learning chinese cooking from the best: zha jiang mian

A happy consequence of spending time with my mother-in-law is continuing to learn her recipes. During my last few visits to the Bay Area, I had zha jiang mian on my brain. It’s what I consider to be Chinese comfort food. My husband loves it, my brother-in-law makes it regularly for my nieces, who love it, we eat it at family gatherings, and everyone loves it. Zha jiang mian is universally loved in the family. 

The dish of chewy noodles with a rich, meaty sauce is one of those dishes that you don’t really need to mess with too much. I call it Chinese spaghetti, but it really is so much more. The name zha jian mian means fried sauce noodles, and is a speciality of Beijing, but can also be found throughout China. There’s even a Korean rift of the dish, which in my opinion pales in comparison to the Chinese version.  But I suppose you could say that I’m a bit biased.

My kitchen notes

I encourage you to be generous with your veggie toppings. The rich and salty meat sauce mixed with the cold vegetables is a refreshing and balanced combination.

There are three items in zha jiang mian that will need to be sourced in an Asian market or online.

Shao Xing wine is easily found in Asian markets.

Dou ban jiang is a seasoning sauce made with fermented fava beans and chile. It comes in a sealed plastic bag (pictured below) or in a jar. Dou ban jian can also can be ordered online.

Tian mian jiang (sweet bean sauce or sweet flour sauce) can be found in Asian markets. It’s not hoisin sauce, nor is it black been sauce. These three brands pictured below are the most common I’ve found in stores. Tian mian jiang can also can be ordered online. 

I like to use Wu-Mu brand noodles, but you can use whatever you prefer. Spaghetti noodles can be substituted if you prefer flour to rice noodles.

Zha Jiang Mian

2-inch knob of ginger, about 2 tablespoons

6 cloves garlic

4 green onions

1-2 shallots

1/4 cup grape seed or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons Shao Xing cooking wine, plus 2 additional tablespoons (see my kitchen notes)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 pound ground pork

1 tablespoon dou ban jiang (fermented fava bean sauce) (see my kitchen notes)

1/2 cup tian mian jiang (sweet flour sauce) (see my kitchen notes)

1 tablespoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup water

Cilantro leaves (for topping)

Cucumbers, thinly sliced (for topping)

Bean sprouts (for topping)

Apple cider vinegar (for mixing into the noodles after serving)

Noodles (see my kitchen notes)

Directions

  1. Slice green onions and mince ginger, garlic and shallot.

2. In a bowl, add ground pork, 2 tablespoons Shao Xing wine and soy sauce. Mix to combine.

3. Heat wok or high-sided pan on medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup grape seed or vegetable oil to pan.

4. Add ginger, garlic and shallot to pan. Let cook for 2 minutes. Lower heat and add sliced green onions.

5. Add ground pork and bring heat to medium. Let cook, stirring constantly so flavors thoroughly meld and pork is cooked. About 10 minutes.

6. With a slotted spoon, remove ground pork mixture from pan. Set aside in a bowl. Leave remaining oil in the pan.

7. Turn heat to low, add 1 tablespoon of dou ban jiang (fermented fava bean sauce), 1/2 cup of tian mian jiang (sweet flour sauce) and remaining 2 tablespoons of Shao Xing wine to pan and stir to combine.

8. Add 1 tablespoon ground pepper and 2 tablespoons sugar to mixture. Stir to combine.

9. Add 1/4 cup water. At this point the consistency should be thick.

10. Add pork mixture back to the pan. Combine and let simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

11. While pork mixture is simmering, prepare noodles according to package directions.

12. Transfer noodles to individual bowls. Top each bowl with pork mixture. Garnish with sliced cucumbers, cilantro and bean sprouts.

13. Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to individual bowls. Mix into noodles and enjoy.

 

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