Nine and a half years ago, I posted my first recipe for japchae. I am now retiring that recipe because this one is so much better. This time, I used all the traditional ingredients including a hefty amount of spinach leaves.
My first memory of japchae was at Kopi Tiam in Quezon City. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it. The spelling for the English name varies—japchae, jabchae. cahpchae or chapchee—but I knew that I was hooked after the first mouthful.
I don’t often cook japchae at home. The sheer amount of work is mind-numbing and, although the cooking time should be no more than half an hour, it gets doubled with all the picture-taking. But this is one recipe that needs a step-by-step guide for cooks who have never tried it before. It’s easy to get lost with so many ingredients and so many steps. But, trust me, after all the work, the look of satisfaction on everyone’s face makes everything worth it.
Japchae is cooked with Korean vermicelli. It’s darker and thicker than other Southeast Asian vermicelli. With Korean cuisine gaining traction the world over, you will find Korean vermicelli in the Asian section of most groceries. If there’s a Korean grocery in your neighborhood, the better.
Japchae (jabchae, chapchae or chapchee), a Korean noodle dish
For the sauce
- 6 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 6 tablespoons sugar
The noodles and meat
- 250 grams Korean vermicelli (dry weight)
- 300 grams thinly sliced beef sukiyaki cut beef is really great
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
For the vegetables
For stir frying
- 5 tablespoons vegetable cooking oil divided
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic divided
- 3 to 4 cups spinach leaves blanched and squeezed (I measured after blanching and squeezing)
- 3 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds divided
- 2 eggs
- toasted sesame seeds
- This is a stir fried dish. After cooking the noodles, the rest of the steps are short and fast. You will need to prepare all the ingredients and components ahead of time. For more tips, read stir frying basics.
- Start by making the sauce. Stir all the ingredients together until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Boil about a liter and a half of water in a pot. Drop in the noodles, pressing them down into the hot water. When the water starts boiling once more, lower the heat, cover the pot and let the noodles simmer for seven to eight minutes.
- Drain the noodles and dump into a bowl of iced water. This will stop the cooking and prevent the noodles from turning soggy. Let the noodles sit in the cold water for a few minutes then drain once more.
- Pour half of the sauce over the noodles and toss to distribute evenly. Leave to allow the noodles soak up the flavors.
- Cut the beef into strips about half an inch thick. Place in a bowl. Pour in the rice wine and the remaining sauce. Mix well.
- Julienne the carrot and bell pepper (see tips).
- Thinly slice the onion and mushroom caps.
- Cut the scallions into one-inch lengths.
- Heat one tablespoon of cooking oil in a wok. Mix the beef once more to make sure that all the sauce sticks to it. Spread on the hot oil. Sprinkle in half of the minced garlic. Stir fry for four to five minutes. Scoop out and move to a bowl.
- Heat another tablespoon of oil in the wok. Add the carrot, bell pepper, mushrooms, sliced onion, scallions and the remaining minced garlic. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Stir fry for about two minutes. Scoop out and move to a plate.
- Heat another tablespoon of oil in the wok. Spread the blanched and squeezed spinach leaves on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in salt, pepper and a teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds. Stir fry for a minute. Scoop out and transfer to a bowl.
- Heat another tablespoon of cooking oil. Dump in the noodles. Sprinkle in a teaspoonful of toasted sesame seeds. Stir fry until the noodles are heated through.
- Add the stir fried vegetables to the noodles. Toss to distribute evenly.
- Add the beef and remaining teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds to the noodles and vegetables. Toss to distribute.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs with salt and pepper.
- Heat the last tablespoon of cooking oil in a clean pan. Pour in the beaten eggs. Cook until set. Roll up and move to a chopping board. Slice thinly.
- Garnish the japchae with the egg and more toasted sesame seeds.