Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian

Chilean Sea Pancakes

[one_half][I] understand that anyone can have an off-day, but to whoever was responsible for naming the mung bean? Maybe you should have focus-grouped that. To be fair, it never occurred to me, all these years, that I was eating products derived from a legume many uninitiated Americans would think sounds vaguely like elimination product. When I started cooking with mung beans myself, I learned quickly that:

  1. An astonishing fraction of my peer group has never knowingly eaten mung beans.
  2. People who’ve never eaten mung beans think I’m the freak.

“Whatcha makin’?”
“Mung bean pancakes!”
“Ohhhhh, that sounds… Great!

The forced enthusiasm accompanies a look of thinly veiled disgust, as if I’d just passed gas, or secretly replaced the tuna salad with cat food. The striking thing is that it’s not as if I’m talking about durian or balut—both cases in which a person might have the foggiest idea why she’s repulsed by the concept. Rather, said person often doesn’t even know what mung beans look like. She simply doesn’t like the sound of it.

As the parent of a picky eater, I understand that certain keywords are a no-no for pitching new foods to a young child. For example, “spicy,” “green,” “new,” etc. On the other hand, Esme reacts positively to spicy, green, new foods that are tagged: “honey,” “chocolate,” “sweet,” or “halmoni,” (the Korean word for Grandma, with whom Esme associates the vast majority of her favorite foods).

In other words, it’s all in the packaging—an effect all too familiar to the Patagonian toothfish, whose wildly successful rebrand as “Chilean Sea Bass” propelled it to the brink of extinction.

There’s no need for me to sell Esme on the premise of “halmoni pancakes,” since she already adores them. I have, however, been able to repurpose the “halmoni” modifier to get her to try jajangmyeon, which she scarfed down with extreme prejudice, despite her general aversion to brown food and noodles.

For you, I offer another Mom Food staple: a savory pancake along the vein of the beloved pajeon, but with a more robust texture.

* * * * *

Chilean Sea Pancakes, or
Bindaetteok
 (Korean Mung Bean Pancakes)

2 C dried, skinned mung beans (or, as I now like to call them, “Chilean Sea Peas”)
1/4 C uncooked, short grain white rice
water
about 2 C spicy cabbage kimchi
kimchi liquid (from the jar of kimchi you used above)
1 round onion, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
vegetable or grapeseed oil
optional:
2 korean or jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeded
salt
fish sauce

Soak mung beans and rice in 4 C of cold water, covered, for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight. Hepinstall advises boiling them for 30 minutes as an alternative to soaking. That has never worked for me. In my experience, cooked beans will blend into a sticky paste that doesn’t form pancakes when fried.

Drain the soaked beans/rice and reserve liquid. Working in batches, puree the beans and rice until just smooth, slowly adding small amounts of the bean liquid as necessary to achieve a consistency slightly thicker than cake batter. Store in the refrigerator during the next steps.

Squeeze kimchi in paper towels to lightly drain. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Tip: Kimchi tends to stain like a motherfucker. Don’t chop it directly on a cutting board, since it’s impossible to clean thoroughly. Cover your cutting surface with a flattened milk carton.

Question: Does it matter what kimchi I use? Yes. There’s a huge dynamic range of flavor and quality here, but as a general rule, you should use kimchi that you’d be thrilled to eat straight. I do tend to use kimchi that’s more on the acidic side, as a chunk of that provides nice contrast with the rest of the pancake. Kimchi gets more acidic the longer it ferments, so don’t use super-young kimchi. Unless, of course, that’s all you have.

Combine pureed beans, chopped kimchi, onion, and scallions and stir well. Add kimchi liquid and bean liquid to achieve a cake batter-like consistency. How much kimchi liquid relative to bean liquid? It really depends on how spicy the kimchi is, and how spicy you want the pancakes. I find cooked kimchi to be pretty mellow, so I add enough liquid to make the batter distinctly orange. I backed off a bit in this case so as not to freak out my daughter:

The pancakes will be crisper if the batter is cold. So if you want, make the batter in advance and chill until you’re ready to cook.

To fry the pancakes, use a 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet. An electric skillet or griddle also works. In any case, heat a liberal amount of oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. The oil should certainly cover the entire surface of the pan when swirled. Use slightly more than that. With a large dinner spoon or soup spoon, quickly spoon batter into the pan to make four pancakes roughly 3 inches in diameter. They should be about 1/2 inch thick when cooked—that should help you adjust the batter thickness as you go along. If desired, add a few sliced peppers atop each pancake. At this point, you have roughly 1 – 2 minutes before the batter sets. I use that time to make the pancakes uniform and round, tucking in the edges with the outside of my spoon. But you know, I’m a bit anal that way.

Once the bottom of the pancakes is browned and crisp (about 2 minutes—you’ll see the edges start to brown), flip the pancakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Optionally, flip once more and cook for a minute. Set pancakes aside and allow them to blot on paper napkins or brown paper bags.

After you’ve made the first batch of pancakes, remove the pan from heat. Taste the pancakes and adjust for thickness (bean liquid), spiciness (kimchi liquid), or other flavor (salt, fish sauce). The pancakes are by far the best when they’ve just come from the pan. They should be crisp on the outside, but not overly browned. The inside should be cooked, but tender. If they’re high and cakey, you’ll want to add more liquid.

Once you’re done futzing, heat the pan, adding more oil if necessary, and make the next batch of 4. I often make twice this recipe or more, so once I’ve got the batter dialed in, the frying goes very quickly. Cook the rest of the pancakes. This recipe yields 15 – 20 pancakes 3″ in diameter and about 1/2″ high.

Adaptation for meatitarians:

This dish is often made with pork. Make no mistake: it is very good with pork. However, that does take a bit more work, and I tend to be lazy/rushed/perfectly satisfied with the pescatarian version. If you must have pork, I don’t recommend doing what some recipes suggest, which is to add ground pork to the batter. My mom and I have each tried that technique, and agree that the flavor of the pork gets diluted in batter and doesn’t add much.

My mom boils about a pound of pork shoulder in water seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. When the meat is tender, she slices it thinly and adds coin-sized pieces of sliced pork to the pancake just after the batter has hit the pan. Alternatively, you could season the slices of cooked pork lightly with yang nyum soy sauce immediately before adding to the pancake.

Serve immediately, or let people eat as you go. I calibrate the amount of kimchi liquid so that they are perfectly delicious without any sauce. However, they are also commonly served with yang nyum soy sauce or any variety of soy dipping sauces. Substitute tamari if you want to keep it gluten-free.

Like I said, I tend to make a lot of these pancakes, which refrigerate and freeze well. When reheating, you can pan-fry them, which will restore the crisp exterior. They are also perfectly fine (albeit softer/soggier) microwaved.[/one_half]

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Soups

On eating one’s favorite animated characters

[one_half][I]t’s easy to think you’ll be that parent who won’t allow a trivial thing like childrearing affect your worldview. You’ll be the one who takes his toddler to cocktail parties, doesn’t give a shit about naps, only allows cool music on the car stereo, etc. Then, one day, you find yourself covered in princess stickers and humming Yo Gabba Gabba! songs at work. There are times when I feel a bit sheepish about my old attitudes. When I finally get why parents do the ridiculous shit they do. Ohhhhh, THAT’s why my nieces go to bed at 6PM! (So my sister can have a life!) Then there are times I wonder who the hell I am.

In particular, when around my daughter, I’ve found myself tiptoeing around the fact that things die. You know, Peep and Quack? On that show you like so much? We’re eating them for dinner. The cow we say goodnight to? Along with the moon and all those other things in that goddamn book? Lunch tomorrow. These are jokes I clearly would have made 5 years ago. But now, I’m worried I’ll freak her out. More importantly, I’m worried that she’ll stop eating those things.

So I’ve done things like verbally edit Esme’s storybooks for content. In particular, the scene in Babar, in which the protagonist’s mother is killed by poachers. Or that scene in Snow White, when the Prince, traveling through the forest, falls madly in love with what he knows to be the rotting corpse of a 14-year-old girl. I suggest that, possibly, Snow White is sleeping. Leave it to one of Esme’s classmates to bring me back with a dose of reality:

“No. She’s dead,” she says, matter-of-factly. She smiles, then gives me a reassuring nod. “She’s dead!”

