Zha jiang mian with Japanese twists

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The presentation of this dish is a feast for the eyes, but before eating, mix all the elements together well.

By Naohiro Yoshida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKimio Nonaga, a chef at Japanese cuisine restaurant Nihonbashi Yukari in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, introduces zha jiang mian — a Beijing-style noodle with a stir-fried sauce of ground pork and fermented bean paste — by adding some Japanese twists such as using udon noodles instead of Chinese-style ones.

The key to Nonaga’s zha jiang mian is stirfired ground pork seasoned not just with tian mian jiang sweet bean sauce and the spicy version of dou ban jiang fermented bean sauce, but also with powdered sansho Japanese pepper as a finishing touch to give the meat even more aroma. The dish has a fine balance between salty-sweet and spicy flavors.

For the meat sauce, Nonaga uses not only the white part of naganegi long Welsh onions, but also the tougher green leafy part.

“The green part can be easy to eat when finely chopped and it has a good aroma,” he said. “The green color can also accent the meat better.”

First, in a frying pan on medium heat, stir the two Chinese sauces, ground pork, naganegi and ginger together, then allow to simmer.

Powdered sansho, a key ingredient for this dish, should be added only after the heat is turned off.

Though heat releases sansho’s aroma, when overcooked the scent dissipates.

Cucumbers help add a nice touch to the dish’s appearance and texture and should be cut into lengths that make them easy to eat in one mouthful when mixed with udon. They should also be cut into strips slightly thinner than the noodles to add a pleasant crunchy texture.

Nonaga also uses myoga Japanese ginger bud, which he described as “a condiment peculiar to Japanese cuisine for its distinctive tang.” Myoga is usually julienned, but Nonaga sliced it into rings to give the dish a contrast in shapes from the udon and cucumber.

Before eating, mix the udon with the sauce and toppings. The first bite hit me with the direct pungency of the powdered sansho in the seasoned ground pork. As I had more bites, I then tasted the salty-sweet flavor from tian mian jiang and dou ban jiang.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Powdered sansho pepper can come in green or brown versions.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Step 2

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Step 3

From the next moment, the pungency and salty-sweet flavors came one after another. The dish had such a sophisticated balance in its flavors while providing a powerful kick from the sansho.

Powdered sansho is fascinating for its biting flavor. Nonaga uses the spice as a condiment for strongly seasoned dishes, such as simmered fish and those with teriyaki sauce.

“Though sansho does not play a leading role, just a pinch of it creates a big presence,” the chef said. “Like a great supporting actor, something’s missing when it’s not there.”

For everyday use, Nonaga recommended brown versions made from pepper picked in a later harvest. Green ones are expensive but have a freshness and extra spiciness. Add sansho just before eating so that its aroma won’t dissipate.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 portions frozen udon noodles
300 grams ground pork
1 cucumber
70 grams naganegi long Welsh onion
4 myoga ginger buds
20 grams ginger
2 tbsp sugar
200 ml water
50 grams tian mian jiang
10 grams dou ban jiang
2 tbsp katakuriko potato starch
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 grams dashi broth powder
½ tsp powdered sansho
1 tbsp sesame oil

1. Cut off root end of naganegi before chopping. Peel ginger and chop.
2. Put sugar, water, tian mian jiang, dou ban jiang and katakuriko in frying pan. Mix well until everything dissolves. Add ground pork, naganegi, ginger and soy sauce. Heat ingredients and add dashi powder. When mixture comes to boil, simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. When liquid boils down to thick consistency, mix and turn off heat.
3. Add powdered sansho and sesame oil. Let sauce cool to room temperature, then place in refrigerator.
4. Cut off both ends of cucumber. Cut lengthwise in half before cutting each half into three. Then cut each piece into strips. Slice myoga into rings.
5. Boil udon according to instructions on package and cool them in cold water. Place each serving of noodles on plate. Add cucumber first, then sauce, before topping off with garnish of myoga.Speech

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