Ginger scallion noodles

by Ben on July 7, 2010 · 50 comments

in Chinese, Index, Noodles, Sauces, Vegan

Occasionally, a shockingly simple combination of ingredients will transcend the sum of its parts. Marcella Hazan’s Chicken with two lemons is a notable example. David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce is another. Both now make regular appearances in my weekly diet.

If you follow this blog, or say, talk to me for about five minutes, you’re likely to get the impression that (1) I am a hardcore carnivore, and (2) I have recently become more than a little obsessed with David Chang. (But you know, not in like a threatening way … More like, You are my culinary soulmate. Let’s hang out together; maybe check out some antiques! Text me?) It’s true. I am a big fan of the meats (and David). So honestly, when I first read this recipe excerpted on Amazon.com, I was a bit dubious that a vegan dish could elicit such a passionate response from a devout porkatarian like Chang. I just didn’t get it. It’s basically a bunch of raw onions and ginger. How good could it be? I’m not even a huge ginger guy. But there wasn’t much to lose, so I gave it a shot.

As my sister described in her über-popular guest post, it ain’t easy to impress my mother in the kitchen. The one dish I remember making for her that she liked was a rice salad that I saw on Lidia’s Italian Table. She liked it so much, she told me how she planned to make it herself:

I’m not going to use cheese. I’m going to make my own way. Some chamgireum, a little bit of gochujang, some gim …
So you’re basically going to make bibim bap.
Yeah.

Mom was visiting from LA, and I was pretty certain she’d never had this before, so I made her the ginger scallion sauce. She was, as always, deeply suspicious of my measuring the ingredients. She’s constantly giving me a hard time about this.

Why did you measure that?
I just wanted to make sure I was close. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the ratio should be close.
[disapproving silence]

She was actually most excited about trying the fresh ramen noodles, which she had never had before. We ate lots of the instant stuff growing up. Sapporo Ichiban, Original Flavor, soup base diluted two-fold. I joke with my Asian friends all the time about this. How much soup base does your mom use? To a man: half. My mom actually felt the need to remind me of this fact. You know, you should only add half of the powder. Yes, Mom. I remember. And I don’t eat instant ramen.

Bottom line: Not only were the noodles a hit, my mom ate the noodles, continued to spoon more of the sauce onto her rice, and started listing things that she would use that sauce on. Bibim bap. Brown rice noodles (good call). Mook (another excellent call). Dad’s really going to like it. Jason might not like it, because he doesn’t like ginger. She ate the rest of the sauce the next day while I was at work, and asked me to buy more green onions on the way home. And then went out and bought green onions herself. She made the sauce herself that night, and—I am not shitting you—measured  the ingredients. I could not believe what I was seeing. Mom, are you actually MEASURING that??? She short of shushed and waved me off. I didn’t push it, and instead took it as the greatest possible compliment. She was so intent on reproducing the recipe that she sucked it up and used measuring spoons. I’m 38 and I’ve never seen that happen. Mom also emailed me several times after she went home to ask me where I thought she might be able to find usukuchi and exactly what kind of sherry vinegar to buy.

So what is it about this dish that makes it so magical? It’s the transformation that occurs when you combine ingredients that, if taken alone, would be unpalatable to most people. The intensity of the onions and ginger is cut by the oil. The oiliness is mitigated by the acid. The sauce does not taste overwhelmingly of onions or ginger, but instead adopts an emergent third flavor that is robust and clean. It gives you the sensation (which I rarely get from vegan food) that you’re eating something substantial. And it’s fucking delicious.

* * * * *

Ginger scallion sauce
from Momofuku
(dresses roughly 6 – 8 four oz servings of noodles)

2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 C finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 C grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 tsp usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix.

That’s the whole recipe. The additional tips Chang offers are: correct the seasoning (if necessary) and allow the mixture to sit for 15 – 20 minutes. That’s it. Of course, being who I am, I couldn’t possibly let you off the hook without offering a few tips of my own.

