Allright, before I tell you about these noodles I need to explain about Pucca.
Pucca is a South Korean cartoon featuring the unbearably cute main character, Pucca, (pictured over there–see her?) who is the daughter of the chef of a noodle restaurant in tiny Sooga Village. The animation is somewhat South Parkesque, with the kind of chase sequences that Chuck Jones made famous in his Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. The humor is bizarre, physical and sometimes very potty–with lots and lots of pop culture references from Bruce Lee to Iron Chef to Sergio Leone.
The main thrust of the series is that Pucca is in love with Garu, who is a young ninja, and she is constantly chasing him around trying to steal kisses. That is about it–everything else flows from that premise.
It is a great deal of fun, and you can watch various episodes on You Tube–just look up Pucca and you will be in business.
Zak discovered Pucca somewhere on the Internet and then found and picked up a bunch of DVD’s of the television series, which is amazingly popular not only in Korea, but all over Asia and Europe. It is also very well loved in our house, especially with Kat and Zak. She has taken to playing at being either Pucca or Garu, wanting to chase or be chased depending on which role she will play. It is very cute–she runs around the house, saying, “Me Garu, me Garu!” which is the signal for one of us to say, “Pucca loves Garu,” and to chase her. The chase ends with kisses, giggles and tickles, and then starts again, and we do this over and over, through the dining room, down the hall, into the kitchen and back again.
As for the noodles–well, the restaurant where Pucca has grown up is famous for za jiang noodles–a traditional Chinese dish that is exceedingly popular in South Korea, so much so that the Korean variants are probably as well known as the original now. It consists of wheat noodles served with a meaty sauce of minced pork and fermented bean paste, garnished with blanched vegetables and herbs.
This version I am presenting here has mostly local ingredients–ramps gathered from the woods here in Athens county, bok choi by Green Edge Gardens, the last of the winter’s store of local carrots, honey from Athens, chicken broth from local chickens, garlic from last fall, local small farm pork, scallions and cilantro from down the road, and Rossi Pasta noodles from Marietta, Ohio. Only the Asian condiments are from elsewhere–fermented black beans, bean sauce, and Shao Hsing wine from China, and fermented bean paste from Korea. The ginger was from California, and the sesame oil is also Chinese. Oh, and I forgot, I garnished it with my very own chili garlic paste, that I made from my own Thai chilies.
A vegetarian version of this noodle dish using minced up mushrooms and tofu can be found here for those who prefer vegetables with their noodles, or those who do not have local, small farm pork available and who do not want to support CAFOs where pigs are kept in horrible conditions, conditions which may have contributed to the recent Swine flu epidemic in Mexico and the rest of the world. (You knew I had to mention that, didn’t you?)
Anyway, this is a delicious, quick supper that can be as spicy as you like, as diners can add more chili garlic sauce at the end to each individual noodle bowl in order to customize the flavor to their own palate. You can add more vegetables if you like–blanched bean sprouts would rule, as would shredded snow peas or napa cabbage. If you can eat shellfish, you could add minced dried shrimp or some fresh shrimp, cut in half longitudinally, and they would be delicious. In the summer, you could add halved fresh grape tomatoes, and I bet they would taste outstanding, as well as put some of Pucca’s signature color–red–into the dish.
So, I bet you are wondering how well did Kat and Zak like Pucca Noodles?
They loved them, which was not surprising to me. They both ate big bowls of them, and then Kat came and started begging for tidbits out of my bowl. The fermented bean pastes add a deep, umami flavor, redolent of the earth, while the fresh ramps, scallions and cilantro add notes of green garlicky, oniony goodness. These Chinese/Korean/Appalachian noodles are truly satisfying and soul-stirring for even the hardest of hearts and pickiest of appetites.
They liked them so much that even though we had them for dinner night before last, they asked for them for dinner again tonight!
Oh, and one more thing–you can serve this sauce with cooked and drained rice noodles if you like. I bet it would be good tossed with bean thread noodles, too.
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon bacon drippings (optional)
2 bunches scallions, white part only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fermented black soybeans
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons ground black bean sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Korean fermented bean paste
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water or the broth
1 1/2 cups julienned carrots, blanched and cooled
2 cups bok choy cut into thin shreds
2 cups ramps, cut into thin shreds
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pound flat Chinese wheat noodles, cooked al dente and drained, rinsed in cold water, then drained again
2 bunches scallions, green tops only, cut very thinly on the bias
1/2 cup thinly shredded ramp leaves
chili garlic sauce for garnish
Heat wok or heavy-bottomed skillet until smoking. Add oil and optional bacon drippings. (You can leave them out if you want, but if you have them, they add a deep smoky richness to the sauce.) Allow drippings to melt and oil to heat for a minute, then pour in the scallions, garlic, ginger and black beans, and cook, stirring, until everything is a nice golden color and is quite fragrant. Add the pork and using a chopping motion with your wok shovel or spatula, break up the meat while it browns. When it is browned, add the sherry, the bean sauce and paste, the chili garlic sauce and honey, and half of the chicken broth.
Cook for a minute, then add the cornstarch mixture and the rest of the broth and stir well to combine. The sauce should thicken almost immediately. At that point, add in the carrots, bok choy, ramps and roughly chopped cilantro leaves and stir until the bok choy wilts. Stir in sesame oil.
Divide noodles into four big bowls, top with the sauce then sprinkle with the scallion tops and the 1/2 cup of shredded ramp leaves. Add chili garlic sauce to the top as garnish or pass it around so everyone can help themselves and add as much as they would like.
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