Koreatown: A Cookbook offers a yummy blend of 100 recipes, essays, profiles and documentary-style photography with a focus on lesser-known aspects of Korean food, drink and culture. Written by NYC chef Deuki Hong and food/travel/culture writer Matt Rodbard, it celebrates the exploding Korean food movement in the United States and abroad. Matt and Deuki kindly share a couple of their favourite recipes below.
Jajangmyeon (Korean-Chinese Black Bean Noodles)
Serves 4 to 6 people
While Koreans love noodles, their cuisine is slightly less noodle-focused than that of their East Asian neighbors China and Japan. But Jajangmyeon is here to blow your freaking mind. It’s mild and slightly sweet and unites pork fat with a Korean black bean paste called chunjang, which you can find at all Asian grocery stores. While similar to the ubiquitous Chinese black bean sauce, this one is nuttier and less salty. Like the greasy takeout lo mein that everyone loves, these noodles should be slightly oily and splatter a little when slurped. We like to use red onions in this onion-centric dish. And if you can’t find fresh noodles, you can substitute with a couple bags of instant ramyun (minus the spice packet, of course) or even spaghetti. And fun fact—well, slightly grim fun fact: Jajangmyeon is typically eaten on what Koreans call Black Day, which is observed every April 14. The idea is that those who didn’t receive a gift on either fourteenth of the two previous months—February 14 (Valentines Day) or March 14 (White Day, when girls return the favor to the boys)—should treat themselves to a bowl of black noodles and commiserate on their life of perpetual singledom.
1 pound fresh jajangmyeon or udon noodles (or substitute a couple packages of instant ramen noodles)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces fatty pork belly, cut into large dice
3 ounces pork shoulder, cut into large dice
1-inch knob of ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ medium carrot, diced
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into small dice
2 medium red onions, diced
½ zucchini, peeled and diced, plus ¼ cup julienned zucchini
½ cup black bean paste (chunjang)
2 tablespoons sugar
Kosher salt to taste
¼ pickled yellow daikon, cut into half-moons (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Boil the noodles for 8 minutes, until soft (just beyond al dente), reserve 1½ cups of the noodle cooking water, drain and rinse the noodles with cold water to cool to room temperature. Drain well and reserve.
2. While the noodles are boiling, heat the oil on high heat in a wok or large skillet until lightly smoking. Add diced pork belly and shoulder and render for 2 minutes.
3. Add ginger and garlic and saute for 1 minute, being mindful not to let it burn. Add carrots, potatoes, onions and diced zucchini and saute for 6 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
4. Mix in the black bean paste, sugar, 1 cup of reserved noodle water and salt to taste. Cook for 7 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the potatoes are fully cooked. If you need to add more noodle water, do so.
5. Divide noodles into 2 bowls and top with warm sauce. Garnish with julienned zucchini and pickled yellow daikon. As an alternative, the sauce can be served over cooked rice for a dish called jjajangbap.
The Best Shin Instant Ramyun on Earth
Yes, you can buy a bag of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips and follow the directions for cookies on the bag exactly. But, most people don’t do that. It kind of lacks imagination and personality. Are we right? For Koreans, preparing instant ramyun (which is what Koreans call ramen) is the same way. Shin (which means “spicy” in Korean) is by far the most popular ramyun brand in South Korea and is eaten throughout the world. First introduced to the market in 1986, over 22 billion bags have been sold in over eighty countries. It is said that, on average, South Koreans eat eighty bags per person annually, which is a hell of a lot of instant noodles. With this, finding a consensus recipe for preparing the perfect bowl of Shin has proven impossible. What we do know is that following the standard package instructions is never OK just on its own. Possible additions include eggs, fish cakes, bok choy, American cheese, hot dogs, scallions, mushrooms, tofu, sriracha. These are all great ideas. Here is our way, which we think helps elevate the broth with the richness of egg and American cheese because . . . America! We also stand behind a fanning technique that we think creates the ideal texture for the noodles.
1 4.2-ounce package of Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup (includes noodles, vegetable mix and soup base)
1 slice of American or Cheddar cheese
Special equipment: 1 paper fan
1. Bring 2⅓ cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the soup base and vegetable mix from the ramyun package. Boil for 1 minute.
2. Add the whole block of noodle. Do not break the noodles in half! This is crucial. Submerge them in the boiling water with chopsticks or a fork. Once the noodles have softened, in about 2 minutes, lift the noodles out of the broth with chopsticks and fan them repeatedly for 2 minutes. (If you do not have a fan, or if you didn’t graduate from the first grade and don’t know how to make one out of scrap paper, your hand will do.) The flow of air will stunt the noodles’ cooking process, giving them a more al dente texture, which we can all agree is the best way to eat noodles. Yeah?
3. Place the noodles back in the boiling soup. Crack the egg and add it to the noodles. Cover the pot and boil for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. Add the slice of cheese and re-cover for 30 seconds so the cheese melts. Serve immediately.