Ingredients Since scallions and ginger play such a prominent role in this recipe, it stands to reason that you want those particular ingredients to be as fresh as possible. It’s usually pretty easy to find fresh scallions. My go-to neighborhood grocery does not generally have good fresh ginger. How can you tell? It should be firm, fragrant, and have smooth skin. Break off the size you want from a larger piece. If it is dry and fibrous on the inside, dump it! And make a mental note to scold your grocer. It is worth being anal about this. I get mine from a Chinese market, because I know that it’s high turnover.

Re: usukuchi. This is a type of soy sauce that is lighter, sweeter and saltier. Kikkoman and Yamasa are common brands. If you can’t find it, you could substitute 1 tsp of regular (not low sodium) soy sauce. You may need to add a bit more salt to taste.

Prep My only comments here are about the ginger. Since the skin is very thin, you can remove the peel easily and quickly by scraping it with a spoon. A vegetable peeler also works. Can you use a microplane here, instead of mincing? You could. I like knife work, so if a recipe calls for mincing, I generally do it with a chef knife. The reason I don’t use a grater or a microplane to mince is that I find that doing so releases a lot more juice. You also end up with very fine strings instead of small pieces, so the texture is different.

Yield I usually don’t discuss yield, because people tend to have their own ideas about what constitutes a “serving.” But in this case, the book claims that the recipe makes about 3 cups. Not the case. The sliced scallions take up space because they’re little rings. When you add liquids, they occupy a lot of the empty space, and on top of that, the scallions eventually wilt. So you get about 1.5 cups, which isn’t too bad. Correspondingly, I add about half of what’s recommended of the sauce to noodles, and that works out about right.

Use The sauce can be deployed as a general, magical condiment. As presented above, it works great with noodles. What kind of noodles? In Chang’s world, ramen is king. But he acknowledges that fresh ramen is not always so easy to come by. When I don’t feel like hoofing it all the way to J-town, I have been known to use fresh chow mein noodles (known in NY as lo mein), which can be found at virtually any Chinese supermarket, and even some American ones. I’ve also had good luck with what Chinese markets call “vegetarian” noodles, which are eggless and contain alkaline salts (sodium and potassium carbonate). Thus, they are basically the same as ramen noodles. And as my mom brilliantly notes, this sauce would be fantastic on brown rice noodles. I don’t recommend using soba noodles. Why? Because craft, hand-cut soba noodles are quite delicate and I think would be overpowered by this sauce. I find the dried soba noodles you can get at the supermarket to be more or less inedible.

Putting the dish together If using fresh noodles, cook about 4 oz of noodles per person in boiling water that has been adequately salted. I cannot stress this enough. It’s striking how much flavor these noodles have if properly seasoned. If not, they taste like nothing. I like my noodles hot, so rather than shocking them, I cook until almost done. With fresh noodles, you need to start checking at about 2 minutes. When they are softened, but still quite toothy, remove from heat and drain. Add about 3 T of the sauce, and mix. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions, togarashi, and any number of other condiments: meat, pickles, a fried egg, pan-roasted cauliflower, etc. Serve immediately.

What’s up with the picture? If you check out the accompanying picture in the book, you’ll see Chang stuffing his face with some ramen noodles that have brown stuff on them. That’s not the ginger scallion sauce (which is presumably what’s in the tiny bowl in the center). My guess is that it’s hoisin sauce, or some liquid from the sliced pork belly nearby, which likely contains hoisin. 

sliced scallions and minced ginger

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47 comments… read them below or add one

Lisa July 7, 2010 at 5:38 am

I love instant ramen noodles. My favorite is a Korean spicy noodle called Shim Ramen. Thanks for sharing the recipe and story. I was giggling as I read.

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 9:26 am

Hi, Lisa. I like them too, but I haven’t had them in years. Nong Shim Kimchi Bowl noodles were definitely in my heavy rotation after college! When I was little, I could not resist eating dry Sapporo Ichiban noodles. My mom claimed that they would make worms grow in my stomach …

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A Little Yumminess July 7, 2010 at 8:31 am

I bought the Momofuku cookbook for the sauce recipe…you beat me to trying it out..I will soon as well!