I think back to when I was Esme’s age, and ask whether my parents ever tried to shield me from the concept of death. I doubt that it was ever a concern. From a young age, I was aware that three of my grandparents weren’t living. I heard lots of Bible stories; plenty of death going on there. And there was never any mistaking where my food came from. Meat was almost always cooked on the bone. Fish was served with the skin and head on. I regularly ate feet, stomachs, and livers. It did not once bother me that my favorite soup involved eating the tail of Babe the Blue Ox.

* * * * *

 Kkori Gomtang (Korean Oxtail Soup)

 A childhood staple, this soup continues to warm the soul during our frigid San Francisco summers. If you’ve never worked with oxtail, you might be concerned that it’s hard to find. It’s not. Most grocery stores and butchers carry it. Sections of oxtail are almost always cut at the joint. This is how I prefer it, so that the cartilage caps* are left intact. In rare cases, the tail sections are saw cut. If that’s all that’s available to you, don’t fret. They’ll work fine for this soup.

6 – 8 sections of oxtail (about 3 lbs)
water
optional: 1/2 – 1 lb chuck or flank steak
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, sliced in half
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
kosher or sea salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced
optional: toasted kim (also called nori, or laver)
steamed white rice

Trim any obvious chunks of fat from the oxtail sections. I don’t bother trimming the silverskin. It adds to the broth and is easy to remove later if you don’t want to eat it. Soak the oxtail in ice water for 1 – 2 hours to remove residual blood. Drain, and discard the water.

Add oxtail to a large stockpot with 12 C of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 – 5 hours, skimming impurities. The broth will reduce by about half. Add boiling water if it reduces more quickly than that. When done, the meat will easily pull away from the bone. Remove oxtail segments (keeping them intact) and refrigerate overnight.

Add chuck/flank steak (if you have it), garlic, onion, and peppercorns to the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour, skimming impurities. Remove meat and reserve for other uses. Strain the broth through a fine chinois or cloth and discard other solids. Season the broth with salt, allow it to cool completely, and refrigerate overnight.

Depending on how thoroughly you skimmed, you may or may not see a solid layer of fat atop the cooled broth. If so, remove it and discard. Add oxtails and broth to a stock pot and boil until heated through.

Serving Traditionally, this soup is cooked without salt or pepper and seasoned at the table. I prefer to serve it already seasoned, as described above. Ladle one section of oxtail with broth per person and garnish with sliced scallion and (optionally) kim. Serve with white rice.

* * * * *

Don’t be afraid to get a little messy. I can’t resist picking the bone clean with fingers and chopsticks, and then devouring the meat with a sprinkle of sea salt.

*On each end of an oxtail segment, there’s a cartilage cap that easily comes loose when it’s been cooked this long. I used to fight for these and scrape the softened cartilage with my teeth. These days, I don’t have to fight quite so hard for them. But they are still ritual.

Maybe, when confronted with the facts, Esme will one day decide not to eat meat. It’s comforting to be reminded that I don’t need to conceal those facts. God help me if I ever catch myself pulling pin bones out of a salmon fillet. [/one_half]

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Categories
American Index Korean Noodles

Not watermelon, sorry.

[one_half]Dad, do you know what we haven’t had in a really long time? Watermelon.

[I] feebly explain to my daughter that we only have watermelon in the summertime. A challenging story to sell when grocery stores here insist upon displaying those insipid “personal watermelons” year-round. Sadly, Esme will wait roughly one sixth of her life to eat it again.

You mean when I’m ten? Yes, Esme, you may certainly eat watermelon when you’re ten. Maybe even before that. Poor kid. As the parent responsible for the Korean half of her hapa, I definitely feel her pain.

Esme hails from a long line of watermelon-eating individuals. I’ll always associate watermelon with the church picnic. In particular, Korean church picnics in The Greater Los Angeles Area—though I’ve come to learn, from our stint in the midwest, that many properties of the Korean church picnic are highly conserved across states:

  1. Lots and lots of subak (watermelon).
  2. Bad volleyball.
  3. Other competitive games in which the “prizes” consist of bulk packaged sundry items (toothpaste, soap, gift-packaged socks with Playboy Bunny logos on them…).
  4. The Holy Trinity of picnic foods: kimbap, kalbi, and japchae.

It recently occurred to me that, of those foods, I had never before made my own japchae. I felt that I owed it to myself to give it a shot, and that I owed it to my daughter to deliver, in the absence of watermelon, an equally salient element of my childhood summers.

I quickly learned that japchae is not a dish that one can just bang out in an hour. At least I can’t. A mixture of cellophane noodles, vegetables, and beef, this dish comprises multiple components that are individually seasoned and require different cooking times. So if you have the luxury of a lazy weekend day, that’s the time to take this on. It’s well worth it. And it makes sense to make a lot at once, as the flavors continue to develop over time.

* * * * *

Japchae (Korean cellophane noodles with vegetables and beef)
Adapted from my sister’s recipe.

6 dried or fresh shittake mushrooms
6 dried or fresh wood ear mushrooms
8 oz dry dangmyeon (sweet potato or mung bean) noodles
8 oz lean, choice beef, cut into strips about 2 inches long (freeze slightly before slicing)
3 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
water
1/2 T sesame oil
1/2 T soy sauce
black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
kosher salt
1 julienned carrot
8 oz frozen leaf spinach*, thawed and drained (or a comparable amount of sigumchi namul)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
sugar
1 chopped scallion
1 T toasted sesame seeds
optional: 1/2 crisp Asian or Korean pear, julienned

The seasoning:
3 T soy sauce
2 T sugar
1 T honey
1 T rice wine or dry vermouth1 T sherry vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T ground, toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 chopped scallion
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic

*I used chopped spinach this time, since it’s what I had, but I was unhappy with how it seemed to disappear. Larger pieces of spinach do lend a relevant texture, flavor, and appearance to the dish.

If using dried mushrooms, rinse briefly and soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes or until soft. Soak the noodles in lukewarm water. (A 9″ x 13″ pan is convenient for this.)

While the mushrooms and noodles are rehydrating, mix ingredients for the seasoning. Add
4 T of seasoning to the sliced beef and knead to mix flavors. Stir-fry quickly over medium-high heat in a heated, nonstick pan. Remove meat from the pan as soon as it turns brown, transfer to a very large bowl, and set aside. As long as the liquids do not burn, there is generally no need to clean the pan between uses.

Once the noodles have lost their stiffness (about 30 minutes), drain and cut them into 5-inch long pieces. Stir-fry in 5 T of seasoning, 1 T grapeseed oil, and 1/4 C of water until the noodles are slightly underdone. Do not discard the remainder of the seasoning, as you will need it to finish the dish. Add cooked noodles to the large bowl, next to the cooked beef.

Squeeze excess water from the rehydrated mushrooms using paper (or cotton) towels. Remove stems from the shittake mushrooms and slice thinly. I love the shape and texture of wood ear mushrooms (also found in Asian markets as “black mushrooms,” or simply, “black fungus”), so I cut them rather coarsely into pieces roughly the size of a quarter.

Mix 1/2 T each of soy sauce and sesame oil with a dash of pepper, use it to coat the mushrooms, and stir-fry over medium heat until the shittakes are soft and golden brown. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

Stir-fry sliced onion over medium heat in 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp kosher salt until soft. Do not allow them to become overly brown. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

Stir-fry carrot strips over medium heat in 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp kosher salt until
al dente, adding a spoonful of water when necessary to prevent the carrot from drying out. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

If using sigumchi namul, add directly to the large bowl. If using thawed or freshly blanched (and shocked) spinach, cut into 2-inch lengths. Sauté for a few minutes in about 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp chopped garlic, a dash of black pepper, 1 tsp kosher salt, and a sprinkle of sugar. Remove, and add 1 chopped scallion and 1 T sesame seeds. Transfer to the large bowl.

Mix all vegetables with noodles and beef in the bowl with about 1 T of the seasoning. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Serve warmed or (more commonly) at room temperature, garnished with strips of fresh pear.

