The name of this dish, zhajiang mian, causes us great distress. Who would want to eat noodles with a sauce that was deep-fried? Is it even possible to deep-fry a sauce? Even if it were physically plausible, would it be very appetizing after you somehow got a sauce out of scaldingly hot oil? “Deep-fried sauce” is just plain wrong and simply misleading. Perhaps it was used to elicit shock? It worked. The sauce is actually stir-fried and delicious. So, why not call it “Stir-Fried Sauce” or chaojiang? It’s curious and a little more than hilarious.
We’ve asked many an expert on food etymology this very set of questions. A while back in Beijing, we were fortunate enough to meet with Chen Xiaoqing, the Director of the award-winning documentary series called A Bite of China, which appeared on China Central Television. If you’re into food on film, watch this series. It will change the way you think about going out for Chinese. But, we digress. Mr. Chen brought us to a well-known Michelin-starred duck restaurant and ordered the chef’s take on traditional street foods.
We had the perfect opportunity to ask our deep-fried question when zhajiang noodles came to the table! Mr. Chen, when we inquired about the naming oddity, echoed what our archaeologist buddy Qu Feng always says about Chinese food etymology: “Most people don’t see individual characters anymore. They just know the dish name and forget that it sounds weird, and it does when you think about it too much.” We do think about things too much. This dish is divine.
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Serves: 6–8
- ½ lb ground pork
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 1 inch ginger, peeled, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
- 4 Tbsp sweet bean sauce (tianmianjiang) or hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp Chinese black vinegar
- 2 Tbsp mushroom or other dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1¼ cup chicken broth or broth from Jirou Tang (Chicken Soup)
- ½ lb Chinese wheat noodles, spaghetti, or other long noodle
- 2 cucumbers, shredded
- 5 red radishes, shredded
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 6 oz edamame, blanched, shelled
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- In a mixing bowl, thoroughly mix pork, salt, pepper, ginger, and garlic. Set aside and cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse the noodles and set aside.
- Add oil to a skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the marinated pork mixture and sauté for 4–5 minutes, or until all of the meat is cooked through. Stir in sweet bean or hoisin, vinegar, and soy sauce, and continue to sauté for 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and chicken broth or water. Stir this mixture into the skillet, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Evenly distribute noodles into bowls. Then top with some sauce from the skillet, followed by the garnishes. Suggest that guests mix it all together before enjoying.
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