Sunday, April 27, 2008

Zha jiang mian (Meat Sauce Noodles)

I don't think I could function without noodles in my life. They're extraordinarily versatile, comforting and satisfying all at once and have made my life a far happier place since I was very little. I was always particularly fond of the northern Chinese noodle dish, zha jiang mian, which is a sort of Chinese spaghetti bolognase (strangely, I've never been a huge fan of actual spaghetti bolognase). The Chinese dish is a mixture of fermented soybean paste and ground pork served over a bowl of warm, chewy, fat white noodles that always seemed to perfectly trap all the sauce. It was my love of this dish that got me to expert level at chopsticks, I was so desperate to eat the noodles.

This all started because I was wandering down the aisles of the Chinese supermarket when I saw the can with the fermented bean paste my mom always liked using for these noodles from when I was little - talk about deep rooted visual memory. I decided to take it home and give it a whirl, Jason's increasingly comfortable eating the weird Chinese food things I whip up, so worse case scenario, he chokes down one meal.

I'm pretty sure every family has a variation on this dish, but this is how I ate it growing up, so it's what I think it should be, obviously, feel free to play with it. The can of bean paste I used was INCREDIBLY salty in the end (I used to whole can), and it was only slightly buffered by the noodles and fresh crunchy green. Jason would have liked more sauce to mix with the noodles, but overall it was a strong dish. I just have to figure out how to lower the salt levels on this thing!

Zha jiang mian

1 tsp cooking oil
1/2 lb ground pork
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 can Szechuan Hot Bean Sauce*
1/4 cup frozen peas and carrots mix
1/4 cup 1/4" cubed firm tofu
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sriracha
salt (you won't need it) and pepper to taste
1/8 cup julienne celery, scallions and/or cucumbers
1 package noodles, preferably wide, flour noodles

Heat cooking oil over high heat in a medium pan/wok until shimmering. Add pork and stir-fry into smaller pieces until nicely browned. Add garlic and stir-fry again for 30 seconds. Remove meat and garlic from wok, set aside.

Using the same wok/pan, empty entire can of bean sauce over medium-high and saute for a minute. Return meat to wok and stir-fry to cover with the sauce. Add tofu cubes and frozen peas and carrots to the wok and stir-fry until everything is well-coated. Add water, sugar, salt (probably not), pepper, and sriracha, lower heat and simmer for five minutes.

Top warm, freshly cooked plain white noodles with meat sauce, fresh celery, scallions and cucumbers. Serve immediately.

*This is the can of bean sauce that I used and even though it said hot, I had my doubts, which is why I added in the sriracha. I have a spicy food problem, I'm not ashamed to admit. If anyone finds a better way to cut the salt, let me know!


The Cooking Ninja said...

oh yes, my mom used to fried her noodles with this. How I miss this taste.

Jason said...

These noodles are definitely delicious, but are still very potent to the untrained tongue. You can get ready for an emotional rollercoaster on your taste buds while enjoying this dish.