I know that some Asian cultures frown upon serving multiple starches simultaneously. Koreans, fortunately, are not afflicted with this condition. Serve the japchae as an entree or as a side—we’re pretty easy. But for God’s sake, serve it with steamed, white rice. Some people go so far as to serve it over rice (japchae-bap), but I’m generally not an “over rice” kind of guy.

I should note that this is not the most authentic recipe. Specifically, ginger and sherry vinegar are not typical components of the seasoning. They do, however, give this dish a brightness that I find refreshing. Garnishing with the Asian pear further lightens the dish.

* * * * *

So. Did Esme buy it? You’ll recall that my daughter is a small eater. I haven’t had the best record cooking for her lately, so I was pleased (and mildly shocked) that she ate this. It somewhat lessened the sting of not being able to give her watermelon.

Dad?
Yes, honey.
Do you know what else we haven’t had in a really long time?
What’s that?
Peaches. [/one_half]

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Categories
Gluten Free Index Korean Pescatarian Seafood Soups

Home.

[one_half][L]os Angeles seems like both a home and a theory to me. I spent the first thirteen years of my life there, and continue to visit every few months. Despite its changes, and all I read about what’s going on in the city (OK, really just what’s going on in food, but that’s admittedly a lot), I experience LA much the way I experienced it as a child. Living a relatively insular life, wandering through slightly run-down suburban neighborhoods, watching television, and eating a LOT of my mother’s cooking.

True to her stereotype, Mom is never satisfied with the amount of food I’ve eaten. She speaks wistfully of the days when I “used to eat a lot.” Yes, Mom. I did eat a lot back then. When I was eighteen. Don’t get me wrong—I can still chow down with the best of them. But I’ll put it this way: my parents live in a one-bedroom, 800 sq ft apartment. With two refrigerators. I’m convinced that one of those refrigerators is for me.

She usually starts asking about a month and a half in advance (presumably so that I have time to start stretching my stomach out): What do you think you’ll want to eat? It’s admittedly hard for me to predict exactly what I’m going to be in the mood for, but there are standbys. Spicy kimchi, of course. Yaki mandu for my wife. Bindae duk. Godeungeo gui. And there’s one dish that Mom knows I’ll want absolutely every time. She doesn’t even bother to ask.

I think of sigumchi guk as a sort of miso soup on steroids. Instead of miso, the primary flavor is doenjang, a Korean fermented soy paste. The flavor of doenjang is saltier, richer and bolder than its Japanese counterpart. The soup is made with spinach, though I also used to request a swiss chard version (kundae guk). And finally, there are small clams, which add sweetness to the soup.

This dish is dead simple, and I can’t get enough of it. I can and do eat the soup at breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I’m home with my parents. And each time I do, I’m instantly transported to our kitchen in Hawthorne, CA, circa 1979.

Sigumchi Guk (Spinach and clam soup)

1/2 T vegetable oil
1/2 round onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
5 C chicken stock*
2 – 3 T doenjang
optional: up to 1 jalapeno, sliced
about 1 lb small clams or mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
1 bunch fresh spinach (about 1/2 lb), cleaned and picked
about 1 – 2 T white vinegar
optional: 1 green onion, sliced

*If you’re dead set on making this the way my Mom does, you’ll make your own anchovy/kombu stock, as I’m sure BraveTart will. However, at Babychili Test Kitchen, we’ve found that chicken or beef stock make an equally satisfying soup. As I’ve discussed previously, I advise making your own, or very carefully selecting a palatable storebought version. (Shhh… I won’t tell Ruhlman if you don’t.)

In a medium saucepan, saute onion in oil over medium heat until barely softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add stock, mixing in doenjang until dissolved. (An easy way to do this is to mash the doenjang in a small bowl with a spoon and a ladle-full of stock, then add back to the pot.)

When the stock comes to a boil, add jalapeno (if desired), clams, and spinach. Cook until the clams open, discarding any that do not. The spinach should be soft, and on the verge of becoming dull green. Add a splash or two of vinegar to correct for acid. Since the doenjang is salty, there should be no need to season further.

Serve hot, with steamed, short-grain, white rice (we prefer the Nishiki brand). Feel free to add rice directly to the soup, if you prefer to eat it that way. Optionally garnish with a sprinkle of green onion.

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Categories
Desserts Index Korean Meats Vegan

Retrospect

[one_half][I] viewed a lot of my world through the dusty window of a green, 1973 Chevy Impala. This was the first car I knew, and the one our family drove for almost ten years. I still remember those six, giant, rectangular brake lights. Parking whiskers that scraped the curb with a dull, grinding murmur. And that engine. A 350 small-block V-8. My sister and I recognized the sound of that engine from indoors. Hearing it approach, then halt, punctuated by the quick ratchet of the emergency brake, meant only one thing:

Mom and Dad home. Quick … Turn off the TV!

In addition to being a harbinger of parental authority, our car was a private boat in which we sailed off to exotic places through night and day. Places far beyond the sun-drenched concrete of Hawthorne, California. Hot Springs, where my mom sought relief for her arthritic joints. Sacramento, where we occasionally visited a family friend named Rena, whom I knew as “American Grandma.” And once in a long while, Oregon, where our cousins Ty and Trinda lived. It was on one of these trips that I first saw a deer and snow.

Dad was driving late into the night, and my sister and I tried to find comfortable ways to lie across the back seat without hitting our heads on the window crank. We were eating cold pieces of fried chicken fished from the darkness of a brown shopping bag, when Mom gasped. We all saw it, staring straight at us, like a ghost pausing in the middle of the road. The snowflakes outside were larger than I expected. Everything looked monochrome in our headlights. And a few seconds later, it was gone.

On all those trips, we ate the food that Mom packed. It was usually something relatively healthy, like kimbap, barley tea and fruit. It was food we were accustomed to. Comforting, perhaps, but sometimes flirting with boring. Above all, it was what we could afford. I would sometimes stare longingly at the fast food joints we passed on the road: Shakey’s Pizza, Carl’s Jr., Pioneer Chicken … These were the places my cousins and classmates would certainly stop for a meal, in their luxurious, wood-paneled station wagons.

As I grew older, the road trips got longer. Indiana. Illinois. Wisconsin. I was becoming more conscious of how modestly we lived, and understood that we regularly drove distances people would ordinarily fly. And I resented it. I grew tired of sticking out, living in our messy, half-unpacked house, being stuck for what seemed like forever in the backseat of that car, listening to my parents bicker in a language I only half-understood. I carried that with me for a long time. And when it came time to go away to school, I chose New York, the farthest away I could possibly be. My dad wanted to drive there with me. In a decision I regret to this day, I told him no. I wanted to fly. And I wanted to do it on my own.

As a parent, I can now begin to appreciate how my father must have felt. I’ve since gotten to know both of my parents as people; flawed, but human. And I’ve repeatedly wondered what it would have been like to be on the road for those few days, spending all my waking hours with my father, whom I was accustomed to seeing for maybe an hour a day. The old man’s still around, but he’s not one for long drives anymore. I wish we had taken that trip together. This is the food I would like to have made.

* * * * *

SIGUMCHI NAMUL (Seasoned spinach)

This classic banchan (side dish) is always waiting for me at my parents’ dinner table in LA.

2 lbs spinach leaves, trimmed and cleaned
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
1 T distilled white vinegar
1 thinly sliced scallion
kochukaru (Korean red pepper flakes), to taste (opt.)
1 T toasted sesame seeds

In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and blanch spinach leaves until bright green, no longer than 10 seconds. Immediately shock the leaves in icewater, and drain. Squeeze out excess water, and blot with paper towels. It’s not necessary to get it completely dry, just not dripping wet. Mix soy sauce, salt, sugar and vinegar in a large bowl and toss with wilted spinach leaves (your hands are the best tools here). Add scallion, kochukaru and sesame seeds and toss once more. Optionally, you can chop the resulting mass of spinach into roughly bite sized chunks.

Notes. 2 lbs of raw spinach looks like a frighteningly large amount. Don’t worry. It will compact to the size of a softball with this recipe. You will, however, need a very large bowl for cleaning and shocking. To get the best color, it’s important not to overcook the leaves. Do this in batches, if necessary.

