川味炸酱面 Szechuan style Zhajiang Mian
Tuesday homecooked lunch – 川味炸酱面 Szechuan style Zhajiang Mian. Many of us are accustomed to eating the 老北京炸酱面 Beijing version of Zhajiang Mian or better known as 京酱面 or even the Korean “Jajangmyeon” but not many might have tried the Szechuan version of this noodle dish which one ironically, may not be able to find in Sichuan China itself! This is only because it is an improvisation of the original form, cooked and sold by the KMT soldiers and their families from Sichuan who retreated with Chiang Kai Shek in the mass exodus from Mainland China to Taiwan in 1949.
Compared to the original form which tend to be 死咸 crazy salty, I take to this version a lot better and have been cooking it a lot at home since I’d had a taste of it at a local noodle deli in Taipei many many years back. While one can find the base of the original Zhajiang noodles for this Sichuan version as well, the latter is a lot more complex with the inclusion of spicy elements and also firm beancurd which lends variety to the protein content of this dish instead of being all meat. To cut through the rich and robust flavours of the sauce, zhajiang mian is customarily served with a range of finely julienned raw vegetables on the side called 菜码. Traditionally thes selection for 菜码 includes cucumber, leeks, beansprouts, peas and spring onions but for my homecooked rendition, I’d used whatever I have in the fridge, i.e. carrots and cucumber, not forgetting a generous sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and a lava egg on the side.
Prima facie, the meat sauce for this Szechuan style Zhajiang mian looks like 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu and indeed it does taste somewhat like it. However, compared to the latter dish which uses soft beancurd, firm taukwa is used for sauce of the noodle version. In Taiwan, the noodle stalls tend to use 卤豆干 braised beancurd which are nicely flavoured and brown but I used regular firm beancurd instead.
What is important is to cook the sauce a day before and allow it to steep in the red chili oil overnight for the flavours to mature and develop. It tastes really good the next day! Ingredients wise, apart from the regular ground pork or chicken, the rest is pretty much up to one’s individual preference. It is really a case of what is available in one’s pantry or fridge, or importantly, what is available cheaply in the market that day hence giving rise to the other name of this dish, “杂酱面”. Vegetable food scraps from other dishes, e.g. broccoli stalks or the hard stems of cabbage can also be added. I’d eaten versions with Chinese radish aka daikon added as well which had been cooked down until it is so soft yet flavourful having soaked up the very essence of the sauce. Apart from the usual concoction of spicy bean paste and sweet bean paste, I’d added spicy beancurd (豆腐乳) and toasted szechuan peppercorn as well for that slight numbing effect reminiscent of eating 麻辣锅 mala hotpot. Very shiok!
川味炸酱面 Szechuan style Zhajiang Mian Recipe
300-400g minced pork (can be substituted with chicken)
2 pieces firm beancurd, cut into small cubes
2 medium bombay onion, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and cut into small cubes (saving mushroom soaking water)
1 large Japanese cucumber, cut into small cubes (can be replaced with other vegetables like daikon, broccoli or kaikan stalk, hard stem of cabbage etc. Read above)
2 tbsp spicy beanpaste (辣豆瓣酱）
2 tbsp Szechuan spicy chili paste (老干妈辣酱)
2 tbsp sweet sauce or hoisin sauce (甜面酱或海鲜酱)
1 piece of spicy fermented beancurd (辣豆腐乳）
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 tsp black sesame oil
1-2 tsp ground toasted szechuan peppercorn (花椒粉)
1 tbsp salted blackbeans (黑豆豉)
2-3 chili padi, coarsely chopped (朝天椒）
1 tbsp sugar
water as needed
For garnishing and sides, 1 medium Japanese cucumber, 1 medium carrot and 2 sprigs spring onions, finely julienned, toasted sesame seeds (optional) and lava egg (optional)
4-5 portions of noodles, either fresh or dried (I’d used Prima Taste Wholemeal La Mian which worked well for this dish)
To a heated wok, add oil followed by diced onion, and saute until translucent and fragrant.
Add minced pork and use a spatula to break up into very small chunks. Panfry until lightly brown.
Add minced garlic and saute with the rendered pork fat until aromatic.
Add all the remaining ingredients except sesame oil and the ones for garnishing. Stir fry until all the ingredients are uniformly coated with sauce.
Add sufficient water to cover all the ingredients and bring to a boil before turning down flame to a simmer.
Cover and cook under medium-low heat for 20-30 min until all the ingredients are nicely flavoured and thoroughly cooked.Stir briefly a couple of times during the cooking.
Remove cover and add sesame oil. Stirfry slightly to reduce and thicken the sauce. **
While the sauce is reducing, begin the cooking of the noodles.
Taste the sauce and adjust with more salt, sugar or spicy bean sauce to one’s own preference if required.
When the noodles are cooked, drain and place in a serving bowl. Scoop a generous ladle of Szechuan style Zhajiang sauce over the top and garnish with julienned carrots, cucumber, lava egg and toasted sesame seeds.