When I think of jeon, I think of my aunt Youngmi flouring slices of cod, dipping them in egg wash, and frying them for a pre-dinner snack that would get doused with a vinegar-ed soy sauce at the table. I also know jeon as the massive kimchi, seafood, and scallion pancakes that are cut into pizza-like triangle slices, not remotely similar to the delicate fried packages of fish. So what makes a jeon? I define it as a broad category of Korean fried foods that's suspended somewhere between banchan, the small "side" dishes served at a large meal, and anju, which are drinking snacks.
A jeon is typically a pancake made with sliced meat, seafood, or vegetables, or a combination of all of three, incorporated into a light batter with flour and either egg or cold water. The batter is then shallow-fried until golden brown in oil, and served with a savory dipping sauce. Jeon can be served hot or at room temperature; they can be crispy or not. The endless variations and ingredients combinations for jeon reminds me of one of my favorite American protein-vegetable-and-carb combinations, Thanksgiving stuffing, and this sweet potato and sausage jeon recipe is a tribute to "dressing," in jeon form.
For this recipe, we combine grated raw sweet potato and spicy Italian sausage with egg, scallions, and fresh sage, and form the mixture into latke-sized patties. Each patty gets a light flour dredge, followed by a mayo-enriched egg wash coating, after which the jeon are fried in a cast iron skillet until golden brown. The sweet potato, sausage, and sage provide the autumnal flavors we are accustomed to enjoying at Thanksgiving, but the spicy dipping sauce served alongside the jeon boasts decidedly Korean flavors.
This sauce is my interpretation of the yangnyeom, or "seasoned," sauce used to coat Korean fried chicken. Typically, fried chicken yangnyeom is sweet, spicy, and sticky thanks to gochujang. This version leaves out the gochujang, for more of a condiment than a glaze, and comes together quickly in a mortar and pestle. Crushed sesame seeds provide bitter nutty notes, and gochugaru lends it mellow heat. Because the sweet potato in the jeon provides plenty of natural sweetness, I do away with sugar in the yangnyeom, and up the allium bite with pounded garlic and sliced scallions. The resulting sauce is spicy and savory, perfect for spooning over the stuffing-inspired sweet potato pancakes—or some fried eggs the following morning for breakfast.
Why It Works
- Crushing the sesame seeds for the yangnyeom in a mortar and pestle helps to give the sauce body and texture.
- Working beaten egg and uncooked sausage into the raw vegetables for the jeon binds the ingredients together without having to use a lot of flour.
- Yield:Makes 12 jeon, serving 4 to 6 people as an appetizer
- Active time: 40 mintues
- Total time:40 minutes
- For the Yangnyeom Dipping Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons (24g) toasted sesame seeds
- 4 garlic cloves (20g)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (4g) whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75ml) water
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons (16g) gochugaru
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) fish sauce
- 4 scallions (60g), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) toasted sesame oil
- For the Jeon:
- 2 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup; 70g) all-purpose flour
- 7 ounces (200g) sweet potato, peeled and grated on largest holes of a box grater (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 6 ounces (170g) hot Italian sausage, casing removed
- 5 large eggs (250g), divided
- 4 scallions (2 ounces; 60g), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons (6g) finely chopped fresh sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons (30g) mayonnaise
- Vegetable oil for frying
For the Yangnyeom Dipping Sauce: Using a mortar and pestle, grind sesame seeds into a coarse powder, with some seeds left whole, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
Add garlic and peppercorns to now-empty mortar, and pound to a coarse paste, about 1 minute. Stir in ground sesame seeds, water, soy sauce, gochugaru, and fish sauce. Once mixture is well-combined, stir in scallions and sesame oil. Yangnyeom can be used right away, or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week; bring to room temperature before serving. If you do not own a mortar and pestle you can make the yangnyeom by coarsely grinding sesame seeds in a spice grinder, mincing the garlic with a knife, grinding the pepper with a pepper mill, and stirring all ingredients together in a bowl.
For the Jeon: In a shallow dish or bowl, whisk together 4 eggs and mayonnaise until homogenous; set aside. Place flour in a separate shallow dish, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine sweet potato, sausage, 1 egg, scallions, and sage. Using clean hands, massage ingredients together until well-combined and mixture becomes slightly tacky and sticky, about 1 minute. Form mixture into 12 patties that are roughly 2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch-thick (each patty should weigh about 1 1/2 ounces; 45g each).
Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and line with a double layer of paper towels. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1/8 inch oil over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C). Working one at a time, dredge patties in flour, shake off excess flour, and transfer to a large plate or rimmed baking sheet. Coat 6 patties in egg mixture, allow excess to drip off, and carefully add to skillet. Cook until golden brown on bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip patties and cook until golden brown on second side and sausage is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat coating and cooking process with remaining 6 patties, adding oil as needed to maintain 1/8-inch depth and returning oil 375°F (190°C) before adding patties to skillet.
If serving right away, divide jeon between individual serving plates and serve, passing yangnyeom at the table. If making jeon in advance, discard paper towels from draining cooked jeon, cover baking sheet loosely with plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat jeon on same baking sheet, uncovered, in a 350°F (177°C) oven until heated through, 5 to 10 minutes.