* * * * *

KIMBAP

Unquestionably, kimbap is the canonical Korean picnic food. Similar in form to futomaki, kimbap is served at room temperature, eaten with the hands, and, due the acidity of the rice, keeps for at least a day. I never tried Japanese sushi rolls until college, but I must have eaten hundreds of kimbap as a child. I filled these with spinach, takuan, fried egg, and Spam. Other typical fillings include bulgogi, kamaboko, sauteed carrots, and kimchi. Ideally, one wants fillings that complement one another in color, texture, and flavor.

On Spam. I see you non-Asians out there, raising your eyebrows at the choice of Spam. All I can say is that, in my experience, the people most vocal in their disgust for Spam have never actually tried it. Their loss. Suffice to say, Hawaiians know what they’re doing. Mark my words: Spam will be the next bacon. Whether you choose to face that reality is a decision only you can make. To address its possibly unappetizing texture or appearance, give the Spam a nice sear before deploying.

Seasoned Rice
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

2 1/2 cups high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice
4 T rice vinegar or distilled white vingear
1/2 T sugar
kosher salt
1 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil

Cook the rice, preferably in a rice cooker. The rice is easier to work with if it’s overly not soft/mushy, so limit the amount of water added to about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 times the volume of the dry rice. While the rice is cooking, combine vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Briefly simmer under low heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow the solution to cool, then add rice wine and sesame oil, mixing well.

When the rice has finished cooking, transfer to a large bowl and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Drizzle in seasoning and mix well. Keep the rice covered and work with it while slightly warm.

Egg ribbons

vegetable oil
6 large eggs
kosher salt
black pepper

Cover the bottom of a 10″ skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Beat 3 of the eggs until blended and add a pinch of salt and 1 – 2 turns of freshly cracked black pepper. When the pan is hot, add the eggs and cook, pancake-style, for about 2 minutes, moving the pan if necessary to heat evenly. Flip the pancake (you may need 2 spatulas to do this) and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and set egg pancake on a paper towel to cool and drain. Add a bit more oil and cook the other 3 eggs the same way. Cut into slices about 1/4″ wide. If they turn out too thin, you can always double them up when assembling your roll.

Kimbap

8 – 10 sheets of kim (also called nori, or laver), roughly 8 inches square
seasoned rice
8 – 10 strips of takuan, about 8″ long and 1/4″ wide
egg ribbons
1 can Spam, cut into 1/4″ wide strips and seared
sigumchi namul
sesame oil

highly recommended tool: a bamboo mat called a makisu or a pal.

There are many tutorials available online for rolling kimbap and maki rolls. I reviewed this one and this one before making mine. I also enjoyed watching this woman, a beast at the kimbap station who doesn’t even need a bamboo mat! My first kimbap always turn out a bit gnarly-looking, but as with any new technique, things gets better with practice. To fill each roll, I used one strip of takuan, two strips of egg ribbon, two strips of Spam (arranged end to end), and a small line of cut spinach.

Notes. I am often guilty of overstuffing rolled foods, so I make a conscious effort to start with less rice than I think I need, adjusting up if necessary. Keep a bowl of water handy to keep rice from sticking to your fingers. Brush the outside of the roll with sesame oil and cut into 1/2″ slices. Wipe down and wet your knife regularly.

* * * * *

JANG JORIM (soy sauce braised beef)

This side dish is a practical choice for packed lunches because it is essentially preserved, staying fresh for months in the refrigerator. The use of beef is auspicious, due to its historical scarcity. Small portions are advised due its intense flavor. A wonderful recipe can be found at my friend Amy’s website.

* * * * *

KONG NAMUL (seasoned soybean sprouts)

Soybean sprouts are ubiquitous in Korean cuisine, and this banchan is a another childhood favorite. A recipe can be found elsewhere on my website.

* * * * *

BORI CHA (roasted barley tea)
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

Growing up, I was always offered my choice of beverage: water or barley tea.

1/2 C unhulled barley
1 quart water

If the barley has not already been roasted, you may pan-toast it for 3 minutes over medium-low heat, until fragrant. Add barley to water, bring to a boil (preferably in a ceramic or enamel-lined pan) and reduce to a simmer. Brew for 1 hour, and strain. Can be served hot or cold.

* * * * *

YAKBAP (sweet rice cake)

My mom likes to remind me that I was such a picky eater as a kid that I would mysteriously get a stomach ache every day at meal time. Which was miraculously cured when it was time for dessert. This homemade variation of dduk is another perennial picnic favorite. A fail-safe recipe, and by far the quickest you will find, is described in a separate post.

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Seafood

Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

[one_half][I] grew up eating a fair amount of salad. Not that I particularly liked it back then. The way my mom always made it, it had tons of raw onion, which was a bit overwhelming for my kid palate. But salad was a fact of life in our household. My father once said, in his characteristically unselfconscious way, It’s like greeeease for the body. (Thanks, Dad.) But there were times when my mom, rather than make a salad, would simply set out a plate of romaine lettuce alongside what my sister and I refer to as “ghetto salad dressing,” or soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

We would most simply dip the lettuce in one of the sauces and have at it. Other times (and this was particularly the case when we had a leafier lettuce, like red leaf lettuce) we would get all fancy and stuff the lettuce with rice, meat and kimchi before slathering on some ssäm jang and sending it down the hatch.

I always thought my mom just did this, as she sometimes admitted, because she was too lazy to make salad dressing. (Hell, sometimes she couldn’t even be bothered to put the soy sauce in.) I had no idea that the thing we were eating had a name, that it would one day become one of the most fashionable dishes in New York, and that it was called ssäm.

* * * * *

My sister was recently in town, and was flying solo for the first time in years. As much as I love my two nieces and brother-in-law, I was eager to have some alone time with my big sis. In particular, I was tremendously excited to think about what might go down in our kitchen during Daisy’s visit. In the past, she’s always taken the lead with cooking. And people who know what’s good for them generally let that happen. Like the classic play drawn up by Doug Collins: Just give the ball to Michael, and everyone else get the f**k outta the way. But this being Daisy’s first visit to SF since the genesis of Babychili, we naturally discussed who might be the alpha cook during her stay. In particular, I had planned to host a dinner party for my sister and her Bay Area friends, as well a few of my foodie locals. We diplomatically agreed that it would be a collaboration, but for whatever reason (Boredom? Fatigue? Morbid curiosity?), Daisy more or less handed me the reins.

By now, you know that I can’t take a shit without going off on how great David Chang is. Ever since reading about it in asian jewish deli, I had really been wanting to try the Momofuku bo ssäm, and predicted (accurately) that it would be an uncontroversial choice for our dinner party. Non-Koreans, Non-New Yorkers, and those unfamiliar with the cult of Chang may fairly ask: What the fuck is a bo ssäm? As I mentioned above, ssäm refers to food that’s wrapped in something, usually lettuce. Bo ssäm is a popular dish in Korea that consists of lettuce wrapped around boiled or steamed pork belly, kimchi, and inexpensive oysters (sometimes spiced to mask their dodginess). It is typically consumed with some cheap-ass beer and some cheap-ass, freezer-cold soju. (In Korea, craft alcoholic beverages are best left to others—the Japanese, for instance.) Make no mistake. Bo ssäm is some delicious-ass anju, or drinkin’ food.

Tip: grapefruit masks cheap liquor.

Leave it to Chang to seriously dress up this classic bar-food dish by stepping up the quality of all of the ingredients: Slow-roasted pork shoulder instead of boiled belly. Oysters suitable for a raw bar. Sauces tweaked to be richer and bolder. Heck, you can even forgo the cheap booze and rock a nice riesling. If you’re in NYC, you can reserve this much sought after dinner for 6 – 10 people at Ssäm Bar for $200. Or, you can (quite easily) make it yourself. And that’s what we did.

* * * * *

DINNER

First course was a classic ceviche that I started the previous night (at about 10PM, intending to have a late-ish dinner and forgetting that it needed 4 hours to marinate).

The second course was also a bit of a bonus: I had asked for volunteers to supply oysters, and our good friend Caleb was more than happy to oblige. The thing is, I never told him how many to bring. Another beautiful thing about preparing this meal at home: At Momofuku, the bo ssäm dinner comes with a dozen oysters. For the same number of people, we had four dozen.

