Zha Jiang Noodles – Minced Pork in Bean Sauce with Wheat Noodles cooked in a Bellini Kitchen Master
I’ve eaten variations of this dish many times at Chinese restaurants but it’s known by different English names. The English names of Chinese dishes can be quite creative due to multiple possible translations, context, symbolic names, literal names, and plain old second language challenges. I’ve seen this dish listed on menus as Noodles with Ground Pork and Bean Sauce, Noodles with Bean Paste Meat Sauce, Pork with Brown Sauce Noodles, Fried Sauce Noodles, and any number of variations on the common themes of pork, noodles, and (bean) sauce.
Sometimes the menu skips the English translation entirely and the dish is phonetically named as Zha Jiang Mian (via Mandarin phonetics) or perhaps Jah Jeung Mien (Cantonese phonetics). If we translate the Chinese name then the “zha” or “jah” means fried, “jiang” or “jeung” means paste, and “mian” or “mien” means “noodles”. There you have it, fried paste noodles. Not very helpful right? Regardless of what the dish is called, if I order correctly then I will get thick wheat noodles (usually fresh or even made in-house) topped with pork (usually ground but sometimes roughly chopped) cooked in a fermented soybean bean sauce and often garnished with raw cucumber. The sauce is meaty and flavourful, full of umami from the fermented bean. The noodles are thick and chewy, and the cucumbers add a cooling contrast in flavour and texture. It’s one of my go-to dishes when dining at Northern style Chinese restaurants.
Sometimes Chinese people really like the flowery metaphorical names and sometimes they take things to the efficient extreme. I find this frustrating and fascinating at the same time. Since I’m a first generation Canadian born Chinese, I grew up speaking the language fairly fluently and was exposed to more of the culture than some of my peers who are 2nd, 3rd, etc. generation. However, I can’t read or write in Chinese and this can make things a little interesting when it comes to eating out and cooking recipes. In the absence of an easily accessible Chinese grandma, I turned to the Internet and a small stack of cookbooks.
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of recipe variation to something that’s called “fried sauce noodles” but the simplicity of the dish works in its favour. Restaurant dishes are often different to what you make at home but I was able to at least replicate the taste quite closely. In a restaurant, the frying of the sauce would be done over very high heat in a wok. At home, it’s normally cooked in a frying pan or sauce pan but it’s also very easy to make using a Bellini Kitchen Master. Since most of the work is in the making of the sauce, it’s very handy to have the Bellini do the stirring and cooking.
The challenge with this dish was settling on a recipe and figuring out what the key ingredients in the pork sauce were. In the end, I condensed and amalgamated the most common aspects of what I found online and in books. I wanted a very simple and minimalistic dish that was primarily sauce and noodles. So while many recipes called for various vegetables (i.e. bean sprouts, cabbage, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, celery), I omitted everything except for the classic cucumbers.
As for the pork sauce, I wanted it to be intense and flavourful since it’s mixed with a hearty amount of noodles. But “bean sauce” is a very generic term for an ingredient and not the easiest thing to find on an Asian grocery shelf unless you know exactly what to look for. Reading the list of ingredients on a jar often doesn’t help either but The Woks of Life, Goons with Spoons, Hapa Mama, Soy Rice Fire, and Christine’s Recipes were quite helpful. Interestingly, sometimes the Chinese characters differed or there were different numbers of characters. This may be due to simplified versus academic characters or perhaps the name has changed slightly over time. In the end, I found what I needed at the store through a combination of pictures and Chinese character matching.
Sweet Bean Sauce or Sweet Bean Paste (甜面酱) is a pureed sauce of soybeans plus added sugar, garlic and sesame oil. It’s similar to hoisin sauce in flavour, but saltier. It’s sometimes known as bean sauce.
Bean Sauce or Bean Paste (磨原豉) is made from salty fermented soybeans that are leftover from the making of soy sauce. The soybeans are mixed with wheat flour, sugar and salt to make a thick paste. The sauce can be smooth (aka Ground Bean Sauce) or with pieces of soybean still visible. It’s sometimes known as yellow bean sauce (since soybeans are yellow), brown bean sauce, bean paste, or soybean paste. It’s very salty and has a strong fermented bean flavour (think miso paste but even stronger).
