Japchae (잡채) is one of the most popular dishes in Korea, typically made on special occasions. My husband’s friend D jokingly complained after a friend’s housewarming party that “they didn’t even have japchae. It’s no party without japchae!” Japchae is made with a noodle called dangmyun (당면), which is a sweet potato starch noodle, deliciously chewy and transparent (a.k.a. glass noddle). Even though japchae is loved by everyone, one of the reasons it is usually only made on special occasions is that it takes many steps and a long time although the technique is not difficult. My friend, E told me that Korean wives hate it when their husbands say, “Let’s have a simple dinner just with japchae (저녁에 간단히 잡채나 먹자).” Today, I’ll try to break it down to you as simply as possible on how to make japchae, which I made for my family and relatives for New Year’s day. Please note that you can use any variety of vegetables, but you should include onions, carrots and scallions. Also, I did not include meat in my japchae, but many like it with a beef or pork (about 250g or 1/2 pound). If you decide to include meat, I like using bulgogi (불고기) cut into thin pieces. Another important tip is that you can prep everything up to step 11 the day before you plan to serve this dish. If you store the prepped ingredients in the refrigerator, just remember to bring the ingredients to room temperature before you mix it with the noodles.Prepping the day before will help with time and stress.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 people):
- 250g (about 1/2 pounds) of dangmyun (당면, Korean vermicelli noodles)
- 2-3 eggs
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut thinly, vertically
- 1 small or 2/3 medium sized carrot, julienned
- 4 scallions, only the white part cut into about 5 cm (2 in) thin strips or a handful of buchoo (부추, Asian chives)
- A handful of mushrooms, fresh or dried – I like using shitake, mogi bausut (목이버섯, wood-ear mushrooms) and/or pengyi bausut (팽이버섯, enoki mushrooms)
- 1 package of spinach, washed in cold water
- 1 paprika (bell pepper) or the equivalent amount – I used 3 different colored bell peppers
- Vegetable oil (grape seed oil or olive oil)
Marinade for spinach – *Note: this is same as the namul (나물) marinade
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of gukganjang (국간장)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of diced scallion
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
Mushroom and beef marinade – *Note: You can use the same marinade as bulgogi (불고기) or the simplified version listed below:
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar (brown or white)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon diced scallion
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- A pinch of black pepper
Marinade for noodles:
- 6 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons of sugar (brown or white)
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
- Make each of the marinades and set them aside. Letting the sauces rest enhances their flavors.
- Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water for about an hour. I used 2 kinds; 5-6 mogi bausut (목이버섯, wood-ear mushrooms) and 1 package of pengyi bausut (팽이버섯, enoki mushrooms). If you are using mogi bausut (목이버섯, wood-ear mushrooms), make sure you place them in a large enough bowl with water because they increase in size quite a bit. I also recommend dried or fresh shitake mushrooms.
- Soak the dangmyun (당면, Korean vermicelli noodles) in room temperature water in a large bowl for about 30 minutes.
- Julienne all the vegetables.
- If you are using beef, thinly cut it and marinate it in about 3 tablespoons of its sauce listed above.
- Make dalgyal-jidan (달걀지단), which are thin strips of egg omelet (this is not my favorite part). I separated the yoke and egg whites because it was a special occasion but by all means, this is not necessary. If you are using the whole egg (both yoke and egg white), beat the eggs together slightly with a pinch of salt. You can run it through a sieve for a more even result. Do the same if you have separated the yoke and egg white. Spread about 1-2 tablespoons of oil, thinly and evenly on a skillet and place it on low heat. Pour in the egg, just enough to thinly cover the entire skillet surface. You might have to do this in a few batches. Let it cook slowly. When the top surface is cooked, very carefully flip the egg omelet and cook it for a few more seconds. Move it to a plate and let it cool. Repeat if needed. When the eggs are cooked and cooled, cut the egg circle in half (half-moon shape), then thinly cut them in to thin strips about 4 inches (10cm) long.
- While the eggs are slowly cooking, bring a medium sized pot, full of water with a generous pinch of salt, to a boil. When water comes to a high boil, place the cleaned spinach, stems first, in the boiling water. Cook for about 20-30 seconds, just enough to soften them. Strain the spinach and rinse it in cold water. Gently squeeze out the water and mix it with the spinach marinade. Set aside.
- Cut the mushrooms into thin strips. Marinate it with about 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of the mushroom marinade listed above. You don’t have to marinate pengyi bausut (팽이버섯, enoki mushrooms) because they are so thin.
- Now it’s time to sauté! Traditionally each ingredient is sautéed separately but I like to cheat a little bit here. First heat the skillet on medium high heat and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Sauté the onion for about 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Sauté until the onions are cooked and translucent but not browned. The carrots should be slightly cooked as well. Remove them to another plate and let them cool.
- Repeat the same for the scallions and bell peppers. Sauté them separately with a pinch of salt.
- Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of oil on to the same skillet. If you are using beef, sauté the beef until it is half cooked (I made my japchae vegetarian because my mother doesn’t eat meat). When the beef is cooked halfway, add the marinated mushrooms and sauté until both the beef and mushrooms are fully cooked.
- Bring a large a pot of water to a boil. Cook the soaked dangmyun (당면, Korean vermicelli noodles) for about 4 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water.
- Place the cooked noodles back into the pot, add the noodle marinade except for about 2 tablespoons of marinade. Mix in the noodles and sauce on medium high heat until the sauce is fully absorbed. Move the noodles to a large bowl and let it cool enough so you can handle them with your hands.
- Cut the noodles a few times with cooking scissors to make it easier to eat.
- Combine all the vegetables, mushrooms and beef EXCEPT for the spinach. Mix the ingredients together. Mix in the egg strips as well but put aside a few egg strips for garnishing.
- Taste and add more noodle marinade you set aside earlier if needed. If it is still too bland you can season with a little salt and pepper as well.
- When the japchae is completely cooled to room temperature, mix in the spinach. If you add the spinach when the other ingredients are hot, the spinach turns yellow/brown.
- Finally, place the japchae on a large plate, garnish with dalgyal jidan (달걀지단, egg strips) and toasted sesame seeds.