Oysters were purchased from legendary SF fishmonger, Sun Fat Seafood. Their home page charmingly reads:

*** Good news for Oyster Lovers.  We are currently had a varieties of oysters.

Yes, u haz! Caleb brought a dozen of each:

Beau Soleil (CAN)
Kumamoto (CA)
Hama Hama (WA)
Coromandel Bay (NZ)

We shucked and ate the first 2 dozen, and left the remaining oysters for our main.

Daisy was in charge of the third course, which consisted of 50 of her ridiculously delicious pan-fried mandu. We at this with David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce, which, as many of us agree, makes virtually everything taste better.

Then came The Main Event. A 7-pound pork shoulder from Magruder Ranch that I slow-roasted and served with bibb lettuce, rice, and four garnishes: kimchi (that I bought from First Korean Market), puréed kimchi (a first for me), ssäm jang, and, of course, ginger scallion sauce. What really put this over the top, however, was the oysters. To demonstrate, I carefully loaded a lettuce leaf with rice, pork, and a sprinkling of each condiment. As I readied a meaty, teardrop-shaped, Hama Hama oyster belly, our friend Cecil exclaimed:

You put that on TOP of the pork?
Yes.
Oh, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!

A silence fell over the room, soon to be replaced by sounds of lip-smacking and swooning. The assembled bo ssäm was an insane marriage of umami and acid, creaminess and crunch, sweetness and salt. People actually stressed over whether there would be enough pork (there was, barely). To call this “the best bo ssäm of my life” doesn’t do it justice. This was flat-out the tastiest dish I’d eaten in a long, long time. My sister called me a “genius” for the overall success of the dish. I wish I could take credit for it, but the truth is that it’s absurdly simple to make.

* * * * *

Bo ssäm
from Momofuku

the pork
1 whole 8- to 10-lb bone-in Boston pork butt (skin off)
1 C granulated sugar
1 C plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T light brown sugar

In a roasting pan that snugly fits the pork shoulder, rub a mixture of the sugar + 1 C of salt all over the meat. (If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see footage of Martha Stewart getting really into rubbing down a pork butt.) Discard any excess sugar and salt, cover meat loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated around the pork, and cook the meat, fat side up, for around 6 hours until fork-tender (it took mine 8 hours to reach this state). During cooking, baste the meat with pan drippings every hour. When done, remove pork from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately before serving, rub pork all over with the brown sugar + 1 T salt and cook in a 500F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and formed a beautiful, pig-candy glaze. Serve pork with

the accompaniments
at least 1 (but possibly 2 – 4) dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 C kimchi
1 C coursely puréed kimchi
1 C ginger scallion sauce
1 C ssäm sauce
2 C high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice, cooked
2 or 3 heads of Bibb lettuce

ssäm sauce
1 T ssäm jang*
1/2 T gochujang*
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed oil

*Ssäm jang is a relatively thick paste that (along with gochujang) can be purchased at any Korean market. Typically, this paste is diluted with water or oil. Chang’s version of the sauce gives it added heat and acidity.

Eating instructions: Grab a lettuce leaf. Wrap around any combination of meat and accompaniments. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Dessert was strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. (Thanks, Cecil!)

* * * * *[/one_half]

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(Yes; Caleb is wearing a SpongeBob band-aid.)

The fabulous Miss Akua.

riceandwheat shrinks from the paparazzi.

Her husband, however,

… does not.

Food sis and food bro.

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Categories
Beer Can Chicken Chinese Fusion Index Korean Poultry Vietnamese

Beer can chicken, 6 ways

[one_half][M]y goodness, has it really been that long since July 4?  That would have been the date of our 3rd quasi-annual Battle Beer Can Chicken Competition, held at the frozen tundra (otherwise known as “The Inner Sunset”) where Chez Babychili can be found. And for the record, pictured above is the second-best chicken I tasted this year (sorry, @riceandwheat! 🙂 ).

Battle Beer Can Chicken (BBC) was, in many ways, the inevitable outcome of gathering a bunch of socially awkward, Type A science geeks at a backyard BBQ. As the organizer, I quickly realized the following things about my labmates:

  1. We tend to take after our socially awkward, hyper-competitive, lead geek (otherwise known as our “thesis advisor”) .
  2. We have an unusually high percentage of people who could be described (for better or for worse) as “foodies.”
  3. We likely had no other plans for July 4. (Lab, anyone?)

I had always been interested in attempting a beer can chicken, so I began campaigning early for a collective, one-day work stoppage to hold this food contest. Due to above realizations, this was not a tough sell. It just made so much sense. I mean, we all love food, right? Why not try to channel that love toward an activity of mutual annihilation? The rules were fairly simple: Bring, dress, and carve your own chicken. It must be cooked on the grill with a beer can in its cavity. Popular vote decides the winner. To up the stakes, I assembled a mantle-worthy traveling trophy out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, a rubber chicken, metallic gold spray paint, and glue. The prize was dubbed “The Golden Gob,” in honor of Will Arnett’s character on the greatest show ever to be cancelled by Fox.

The inaugural BBC was a smashing success, with 8 competitors representing 3 countries. One particularly enthusiastic German (whom I will only refer to as “Mr. F”) entered not one, but two birds for consideration. My wife, just to make us look bad, made a Zuni chicken in the oven. The recipes also spanned the globe, including a Tandoori-style chicken and a black tea dry rub. I personally entered a take on pollo a la brasa, inspired by the signature dish of New York City’s Flor de Mayo. The only mildly awkward thing about the whole affair was that I, uh … won my own contest and trophy. I felt a bit like Stephen Colbert accepting applause on behalf of his interview guests. But I graciously accepted the award with an appropriate degree of humility.

A couple years passed between the first and second installments of BBC. In 2007, Esme was born. And in 2008—well, dealing with a 1-year-old’s nap schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But by 2009, I had run out of excuses. The Golden Gob was to go up for grabs once again. And alas, it fell to foreign hands, as the diabolical Dr. H became the first Austrian national to take home the vaunted prize with a chicken he describes as simply, “The Bruno.”

Confused, disappointed, and frankly a little embarrassed, I immediately began plotting my revenge. The anticipation reached a fever pitch with this year’s BBC III, as official entries rolled in from defending champ Dr. H and foodblogging juggernaut Rice and Wheat, who had previously ghost-written recipes for her husband (“Wheat?”) that were good enough for 3rd and 2nd place in the first two competitions. Game on.

Both Dr. H and r+w employed what we refer to as the “giant chicken” strategy, which is simply: Use the largest bird you can find. According to this school of thought,  larger birds will be juicier when done. Also, if grill space is shared with a less attentive competitor, a smaller bird may dry out if not removed early. Indeed, r+w’s entry (described by one onlooker as “Gigantor”) weighed in at a whopping 6.5 lbs, requiring a beer can reminiscent of a pony keg to hold it up. And this time, the two heavyweights went on the grill together.

The remaining entries were all in the neighborhood of 4 – 4.5 lbs. Asian flavors dominated this year, with 4 out of the 6 entries sporting flavors from our planet’s largest continent.

Equipment I cannot say enough good things about the Classic Old Smokey Barbecue Grill (#18), which we used to cook all 6 chickens. What makes this particular make and model ideal for this competition is its 10.5″ of clearance above the grill, which accommodates vertical placement of virtually any chicken we are likely to use. Because the lid is cylindrical (rather than domed), you get this amount of clearance regardless of the lateral position on the grill.

I mocked my friend Reid for bringing a wire beer can chicken holder. Normally, a chicken should be able to stand up with its legs and can in classic, tripod formation. However, I quickly ate my words when I realized that my marination strategy had left my chicken too floppy to be free-standing. Reid was kind enough to let me use the holder, which I now grudgingly recommend.

Grilling instructions None of us is an expert at barbecue, so we worked together to share grill master duties. Though a proper beer can chicken calls for indirect heat, we knew we had to get 6 birds out by lunch, so we put 3 each on 2 grills, which covers much of the usable surface. That’s worked well for us in the past. The target temperature for the grill was 350F. At this temperature, a 4.5 lb bird takes about an hour and a half to cook (with the larger ones taking about 2 hours). You can go as low as 250F, but it takes longer. Fresh coals were added at the one hour mark. Doneness was determined by each individual, but the consensus temperature was about 170 – 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

* * * * *

THE RECIPES

As you might imagine, I can provide the most detailed information about my own entry, which was called “I wish I were short ribs.” It is essentially my sister’s homemade kalbi marinade, which I once used on my weekly oven roast chicken because I had a lot of the marinade around.