While I’m fairly certain that I found the right bean sauces, I’m not 100% sure that they’re “authentic” for Zha Jiang Noodles but I hope I did my ancestors proud for trying. At any rate, all of the ingredients are authentically Chinese to my own personal palate and the dish is now one of my quick and easy dinner options.
Zha Jiang Noodles – Minced Pork in Bean Sauce with Wheat Noodles
Minced Pork in Bean Sauce
- 8g (2 tsp) vegetable oil
- 12g (1 Tbsp, ~3 cloves) garlic, finely minced
- 12g (1 Tbsp) ginger, peeled and very finely minced
- 454g (1 lb) ground pork
- 50g (¼ cup) ground bean paste
- 70g (¼ cup) sweet bean paste
- 8g (1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
- 1g (½ tsp) ground pepper
- 10g (2 tsp) sesame oil
- 11g (4 tsp) cornstarch
- 60g – 125g (¼ cup – ½ cup) vegetable or meat stock, or water
- 550g fresh wheat noodles (also known as thick Shanghai wheat noodles)
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 20g (½ cup) of sliced green onions
- 130g (1 cup) of julienned cucumbers
Notes for success
- The mixing bowl needs to be scraped a few times during the cooking process for the pork sauce, as per the instructions below. Ground pork can get stuck between the base of the mixer bowl and the stirring blades.
- The pork sauce can easily be made ahead for up to several days and stored in the refrigerator. Similar to meat stews, soups and pasta sauces, the pork sauce’s flavours will integrate together if stored overnight.
- The noodles can be found in the refrigerator section of a local Asian grocery store.
- The pork sauce is quite strongly flavoured and salty if it’s tasted on its own but it’s meant to be mixed with a generous amount of noodles.
- The lid must be firmly locked into place before the Bellini mixer will function. If the lid is secured in place but the ‘bowl lid is open’ indicator is still on, firmly push the lid down onto the top of the handle. You may hear a slight clicking sound, and the indicator will disappear.
- It takes about a minute for the Bellini bowl to come up to temperature. Keep this in mind when using the supplied recipes. Err on the side of less cooking time and check on the food’s progress every so often, at least until you get a feel for how it performs relative to cooking the same thing on the stovetop.
- Removing the measuring cup/cap from the lid while ingredients cook allows steam and moisture to escape, and prevents the contents from getting too hot or pressurized.
- Insert the Stirring Blade into the mixer bowl and fit it into the base.
- Add vegetable oil to the mixer bowl and heat it at 100C at speed 1 with the timer set to 4 minutes. Start the mixer and allow the vegetable oil to heat for 1 minute, then remove the measuring cup/cap from the lid and add the ginger and garlic for the remaining 3 minutes.
- Add the ground pork and cook it at speed 1 at 100C for 6 minutes. Remove the lid and scrape the pork down the sides and under the stirring blades.
- Cook the ground pork at speed 1 at 100C for an additional 6 minutes. The pork should be fully cooked and the juices bubbling. Scrape down the sides and under the stirring blades again.
- Add both bean pastes, the sugar, pepper, and sesame oil to the mixer bowl.
- Cook the mixture at 100C at speed 1 for 3 minutes.
Note the amount of liquid that is already in the mixer bowl.
- Remove the lid from the mixer bowl and scrape down the sides and the bottom. Check the amount of liquid in the bowl. If a lot of liquid came out of the pork, then only use ¼ cup of stock in the recipe. If there is not much liquid, then use the full ½ cup of stock.
- Place the stock and the cornstarch in a small bowl. Gently stir them together to form a cloudy slurry, with no cornstarch left on the bottom of the bowl.
- Place the lid back onto the mixer bowl and set the Bellini to 80C at speed 1 for 10 minutes. Start the machine running, then add the cornstarch slurry mixture through the hole in the lid. The sauce will thicken and start to bubble as it cooks.
- While the pork sauce is cooking, start a large pot of water boiling on the stovetop for the noodles.
- After the 10 minute cooking time for the pork sauce, check the sauce’s consistency. It should be slightly thickened and not watery. If the sauce is still too runny, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and cook at 80C at speed 1 for a few minutes longer.
- Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Fresh noodles should only take a few minutes to cook through.
- Drain the noodles well and toss them with the ½ tsp of sesame oil.
- Evenly divide the noodles between serving bowls and top each with a generous amount of pork sauce. Garnish each bowl with the julienned cucumbers and green onions.
- Serve immediately and stir well before eating.