A slight groan from the ancient steel lined box jolted to a thump before the doors slowly squeaked opened to release its passengers, 6th floor. Just beyond the construction area marked with signs fronting layers of large plastic sheeting gave way to the corridor with swinging doors on each side of the aisle.
Upon entry on the left, echoing off the hard tile floors, the bustling noise of familiar sounds boomed; pots clanging, plates clanking, the loud spray of water hitting the interior of the deep industrial sized stainless steel square, rinsing, rinsing, rinsing, bright white starchy grains clinking inside the giant sized pot before draining, the pound of 2 automatic cookers on the shiny metal side counter whose steaming contents would produce a key feature to the weekly meal preparations over the next ten weeks. Welcome to the Korean Cuisine class at Drexel University, a culinary, cultural, journey in collaboration with the Korean Government through The Research and Development Project for the Standardization of Korean Cuisine.
Giant sized grey restaurant tubs lined the central area on the pushed together long wood chopping block and stainless tables stuffed with bountiful arrays of fresh and dry ingredients, those required in the preparation of Korean food and readied for the categorical focus of the day planned through the cookbook: “The Beauty of Korean Food: 100 Best-Loved Recipes.” Set a top the weekly community prep and gathering area lay a stack of stapled print sheets providing historical, cultural information, carefully matching the day’s preparations, and meant to be studied for upcoming quizzes and required papers. Shortly thereafter, Chef Instructor, John Boswell, offers a brief overview and, desired cooking hours for completion. The frenzy of activity begins. Rapidly choosing and gathering products for each among the designated choices.
Today we prepare Noodle Dishes including, Japchae, Korean ‘Potato Starch Noodles Stir-Fried with Vegetables.’ I feel rather confident on this dish having prepared it on a number of occasions at home, but I stick to serious concentration as first required is the race of rapidly sifting through caged plastic bins for needed utensils lodged by the window of the professional kitchen, gathering dishware, procuring needed plate ware, stashing stainless bowls of varying sizes, fry pans, stock pots, matching lids, strainers, making improvisations as necessary. Does anyone have the sesame oil? My partners name is Emily, a marketing major graduating at the end of the semester. While collecting (sometimes snatching) our necessities, we divvy up the tasks. Some motions in those weeks resembled something of a ‘Master Chef’ production, one more hour chefs, half hour chefs, fifteen minutes chefs, times up. Place your completed dishes on the tables.
There is much to learn in any cuisine, even in 5 hours every week for ten weeks. And much to enjoy too, as the pushed together tables lining the central area completely transform to rows and rows of finished dishes, beautifully displayed for sharing together family style. Helping ourselves from the stack of empty plates we grasp some chopsticks and spoons before scooping from finished platters, tasting, savoring, and discussing the processes and outcomes of our delicious Korean food creations. The book suits well. Ah, the Beauty of Korean Food.
And in between the hard work and learning, ( BTW, that’s Monica and Taylor just above. Monica, on the left writes the blog monznomz also documenting her Drexel Korean Culinary Adventures of last fall and she can also be found on Instagram @monznoomz. Taylor, to the right, another Drexel student, frequently indulges in all sorts of foods found in the Philly area from food trucks to restaurants, featuring them on Instagram @FeastinginPhilly.)
class members shared a special bonding, friendships of sorts. The mix of students, where they came from, what they studied, their nationalities, were nearly as diverse as the strands of Potato Starch Noodles. That’s my buddy Choe in the black hat above. Turns out Choe grew up with Jimmy Yang, father of Margaret, best childhood friend of my eldest daughter, Sooky. It’s still a small world.
The Potato Starch Noodles for Japchae have a gentle chewy consistency, they easily cook in lots of boiling water for 8-10 minutes. You can find them at any Korean Market or International Grocer. Think of the dish as sort of a Korean Pasta Salad, individually prepping and seasoning each of the ingredients then blending it all together to create one beautiful Korean dish.
The seasoned beef addition is like adding Korean BBQ, Bulgogi, to the dish, and I’ve yet to meet many folks trying Bulgogi who didn’t agree the flavor knocks your socks off. Hence, it is also the dish frequently first introduced in Korean food, causing many to venture into the territory of Kimchi, and as we all know, once you adjust to the flavor of kimchi, there is no turning back, it becomes a craving.