“I wish I were short ribs,” a kalbi-style beer can chicken

A 4 – 4.5 lb, high-quality chicken
1/2 onion
1/4 C Chinese or Korean rice wine
2 T brown sugar
1/4 C usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 T dark sesame oil
dash of fish sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
togarashi (Japanese red chili flakes) to taste
1/4 whole, ripe kiwi
kosher salt
1 lemon
1 can beer (it matters not what kind)

Let me know if I’m crazy, but I dry brined and then followed with the marination. Could I have simply added salt to my marinade? Possibly. But I wasn’t sure how much to add, and I knew that my way would work. So I patted the chicken down with paper towels and rubbed about 1.5 T of salt inside and out. I let it sit in the fridge, loosely covered, for 2 days.

To make the marinade, puree onion and mix with rice wine. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar with soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Stir into onion-wine mixture. Add fresh crushed garlic and togarashi to your liking. Mix well.

Then take 1/4 of a whole, ripe kiwi. Mash with a fork, and stir vigorously with 1/2 cup of the marinade. Using your hands, massage this kiwi-marinade mixture all over the chicken, being sure to put plenty underneath the skin. Put the well-rubbed chicken into a giant zippered plastic bag, and pour the rest of the marinade on top. Refrigerate 24 hours, turning once.

The kiwi will make the chicken extremely floppy and tender, so it does help to have a wire beer can chicken holder. Drink about 3/4 of the beer. Using a “church key” style can opener, punch a number of additional holes on the top of the can and liberally add marinade and juice from 1/2 of a lemon. Use the other half of the lemon (trimmed if necessary) to fashion a plug at the neck hole to trap steam.

Grill @ 350F over indirect heat for about 1.5 hours, or until the temperature reads 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.

Some notes from the rest of the field:

“Bruno 2.0: Bigger, juicier, tastier …” [pictured above]

Ok, here it comes:
dry rubbed the night before (not brined) with the following spices:
sweet paprika
some salt
some celery salt
garlic powder
onion powder
white pepper
ginger powder
black pepper
caraway
cayenne pepper

full recipe ( in German :-)) with a not so tasty picture here

“Chicken 888”

We wet brined / marinated for ~5 hours the day before in water, sugar,
salt, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, and chinese five spice.
We then air dried it overnight on a rack in the fridge. In addition to
beer our can was packed ~1/3 full of garlic.

“Imitation Seoul” [pictured at the top of this post]

i’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats…

dry-brined for 36 hours with salt and korean chili powder
morning of BBC, brushed chicken with gochujang
made bbq sauce consisting of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochujang, rice vingear
towards the end of grilling, basted chicken with some bbq sauce to get some caramelization on the skin

we also adopted the strategy  (a la dr. h) of finding the largest chicken we could – our dream was realized at trader joe’s with a 6.5 lb chicken.

“Pho-king Good Chicken”

My chicken was just a super simple marinade with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil. Inspired by grilled chicken you get at Vietnamese restaurants (ga nuong). I think the recipe I followed was from Andrea Nguyen. Other than that, I didn’t really do much to the chicken.. and I didn’t cheat by getting a giant bird 🙂

“DNF” [Disqualified in advance for pre-cooking in an electric smoker.]

Are you speaking of my famous “Unjustifiably Disqualified Chicken”?

Brined overnight in liquid
Dry rubbed with a blend of every spice I could find (emphasis on Adobo, and some dried peppers I collected in Oaxaca in 1999)
Smoked 1 hour at low heat (200ish)
Beer can BBQ’ed 1 hour
Finished with a secret bitterness sauce!

* * * * *

THE OUTCOME

Since this is a popular vote, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is virtually zero chance of my winning this again next year. But what can I say? Revenge is a dish best served with a beer can up its butt. I think everyone agreed that all of the chickens were absolutely delicious. Not a dud in the bunch. The voting reflected that, as r+w and I required a tiebreaker (most #1 votes) to determine a winner by the smallest of margins. The auspicious “Chicken 888” rounded out the medalists.
I’m already looking forward to BBC IV, and hope to see everyone here again next year!

* * * * *

Oh, and we also ate vegetables.[/one_half]
[one_half_last]

chicken dance
sweet, sweet victory

vegetables on stovetop grill
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Categories
Guest Post Index Korean Poultry

Guest post: Korean mandu for an American kitchen

[one_half]THE EVOLUTION OF MANDU

[U]ntil my brother made me write this blog entry, I always made a long apology whenever I prepared Korean food. Depending on what I was serving, my apology would include some version of the following statements: It’s not the way my mom made it. Koreans usually don’t serve x with y. If my mom tasted this she’d smack me. This is definitely not authentic, but…. Naturally, I made similar statements in my early drafts. And my brother, who is by far my biggest fan and my strongest supporter, kept shooting my drafts back to me. Not sure it’s there. And, worse: Good start!

Bewildering, I thought. Why is this hard? Is it because I’ve never written about cooking? Have I lost my touch? If it weren’t Ben, I might have flaked on this assignment and quietly pretended my insecurities never came up. But it’s Ben. So I found myself, over the past several weeks—thinking more about mandu and more about how I think about mandu—than I ever have in my life.

See, when it comes to mandu, I know how it’s supposed to be done. I’ve seen my mom prepare a hundred or so every month ever since I can remember. She begins with a pound of beef tenderloin, which she chops finely with a meat cleaver. She seasons this with fresh garlic, black pepper, soy sauce and salt (because they both season meat differently). Next, she takes a hunk of handmade tofu (I think she used to make it herself when we were really little kids) and squeezes all the water out of it with a linen bag that she sewed up specifically for this purpose. (Cheesecloth doesn’t work.) She seasons the crumpled tofu with sesame oil and salt. She lets the tofu and the meat sit in separate bowls, absorbing seasonings at room temperature, while she approaches the vegetables. It’s a different vegetable every time because mom cooks seasonally, but my favorite mandu vegetable was always Korean squash from her garden. This she juliennes, salts, drains, and seasons. Then she chops a small handful of her own kimchee, which she’s always made with less salt (doesn’t last as long, but it tastes fresher), onions, ginger, and sweet shrimp. When the moment feels right to her, she mixes everything in a large bowl, binds it with one or two egg yolks, and then sits at the table to stuff the mandu.

When we were really really little, she made the dough for mandu too, by mixing flour, water and salt. I don’t remember this myself, but my dad, who prefers homemade dough, tells me about it repeatedly on mandu making days.

Mandu is the only dish that my mom ever bothered acting humble and polite about, because she knows flat out that she makes the best. I tried to follow the legacy, and throughout my adulthood, I fixed mandu all the time. Of course, I’d try some shortcuts. I hate dishwashing, so I’d try to season everything in the same bowl (why not? It all ends up in the same bowl anyway). I’d use store-bought kimchee. I always bought meat that was ground in the store. None of my shortcuts worked. My mandu tasted flat, watery, or muddy.

So I gave up and started trying to make mandu the way my mom did. I asked the Korean market to call me on tofu delivery days. I made sure my mom made kimchee for me whenever she came to visit. And when I finally thought I might be able to make it the way it was supposed to be done, I prepared mandu for my parents. That afternoon, the butcher handed me a package that he ground up himself right then and there. “That there’s tenderloin with some prime rib thrown in,” he said. “Your momma’s gonna love that.” I even made the dough, which made my dad sigh as he watched me flatten and stuff each little round. Mom ate my mandu with a completely neutral look in her eyes. “How is it? Is it the way it’s supposed to be done?” I asked. “Sure,” she said flatly. “Delicious.”

I was missing something, and it drove me crazy. Like so many foods I tried to replicate from our childhood, my mandu just wasn’t there. It was boring. It was an occupant on the table that added nothing to the meal. I had the right ratios of crunchy, savory, sweet, and salt. What did it lack? Whenever our church prepared a meal, cooks always asked my mom to taste and correct every dish before it was served. Like her mother before her, our mom was Chef to five neighborhoods. But when I asked her to test my mandu, she shrugged. “It’s good. It’s fine.”

