container after you’re done with the mushrooms. Cook the meat/heat it up. You don’t need additional sesame oil for the pan to cook the meat. Once it’s mostly cooked (not all the way… you still have some simmering to do), transfer the contents of the bowl back into the pot. Now you can add the spinach. Add soysauce and fresh sesame oil to taste. Add garlic and ginger. Keep the heat to low! Over time the noodles will start to absorb most of the stock. You want this to happen. The sound will change to over time from a boiling to a sizzle. Cut it off before it sizzles. Keep some of the broth. Also keep a constant eye on it. Though you may not know it, it could burn on the bottom. That is not fun to clean up.

Once done, you can transfer it back into the serving plate. The serving plate didn’t have the uncooked meat, so it should be fine.

See… people usually make it the much harder way. They use knife work instead of a mandolin. They try to cook the veggies separately, generating 3-4 pots. They cook the noodles separately. This way is easy and it gets richer flavors in the noodles as they absorb the flavor of the stock and the mushrooms. My way has one strainer, one pot and one container to clean. And it’s easy… even my Korean friend commented that I made it look easy.

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