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.