Some ingredients added to this version of a Korean Pasta Salad are common, carrots, spinach, onion, scallions, and then, you soak some Asian style black mushrooms, also referred to as Pigs ears, they become sort of floppy, almost like a soaked seaweed consistency, also there are dried shiitakes, and on the far right you have what are mostly labeled in the Asian mushroom section as just plain ‘dried mushrooms,’ resembling a dried crimini.
Once you’ve cooked your noodles and before you toss them into the skillet of the warmed seasoning sauce, you’ll want to clip them with kitchen shears to more manageable bite sized pieces, for Japchae noodles are very, very long, sort of like today’s post.
Oh well. Please forgive my over- enthusiasm, I’m sure by now you’ve gathered my pleasure in my ‘going back to college’ experience of last fall. In the weeks ahead I plan to share more Korean dishes with you and hope my step by step directions will make it easy for you to follow along. But to begin, we have Japchae, Korean Potato Starch Noodles Stir-Fried with Vegetables, one dish in a Korean Cuisine Journey at Drexel University.
- 12 ounce bag potato starch noodles (sometimes labeled as "Oriental Noodles" at Asian markets)
- 8-10 ounces thinly sliced top round beef or rib eye patted dry with paper towels then cut iinto thin strips ( this cut of meat is located in the meat section at Asian markets)
- 6 dried black mushrooms (also referred to as 'ear' mushrooms)
- 6 Asian plain dried mushrooms (resembling a dried crimini mushroom)
- 6-8 shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried
- 1-2 cups fresh bean sprouts, sauce and instructions below
- 8-10 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 2 carrots peeled, cut into thin, even sized, julienne
- 1 onion, cut in half then cut from base of root to end thin half moon shape
- 5 scallions, thinly sliced lengthwise then cut in half
- 2 cups fresh spinach, washed well, drained
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon sesame salt, more or less to taste
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- pinch ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1. Soak dried mushrooms in enough hot water to cover for around an hour.
- 2. Prepare sauce for the noodles in a small bowl, set aside.
- 3. Prepare sauce for meat in a medium sized glass bowl, stir throughout with the beef strips, cover, set aside to marinate for at least one hour or more.
- 4. Drop bean sprouts into a pot of boiling water, cook around a minute, drain, dry slightly, patting with a paper towel then mix with the sesame oil and salt, set aside.
- 5. On low heat, add 2-3 tablespoons of the oil to a large size skillet, tumble in carrots and onions, cooking until just tender to the bite, around 8 minutes, add the scallion strips, cook another 2 minutes, remove from heat, transfer vegetables to a long casserole dish large enough to hold all ingredients for the finished Japchae.
- 6. Wipe out the vegetable skillet, add another 2 tablespoons oil and saute spinach on low heat until wilted and cooked, drain spinach, cool, squeeze out any liquid, chop, then toss with the other vegetables in the large casserole dish, stir in seasoned bean sprouts.
- 7. Again wipe out skillet adding another 2 tablespoons oil and if using fresh shiitakes cook on medium high heat for around 3-4 minutes until the nutty flavor emerges, remove from heat, cool, add to vegetables in casserole dish.
- 8. Pat dry soaked dried mushrooms, chop the black (ear mushrooms,) thinly slice the Asian dried mushrooms, including dried shiitakes if using instead of fresh, add another 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and saute mushrooms on medium heat until cooked through, a few minutes or longer, cool, stir into the casserole dish.
- 9. Prepare a large pasta pot of salted boiling water. Meanwhile, wipe out the skillet, adding in a few tablespoons oil and fry the seasoned beef on medium heat, around five minutes until cooked through and beginning to slightly caramelize from the sugar. Remove beef from heat, let cool a bit then toss with the vegetables.
- 10. Drop Japchae noodles into the boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes until tender to the bite, drain, rinse well with lots of cold water. Use kitchen scissors to cut the long noodles into bite sized pieces.
- 11. Wipe out the large skillet for the final time and on medium low heat pour in the Sauce for the Noodles, warm gently before adding in the cooked noodles and carefully stirring throughout, then tumble in all of the ingredients in the casserole dish constantly tossing and incorporating the ingredients for a couple of minutes until the Japchae ingredients are evenly well blended.
- 12. Transfer finished Japchae back to the casserole dish for serving. Go through and cut any remaining noodles that might be too long. Serve straight away. Japchae may also be covered with plastic wrap and later served at room temperature. Japchae is generally best when served on the day of preparation as the noodles tend to harden up a bit upon refrigeration.