Japchae was my first real foray into Korean cuisine that I felt like I mastered. I saw my friend Jonathan (who is Korean-American) make his Mom’s version of this dish for a group of our colleagues and immediately fell in love with its subtle technique and crowd-pleasing flavors.
My version is largely authentic to the Korean Mom classic, but adds protein in the form of chicken breast and a little bit of spice because why not? I’ve cooked this several times for guests and it’s always a monumental hit, which is great considering the limited prep time and the fact that only one pan and a few bowls are the essential equipment.
I also like to finish this dish with a dash of a fermented black bean chile sauce that I’ve been working on, but unless you’re lucky enough to have some of my test samples on hand, it’s not necessary.
The sweet potato starch glass noodles (like the ones pictured below) are probably the most tricky ingredient to source. If you don’t have a good Korean market nearby, the internet is your friend.
- 8 oz (1 bunch) dried Dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato noodles…available at Korean markets or online)
- 1 boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly crosswise
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, from about 1 whole bunch
- 4-6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly
- 1 whole green Anaheim chile, stemmed, seeded, and sliced thinly (green bell pepper would also work)
- 1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and sliced thinly (optional)
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly at an angle
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup shredded carrots (the stuff from the bag)
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1 cup light soy sauce
- 2 TBSP agave syrup or brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sesame oil (if you have a Japanese or Korean market nearby, get the good stuff).
- Black pepper
- Dried thai chile flakes or crushed red pepper (optional)
- Slice and marinate chicken in a medium bowl with the following ratios for the marinade: 1 part mirin, 2 parts sesame oil, 3 parts soy sauce with the chopped garlic and a few turns of black pepper.
- Bring a small sauce pan full of water to a boil, blanch spinach for 15 seconds, drain, and rinse with cold water. Squeeze as much excess water from the spinach as you can, then add to a small bowl with about 1 TBSP of sesame oil and 1 TBSP of soy sauce.
- Prep a large mixing bowl with 1/4 cup sesame oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce, the agave syrup and a few turns of black pepper. This will be the final resting place of the noodles.
- Fill a wide, high-sided skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and a generous amount of sesame oil. The oil, aside from being intoxicatingly aromatic, will prevent the starchy noodles from sticking together. Continue boiling and stir frequently with tongs or chopsticks, about 5-7 minutes total.
- Drain noodles into a colander and rinse with cold water. This is where the fun begins. These noodles are super long and need to be cut. Grab a handful at a time, lift from the colander, and cut with scissors about 6 inches below the handful you just grabbed. Mix in, and repeat (about 20x) until it appears that most of the noodles are a manageable length. Add noodles to the large bowl of the sesame oil mixture you’ve prepped and mix so they are evenly coated.
- Reheat the same skillet over high heat and add a little canola oil. Add chicken (but not all the excess marinade), and stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to the large bowl, on top of the noodles.
- Add a bit more oil and start stir frying the vegetables. Mushrooms for about 2 minutes, then add to the bowl. Add carrots, peppers, and dried chile flakes and stir fry for 2 more minutes, scraping up any brown bits that remain in the pan. Add to bowl.
- Finally, add the spinach and scallions to the large bowl and give everything a thorough mix using tongs and a wooden spoon. The meat and veggies tend to sink to the bottom of the bowl when mixing, so when serving, try to ensure you get an even portion of each.
- Serve at will….I actually find this dish to be quite good, if not better, when served at just slightly above room temperature, so this makes a great meal when you don’t know exactly when your wife will be done drying her hair.