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 9:28 am

You won’t regret it! It’s such a fantastic book. I’m making the bo ssam this weekend. :)

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SB July 7, 2010 at 10:22 am

Funny, I had made your sister’s mandu and ate them with this ginger scallion sauce I had lying around in the fridge. I love this sauce with anything chicken.

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

Me, too! I had it with my sister’s mandu, made by my mom. It’s the victory combo!

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Daisy July 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

SB, I just tried ginger scallion sauce with mandu on Saturday. It was phenomenal!! Thanks for the tip!

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angi July 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

One of my favorite things to eat in Hong Kong is steamed (or boiled? I never know how they do it) chicken with a salty, ginger+scallion oil. But I gotta say, throwing in soy sauce and vinegar and using it on noodles is pure GENIUS! I must try this asap.

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

Now THAT sounds like goood frickin chicken. Is the ginger+scallion oil raw? That’s the part that was new to me.

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angi July 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

yah, usually the ginger and scallion oil is raw for that hong kong chicken although some places do heat up the oil and sort of scald the ginger+scallion with it.

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Daisy July 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I had this chicken in SF a few years ago…definitely one of my favorite dishes. I think it’s steamed. But let me check….

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Ben July 12, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Maybe we can sous vide it in the sauce and then put the raw sauce on top.

Daisy July 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Can you make this for me this weekend?

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

The sauce is on the menu for Saturday’s Bo ssam. And we always have noodles in the fridge or the freezer.

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Jean July 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I love condiments like this–hey make almost everything taste better.

I also love Marcella Hazan’s book and I’ve been obsessed with Lidia Bastianich. Her recent shows on TV had me ordering three of her books. Can you say obsessed?

Nice post. :-)

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Ben July 7, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Thanks, Jean. And welcome back!

We are huge fans of Lidia and Joe. Becco was one of our favorite places to eat, and her TV show always makes me hungry. Not a bad obsession to have!

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Ambika July 9, 2010 at 7:22 am

I love ginger! And this is such a fabulous combination..I’ve got to try this..

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Ben July 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Thanks, let me know how it goes!

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Linn @ Swedish Home Cooking July 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

Asian noodles never goes wrong! What a simple and lovely course you have created. Mm.

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Ben July 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Thanks, Linn! Credit goes to David Chang, who in turn credits Great New York Noodletown. It is a great course!

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michele July 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hi Ben,
I just made it and we liked it but it was very strong. Could you make a note as to how many servings this makes? I think it would serve 6-8 people.
Thanks.
Michele

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Ben July 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Hi Michele,

I think you’re right. For a big bowl of noodles, I use about 3 T. So for the amount it makes (about 1.5 C) that would be good for 6 – 8 servings. Is that how much you used?

It didn’t seem overly strong to me, but I have heard people say that. Probably hits people’s palates differently. The lingering taste I have in my mouth after eating is definitely strong. Maybe I’m just a “sub”taster, my tastebuds having been burned out by kimchi all these years!

-Ben

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michele July 10, 2010 at 10:35 am

HI Ben,
I really love your blog. I really do hope you can edit this recipe and write the servings at the top, and/or write something like this at the end of the recipe:
“Mix and let marinate for 20 minutes. Cook about 4 oz of noodles per person in boiling water that has been adequately salted. I cannot stress this enough. It’s striking how much flavor these noodles have if properly seasoned. If not, they taste like nothing. I like my noodles hot, so rather than shocking them, I cook until almost done. With fresh noodles, you need to start checking at about 2 minutes. When they are softened, but still quite toothy, remove from heat and drain. Add about 3 T of the sauce, and mix. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions, togarashi, and any number of other condiments: meat, pickles, a fried egg, pan-roasted cauliflower, etc. Serve immediately.”

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Ben July 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

Thanks so much, and you got it! Is this mostly for printing purposes? I’ve thought about making more printer-friendly formats for the recipes, but haven’t yet come up with the best solution for me, given the format of the blog.

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Ben August 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm

You know, I recently had this revelation about why some people think this sauce is too strong, and I think it ultimately must boil down to the ginger. If your teeth hit relatively large chunks of ginger, you will get strong bursts of flavor and heat that could understandably throw the sauce out of balance.

