Korean-style Fried Sweet Potato Noodles

This unique noodle dish is usually an instant favorite with anyone who tries it for the first time. The slightly sweet sesame flavor is familiar enough to encourage new tasters to keep eating, despite the unusual texture of the sweet potato noodles. The noodles, called Harusame in Japanese, look like the more ubiquitous bean thread noodles, but are much thicker and retain a chewy mouthfeel even when fully cooked. When combined with slivers of tender beef, shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms, spinach or other greens (we’ve used watercress and bok choy as well), carrots, and garlic, and fried in dark toasted sesame oil, chap chae makes a wonderful and absolutely luscious dish that is equally good at room temperature as it is warm. It is perfect picnic food (maybe for next year’s Hanami?) and a welcome and “exotic” addition to any buffet.

I don’t claim this is an authentic Korean recipe. It is adapted from a recipe by Chef Ken Hom which we originally tried 11 years ago.

One caveat: If harusame noodles are refrigerated after cooking, the noodles harden and become unpalatable — but they are easily restored if you sprinkle them with water and re-heat thoroughly in microwave, preferably on 75% power for about 1 minute. You may want to stir the noodles halfway through the re-heating time and return to microwave. You can also re-fry or steam the chap chae to return the noodles to their soft and chewy goodness.

KOREAN-STYLE FRIED SWEET POTATO NOODLES (Chap Chae)
Evolved from a recipe by Ken Hom
Serves 4-6 persons when served alone.

Beef Marinade:
2 TBL. sesame oil
pinch of sea salt
½ tsp. raw sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
4-6 oz. beef sirloin, thinly sliced into thin strips
(Look in Japanese, Korean or other Asian markets for meats already sliced for sukiyaki or shabu shabu)

Combine beef, with marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate at least 45 minutes, and up to 2 hours.

Cooking Sauce:
3 TBL. soy sauce
½ cup toasted sesame oil
3 tsp. raw sugar
sea salt

Combine all ingredients for Cooking Sauce, stirring to dissolve most of the sugar. Set aside.

2 TBL. oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch long julienne
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 40 minutes
2 whole pieces black fungus (aka wood ear or mok yee), soaked in water 1 hour
1 pound baby spinach, watercress, or trimmed baby bok choy (photos show bok choy)
3 TBL. sesame oil
1 tsp. raw sugar
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds

1 lb. dried sweet potato starch noodles, harusame

Place the dried noodles in a large bowl or non-aluminum pot with water to cover. Allow them to rehydrate for about 1 hour. Do not drain until just before cooking.

Remove shiitake from soaking water, squeeze dry and remove stem. Cut caps into thin strips — you may want to cut individual slices in half lengthwise, depending on how thick the caps are and your personal preference. (Note: If you already have Seasoned Braised Shiitake Caps, you can use them here for an especially flavorful addition to this entree)

Remove black fungus from its soaking liquid (It will have quadrupled in size!). Cut out hard center point. Julienne.

Over medium high heat, heat 2 TBL. oil in a wok or large skillet. Add garlic, sea salt to taste, and marinated beef, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add carrots and two fungi along with Cooking Sauce, increase heat to high and stir together for another 2 minutes. Add spinach or other greens and continue stir-frying until greens just wilt, about 1 minute more. Transfer to serving plate, keeping any juices or liquid that may be in skillet.

In the same wok or skillet, without cleaning, add last 3 TBL sesame oil and 1 tsp raw sugar, and turn heat down to medium high. Add soaked and drained harusame (some water clinging to the noodles is okay, it will help the noodles cook), and stir well to coat with oil. Continue stirring and frying until the noodles start to become translucent and to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Return stir-fried vegetables and meat to the skillet, along with all accumulated liquid in plate. Stir all ingredients through, and cook until noodles soften completely, about 4-5 minutes more. If noodles look dry, drizzle sesame oil around edges of wok and stir through. Continue stir-frying until noodles are cooked evenly through. Test for noodle doneness: texture becomes chewy and color changes from opaque to slightly transparent.

Add half the scallions and stir through. Remove from heat, sprinkle with 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds and mix through. Return to serving plate, garnish with more sesame seeds and remaining scallions.

You can enjoy these noodles on their own or make it part of a multi-course meal. When we have this for dinner, I like to have a bowl of plain white rice and a side of kimchi, while T skips the rice completely (but never the kimchi).