So I sat down with my dad, the theorist. (It doesn’t make sense to talk to my mom about theories.) And together, we came up with a few mandu principles that seemed to be Pretty Good Truths.

  • Meat plus tofu. If you’re Korean, the meat is likely very lean, grass-fed beef. Tofu serves to moisten the texture of the beef, by softening it and adding a marrow-like consistency that ostensibly adds richness. By removing some of the water from the tofu, and seasoning it with sesame oil, tofu can mimic fat and gelatin.
  • Vegetables. If you’re my mother, the only reason to add vegetables is for Good Health. If you’re my father, you believe the vegetables are there to add texture, flavor, and color.
  • Kimchee. We’re Korean. That’s reason enough.
  • Mandu dough. Here’s where my mom and dad take surprising turns. Mom buys organic Nasoya wonton wraps from Safeway, or “good ones” from the Korean market. Same difference. Why? Because it’s easier, and it tastes great. My dad remembers handmade dough and just can’t get past its incomparable, light texture. He’s right. I’m sure I’ll start making this again when my children stop wanting to play with wasp nests and fire.

Here are the problems I had with these principles:

  • Meat plus tofu. As nice as my dad’s theory sounds, tofu just doesn’t replace marrow, fat or gelatin. And despite what everyone says, tofu has a strong soybean flavor, and it doesn’t, as some may assume, simply absorb the flavor of beef. It tends to take in initial flavors and retain them. It also has a high water content and a tendency to toughen into grainy crumbles when crushed and cooked at a higher temperature. If you mix tofu into ground beef in the same way that folks create meatloaf mixtures, what you get is a soggy mixture that retains the metallic tang of raw blood, even after it’s cooked.
    This is why my mom drained and seasoned the tofu separately, and tossed it gently into the beef, so that there were small lentil-sized pieces of beef mixed with small lentil-sized pieces of sesame oil-flavored creamy tofu. But even with gentle tossing, you still get some odd texture/flavor challenges.
  • Finely chopped (but not ground) vegetables and kimchee follow mom’s approach of preserving the integrity of individual flavors. I think this is a great principle, as long as the flavors work together to present a glorious whole. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of disparate stuff. I’ve tasted mandu made with various leftover stuff from the fridge, and this random approach, mixed with the raw blood problem above, can produce the impression of garbage.
  • Mandu dough. I could probably make time to make these, but right now in my life I know I don’t want to.

Given the above, this is what I did:

  • Ground chicken. Store-bought, hormone-free, vegetarian, free-range chicken that has been ground by your butcher offers the right texture, flavor and fat content. We use dark meat. (My BF makes mandu with ground pork, and that’s also fabulous.) The minute I went with a higher fat content meat with a naturally tender texture, I challenged the whole idea of individual nuggets of flavors, and went instead for what I perceived to be the ultimate goal of meat + tofu: richness, tenderness, subtler meat flavor. To shift away from ground meat’s tendency to get rubbery or bouncy, I also added a small amount of fine white breadcrumbs.
  • Good quality frozen spinach. There are a lot of situations where fresh blanched spinach is so superior to frozen spinach leaves that it’s appropriate to sneer when frozen is suggested. This is not one of them. I chose spinach because there is something lovely that happens when wilted spinach leaves are entangled in the golden, garlicky chicken. Kind of the same way that there is something lovely between pork and caramelized cabbage. Another bonus is that the frozen leaves won’t go bad if I decide on too many last minute tickle fights or soccer games.
  • No kimchee. I know: freaky. I know this means I might get my Korean card taken away, but there you have it. I like kimchee when it’s stewed, and I like it fresh. I’m just not crazy about it when it’s lightly steamed inside a nugget of meat. To me, that bright, spicey, tart flavor just kind of goes limp and sour in there. (So how did my mom do it so well? I don’t know. Possibly magic.)
  • Yangnyum soy sauce. Yangnyum, usually used as a dipping sauce, creates deeper flavor in meat that is essentially just steamed. Yangnyum cuts the grittiness of spinach, brings out the round savory capability of chicken, and supports the caramelizing of the mandu.
  • Mandu skins. See above.

And from all this thinking and rewriting arose some personal discoveries:

  • Be the mandu. Mom makes amazing mandu, and trying to achieve greatness in mandu is a worthy journey. But maybe trying to exactly replicate her inimitable style doesn’t make sense. Whatever happens in her kitchen, with her tools, and her magical touch is as particular as her thumbprint. Maybe knowing how mandu is supposed to be done is going to come down to how I apprehend, understand, and interpret the mandu I was brought up knowing. I don’t have a sunny, cement-walled backyard where Korean squash and shepherd’s purse grow rampant with sharp, sweet green onions. I don’t use the same warped wooden cutting board, or make the same musical cutting sounds with my knife. Maybe that’s why mom treats me like I’m stupid every time I tried to make them exactly the way she does. It’s her way of pushing me out into the culinary world and saying, Take what you know … and then go get ‘em honey.
  • Deliciousness can come at any price. Or rather, as my brother quoted from Momofoku, “… deliciousness by any means.” Ground chicken and frozen spinach are lowly ingredients, and it feels somehow unglamorous not to be using something exotic or difficult. But put them together, seasoned properly, in mandu, and something glorious happens. Browned in a pan, they come out golden, rich, complex, and full of umami. I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t try to eat at least of dozen of these in one sitting. Have I tried making them with lobster or oyster mushrooms, or chestnuts? Yes. Are they as delicious as the chicken ones? No.
  • Time is an issue. Like my brother, I have never been afraid of taking time to make good food. Make my own condiments? Drive across town for a single ingredient? Practice pulling noodles by hand? All good things that I have done and loved. But once children came into my life, cooking moved to occupy a lesser portion of my daily life. So, also like my brother, I focused on creating uncomplicated dishes efficiently and well. With this approach to mandu, I can make 50 yummy mandu in about 20 minutes. That’s important to me.

So what does this all mean? Well after having written this blog several times over, I think the bottom line is that mandu—like all dishes—is supposed to move gracefully through time and generations. (I say gracefully because as open as I try to be, there are still ingredients that I feel might take mandu to a bad place, like cheese spread or ketchup.) Edification can be a form of cherishing, but it can also restrict natural evolutions that take place from kitchen to kitchen. So no more apologies. Right?

Right. Still, the real test came when my parents were visiting us, and we found ourselves having to slap together a fast meal. Mom foraged around and found a bag of my quickie rogue chicken mandu in my freezer. Despite myself, I had a quiet anxiety attack. She’s going to know I cheated. She’s going to think I’m an unfit mother because I can’t make mandu the real way while still keeping my children safe and engaged in fun algebra exercises. Instead, for the first time in my life, my supertaster, critical, talented mom gave me unqualified praise. “WOW delicious!” she exclaimed, totally surprised. “Tell me how you made this! Write it down! I want to make that for Esme!”

* * * * *

HOW I MADE THAT MANDU
(according to my BF Leeann, who watched me, and then wrote it down for me, and my 6-year-old daughter Jinju, who took the above picture)

Mandu (Korean dumplings)
1 T dark brown sugar
1 tsp fresh crushed garlic (I use a mortar and pestle)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 C finely minced scallions, sautéed until bright and fragrant, cooled to room temperature
1/2 tsp fresh ginger juice
2 T toasted sesame oil
1/5 C (scant) soy sauce
1 extra large egg, separated
5 oz frozen, good quality spinach leaves, thawed, lightly drained (don’t squeeze it so much that all you have left is fiber)
plain, fine white breadcrumbs
1 lb ground chicken
1 package wonton or gyoza wrappers
olive oil or grapeseed oil*
water

Yangnyum dipping sauce
1 T dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 T minced scallions
2 T toasted sesame oil
1 T ground, toasted sesame seeds
1/4 C soy sauce

*My mom and I use these two oils for Korean cooking. Mom never uses canola or soybean oils because she thinks they taste nasty (I think they are fine). I never add sesame oil to my cooking oil because I think that intense, direct heat adversely changes the flavor (Mom thinks I’m crazy to think so). Olive oil adds a lovely richness to Korean cooking. Grapeseed oil preserves clarity. Those two we agree on.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the first 6 ingredients. Mix in the ground meat and spinach. Add egg yolk to bind, and mix (reserving egg white in a separate bowl). As my BF puts it: add bread crumbs until moisture is something you can only sense (and hear) in the mixture rather than see.