Next time you make this, make sure that the ginger is very finely and very evenly chopped. Check out my picture from the post for an idea of how finely I chopped. Once again, I do think that doing this with a sharpened/straightened chef knife (as opposed to grating) is the way to go. I hope this helps …

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Magdalena July 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Simple, yummy and good looking :) Have a nice weekend…

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Ben July 9, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Thanks; you too!

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Amy July 9, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Your post has convinced me to buy Chang’s book.

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Ben July 9, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Jesus Christ Amy, like Ssam Bar didn’t do it??? :)

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Amy August 4, 2010 at 7:37 pm

i finally made this tonight.

YUM.

tho, i still haven’t ordered the book…

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Amy August 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

btw…nice header redesign…

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Ben August 4, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Thanks. So the Helvetica didn’t burn your eyes too much?

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amy August 4, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I don’t mind the helvetica in this case. I like the tight leading and everything is aligned. At least you didn’t use comic sans or parchment…

Sues July 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I’m a sucker for anything with ginger and these just look so pretty (oh, and delicious too)!!

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Ben July 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Thanks, Sues! Had them again last nite, and they are!

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Elizabeth July 12, 2010 at 9:28 am

You have finally posted a recipe I think I can handle. (The word “foodie” will never be used to describe me.) Can’t wait to try them!

Signed, Daisy’s friend

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Ben July 12, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Hi Daisy’s friend,

I’m glad you’re going to try it! I know the word “foodie” is fraught with lots of different connotations. I tend to think of it as meaning “someone who’s very interested in food.” So I’d be happy to describe you as a fellow foodie, if you’d like. :)

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Heather July 19, 2010 at 9:53 am

This post made me crack up–”You are my culinary soulmate. Let’s hang out together; maybe check out some antiques! Text me?” Hahaha, awesome.

This DOES look fucking delicious. Can’t wait to try it.

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Ben July 19, 2010 at 11:37 am

Do you think David would appreciate it more if I got him an orchid? :)

Thanks for the blog love … Hope you like the noodles!

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The Cilantropist September 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

I remember seeing these on Foodbuzz Top 9! Congrats, isn’t that a great feeling?! :) And I am not surprised, they look scrumptious…

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Ben September 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yes, Top 9 is nice honor. Thanks for stopping by, new foodie friend. :)

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Chris @ thepeche November 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

Love the post. I must strongly advocate for the quick pickles as a condiment. It takes this dish over the moon (apparently, I am from the 1940s with my hip expressions). Really lovely stuff.

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Ben November 21, 2010 at 11:45 am

Yes, I remember when you posted about this. The quick pickles are always great. My mom used to make them all time. I also really love the daikon radish pickles from that cookbook. I briefly mention those in my “ma peche” post.

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Fann March 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

This ginger scallion salt and oil combo has been around for ages. Friends of mine say they had it very often growing up in HK. You could find it in NYC’s Chinatown ex. Kam Man market among others for accompanying the cold chopped chicken. Chang gets the credit for making it better known I guess.

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Ben March 27, 2011 at 11:16 am

Of course! Chang describes it in the header notes as an “out-and-out rip-off,” specifically of a version he had at Great New York Noodletown on the Bowery.

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angi July 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Yeah I know this is an old post but I since I made this the other night, I want to add that ginger scallion sauce + a bit of good oyster sauce on noodles with a runny egg = HEAVEN! It adds an umami hit to an already amazing sauce.

In case anyone cared, my preferred brand of “good” oyster sauce is from Lee Kum Kee. Look for the bottle with cartoony drawings of people on some sort of rowboat scenescape.
http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Kum-Kee-Premium-18-Ounce/dp/B00016UX1E

PS: Lee Kum Kee also makes a “Panda” brand of oyster sauce, which I don’t think is as good. Good news is this does not involve rowboat scenescapes, so it’s easy to distinguish.
http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Panda-Brand-Oyster-Sauce/dp/B0001DMTJG/ref=sr_1_3?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1311797501&sr=1-3

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Ben August 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for the tip, Angi! I’ll definitely try it!

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