Zha Jiang Mian (Fried Sauce Noodles)
So I promised grav a write-up on this, and I may as well contribute.
What you have here is essentially spaghetti with meat sauce. It is wildly popular in the North of China, and has also spread into Korea where it has turned into the national dish under the koreanized named of jajangmyeon. I much prefer the Chinese original, though - the Korean version is way too "saucy" and is often cut with sweet potatoes which I don't care for in this dish.
There is no set recipe, but the principle is this: ground pork (or chicken or turkey) and a load of chopped scallions are sautéed in oil until the meat is slightly browned. To this we then add and fry further bean sauce ("jiàng"), soy sauce, and some seasoning. Bean sauce is usually in the form of "yellow bean sauce" or "sweet bean sauce". Koon Chun is a well-known trademark, with their distinctive hourglass jars and blue-yellow labels.
A note on jiàng (bean sauce)
For lack of yellow bean sauce, we can substitute hoisin sauce instead. In particular if we are using Koon Chun hoisin, which seems to be way easier to find than yellow bean sauce. Simply reduce the amount of sugar to add. Others use duck sauce, one jar per pound/500g of mince. There will no doubt be a load of comments on this recipe, and I welcome them all. Note: there is a reason my Chinese relatives, no matter if there's talk of hoisin sauce, sweet bean sauce/paste, yellow bean sauce/paste and so on, refer to them all simply as "jiàng" - they are all closely related, and one can usually easily substitute for another with the inclusion or exclusion of sugar and/or dark soy sauce and/or chili paste. Black bean sauce, on the other hand, is another animal entirely, with an intensely salt flavour where "jiàng" in it's various forms usually leans towards sweet umami-ness.
Seasoning can be white pepper, maybe a little MSG, a little salt if you use hoisin, and maybe a splash of rice wine. Maybe you need a little acid? Toss in some xinkiang vinegar (can be replaced with balsamico vinegar) or ordinary apple cider vinegar. I like a teaspoon of my black-tar Thai chili oil (Double Seahorse) as well. What you are looking for is salty, sugary, fatty savouriness, with little morsels of meat and scallion suspended in the oil seeping from the cracked sauce, infusing the soft noodles, and cut by the freshness of the cucumbers. Nom nom nom.
This is not a recipe, as I said, but a guideline. You get the idea, I guess.
- 4-500 g/1 lb ground pork or chicken
- 1 bunch scallions
- a bit of chopped fresh ginger (omit as you please)
- a good splash of oil
Fry the above ingredients together in deep pan until meat is lightly browned.
- 3-4 heaped tablespoons hoisin or yellow bean sauce
- 1-2 tbs dark soy sauce, or to taste
- 1tsp - 2tbs sugar, to taste
- salt to taste
- chili to taste
- 1/2 ts white pepper
- a cup of water
and boil together for at least 15 minutes, stirring and scraping. Adjust seasoning, and server over freshly cooked wheat noodles with a heaped topping of sliced cucumber on top.
Mix up and eat.
This dish comes in as many forms as there are cooks in China. Personal favourites of mine are these :
- cutting the meat/lightening the dish with some scrambled soft doufu, added at the end of cooking
- putting bean sprouts and/or shredded summer cabbage and/or radishes on top in addition to or instead of cucumber
- using good fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti noodles instead of Chinese wheat noodles (I basically always do this - they're hella better)
- substituting ground pork or turkey for ground beef, making the sauce even heftier
- adding some roughly chopped mushrooms (I always do this if I can)
- adding some roasted peanuts to the sauce (do thisssss)
- If you have leftover zhajiangmian sauce, but not enough for a whole meal, it can make a royal sandwich topping, especially if it's made Vietnamese banh mi-style in a crusty baguette with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.