Jjajangmyeon (짜장면) and Homemade Noodles
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
When I started this project, it was a fun hobby that would keep me busy, while also feeding our kids. Until January, I was working on a PhD. But I hated not being able to spend my weekends playing with our boys, and with a newborn, I had almost no time to do my coursework. So, I decided to put the degree program on indefinite hold and focus on the more important things, like family and sanity. However, I don't like to do nothing, so Baekin Kitchen was a way for me to fill my little free time in a family-centric way, and help our kids learn about their Korean heritage.
Honestly, I was a bad cook when I started. Maybe not bad, but I really had no business being in a kitchen. I made respectable fried rice, and had made kimchi a few times. My MIL thought it was cute that I was trying, but most things were "too hard." I still make no claims to be a master chef, but I'm certainly more comfortable in the kitchen these days.
Jjajangmyeon was my first venture into "difficult" Korean food. It's delicious. If you haven't had it, jjajangmyeon is a savory sweet sauce of veggies and meat, poured over delicious chewy noodles. Kids love it and it's a fantastic way to trick them into eating vegetables, but be prepared to give them baths afterwards. Technically, it's classified as a Chinese-Korean dish because it was developed by Chinese immigrants to Korea in the 50s, so the legend goes.
The first time I made jjajangmyeon, our kitchen was covered in black bean splatter and the sauce had the consistency of sand because the potatoes disintegrated. It was also my first time using a wok, and I had no idea what I was doing. So, things were cooked unevenly, and it was an overall mess. The finished product looked okay, but was far from perfect. My MIL kindly ate her entire bowl, and told me how good it was so I wouldn't feel bad. My wife was more honest, and the kids were brutal!
Last night, with a little more experience and knowledge under my belt, I made jjajangmyeon again. It was good. The consistency was right. the veggies were perfectly cooked, and the noodles were so chewy and thick that I almost lost my mind with delight. I liked it not just because I had made it, but because it was actually really good.
Baekin Kitchen has been up for a little over 6 months and I am personally really proud of how far I've come in my abilities. I think right now I have something like 90 posts up on Instagram, but there are many more meals that never made it to publishing status. In this jjajangmyeon, I managed to make well something that I failed so hard at previously. There's a message about persistence and practice in there somewhere.
I say this as a message of encouragement to everyone out there, that it can be done. Seriously, if I can make something that tastes this good, you can too.
I'm also very grateful to my family for eating all of the bad food I've probably served them over the course of that time but still continuing to support me.
For the jjajangmyeon, I used Maangchi's recipe as a guide for steps, but made alterations.
I used 1.5 lbs of thin sliced pork belly marinated in rice wine and salt (from My Korean Kitchen)
I added 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to the vegetables while they cooked
To the jjajang paste, I added a tablespoon of rice vinegar before adding it to the veggie mixture.
I left out the Korean radish - jjajangmyeon doesn't usually have it, and I didn't like it last time I tried this recipe (no offense, Maangchi!)
I added sliced cabbage at the end to add some crunch (also an idea from My Korean Kitchen)
I left out cucumber just because we didn't have any and I refuse to buy any because our garden is always overrun with them!
The noodles were easy, but a serious workout since I don't have a pasta machine.
I did a lot of research on making noodles and what types of noodles I should use. The store jjajangmyeon noodles are just flour water and salt, but I saw recipes that used egg noodles, and some that used alkaline. If you go to an Asian grocery store, the noodle aisle can be intense.
Straight flour and water noodles, are not that exciting. I knew that I wanted to make something more chewy and hearty than that, so I made egg noodles.
Baked baking soda changes the pH of the dough and makes the connections between gluten stronger, making the noodles chewy (this is how I understand it, anyway). To make it, pour a cup of baking soda on some parchment paper on a baking sheet, and put it in the oven at 250F for 45 minutes. Save what you do not use in an air tight container. I looked at many sources, but if you are curious, start here.
This video was the simplest and most helpful in making sure that I knew what I was doing:
2.5 cups of flour
2 eggs + 1/3 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baked baking soda as an alkaline agent (mixed into the egg and water mixture first)
The end result was super chewy and perfect for jjajangmyeon.
Give it a shot!