The wonton wrapper will have one side that looks more floured than the other. Drape half of the wonton wrapper across the top of the egg white so that only half of the floured side is moistened. Place about a teaspoon and a half of the filling mixture in the center of the wonton wrapper on the moistened side. Fold wrapper in half over the mixture. Seal the edges and gently flatten the filling to press out air bubbles and allow for more even cooking. It takes a little practice to figure out the proper amount of filling to use, but once you do, the assembly moves fairly quickly. I usually place the assembled mandu on a large piece of waxed paper. Repeat until filling mixture is gone. Makes about 50.

At this point, you can freeze them, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, as long as the mandu are not touching each other and the skins are not too damp (if you find yourself making damp ones, just sprinkle cornstarch on the wax paper). After they are frozen solid, you can store them in a large zippered bag until you’re ready to cook. Never defrost frozen mandu. Simply follow the directions below, which are the same for fresh or frozen.

To make yaki mandu (potsticker style) heat about 2 T of oil over medium heat in a nonstick frying pan. Place mandu in the frying pan (leaving enough space between them so they can breathe, which means you will have to cook them in batches). When the mandu starts making a tchka tchka tchka sound, add a few tablespoons to 1/4 C of water to the pan and cover until the top of the mandu are steamed through, slightly translucent and wrinkly. The filling should feel firm to the touch. Bottoms should be golden brown. Transfer to serving plate, and repeat until all are cooked. Serve with dipping sauce.

These are also yummy in soup. Bring homemade stock or broth to a light boil, and season soup with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of freshly crushed garlic. Cook mandu until they float up to the top, and then finish with minced scallions and a few dots of sesame oil. Warm until the scallions are bright green and the sesame oil is fragrant.

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open mandu with filling

closing mandu

uncooked mandu on cutting board

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Categories
Dinner Party Index Korean Meats Sous Vide

48-hour short rib

[one_half]”A very important thing to realize is that tougher or fattier meats always have better flavor; this is why osso buco and the short rib are so delicious and filet mignon will never be found on a menu where I am chef.”
—Mario Batali

[I] almost cried when I saw that Pó bear was on my side in this ongoing debate I’ve been having with my sister over the merits of filet mignon. She’s a fan. I just don’t get it. I put filet mignon right up there with pork tenderloin and boneless, skinless chicken breast as cuts that just don’t have what I’m looking for when I’m in the mood to eat meat: what my friend Gene calls The taste of victory. Give me a shank, a shoulder, or a thigh any day. [Tender or lean] vs. [tough or fatty]. One way or another, people tend to fall into one of these two general camps, even if they don’t know it yet. Don’t think so? Go ahead and check out what your coworkers are ordering at the taqueria. There will almost certainly be a contingent that’s hell bent on getting carnitas. Then there’s the steamed/grilled chicken people. The ones who are planning to work out later. In my observation, rarely does one side order from the other’s menu (my sister, being a notable exception, associates freely with both).

Then there’s the short rib. A true crossover meat that appeals to both the carnitas and the “fresh mex” crowd. How has this become the case? Have the tender/lean-meaters simply never seen what uncooked short ribs look like? I believe the answer lies in the undeniable deliciousness of the short rib. If you’re going to make an exception, have a “cheat day,” whatever you want to call it … grilled, marinated kalbi is likely to be near the top of your list.

Short ribs have been present for a disproportionately large fraction of my favorite food moments to date. I grew up going to Korean church picnics, so that’s many pounds of kalbi consumed right there. I also have a special affection for Alice Waters’s Braised Beef Short Ribs with Gremolata, my favorite recipe from the oustanding Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, and one of the first really great meals I prepared myself. So my jaw dropped when I saw this post from asian jewish deli about short rib pastrami. Which he put into a reuben. Holy fucking shit. I think about short ribs a lot, but this never occurred to me.  I knew immediately that I had to have it.

As it turns out, my St. Patty’s Day dinner for Erin was long overdue. I had promised her corned beef. Why not corned short ribs? In a reuben? For a dinner party? Regular visitors to this space may have gathered that I also started to become obsessed with sous vide cooking at about this time. In deciding whether or not it was worth setting up my own sous vide rig, I wanted to cook something where the technique would make the most extreme difference. Consensus, and Thomas Keller, seemed to point to short ribs as the real game changer. Why? The general principle here is that you can select a temperature at which the connective tissue (e.g., collagen) dissolves. Given enough time at said temperature, meat gets softer, because the muscle fibers can no longer adhere to each other as well. However, this process can occur at temperatures below what’s necessary for browning. Such temperatures can be stably maintained with an immersion circulator, or any number of alternative setups for sous vide cooking. With tougher cuts of meat like short rib, cooking with this technique can result in degrees of tenderness generally not associated with medium rare doneness.

So there it was. A near-perfect storm of circumstances compelling me to cook short ribs really low and really slow. It was as if The Island wanted me to do it. So I did. Four times.

* * * * *

Attempt #1: The Keller way

Before spending 4 – 5 days curing and then attempting my reuben for strange dinner guests, I wanted to give sous vide short ribs a test run under lower-pressure conditions. For my first pass, I went straight for the Thomas Keller method, as I could best determine. I considered getting his book, Under Pressure, solely for this one recipe. However, reviews seemed to indicate that much of the book was focused on practical details that were only relevant for professional kitchens. So I consulted The Google, and found this post by sousvidegeek, which references Keller’s book. From it, I inferred that the ribs were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked for 72 hours at 56C. As I am wont to do, I seasoned the ribs three days in advance. After sous vide’ing, I seared the ribs in a very hot cast iron skillet, deglazed the pan with residual liquid from the plastic bag, and made a simple pan gravy with butter, shallots and red wine.

I’ll confirm that you’ve never had short ribs (or anything else, for that matter) quite like this. If you are accustomed to cooking thinly sliced kalbi on a grill, you might expect medium rare short ribs to have a gradient of doneness from the outside in, along with a fair bit of toothiness. In my case, aside from the seared exterior, the meat was uniformly pink and medium rare. It was not quite fork-tender with this preparation (I needed a knife), but the meat was extremely tender, much like a prime rib. I do not (as others might) assert that this format is superior to the non-sous vide forms. But it is undeniably different, in a way that you kind of have to try to believe.

The flavor of the sous vide short ribs was also novel to my tongue. When braised, short ribs typically assume robust, rich flavors. When grilled, kalbi-style, their beefiness melds seamlessly with the sweetness of the marinade. But with the Keller treatment, the flavors were strikingly subtle, and almost smoky. Ironically, more filet mignony than I’d like to admit.

I would say the only real disappointment I had with this dish was the state of the tendon. For kalbi eaters, I’m talking about the delightfully crunchy sleeve of connective tissue right up against the bone, otherwise known as “the best part.” The part that Americans tend not to eat. With the braised version, it’s decadent and slightly molten. Alas, the 72 hour short rib tendon is still tough, and tenaciously adhered to the bone.

My reservations notwithstanding, I knew there was some serious potential here, so I proceeded to

Attempt #2: The reuben (and the runaround)

At this point, I was ready to give the short rib reuben a shot. Or, as I ceremoniously posted to my Facebook status: “Let the corning begin!

What is a boneless short rib? First order of business was to get my hands on at least 5 pounds of boneless short ribs. I wanted to make pastrami the normal way (smoked) as well as sous vide (smokeless). I figured 2.5 lbs of each was the minimum to justify the effort. Here’s where things can get a bit confusing if you don’t know precisely how to identify what you want. I first asked the butcher at my local grocery whether this quantity of boneless short ribs was easy to come by.

Oh, yeah. Boneless short rib is also called a brisket. We do that all the time. There are a few 12 lb briskets sitting in the deli case right now.

Uh … no. I think? I mean, brisket isn’t short ribs, right? Wasn’t that the whole novelty of making pastrami out of short ribs in the first place? That it wasn’t brisket? But I wasn’t confident about it, so I smiled, said I’d think about it, and went straight home to consult the wikipedia entry on short ribs. Sure enough (at last according to the cartoon), brisket is in the breast area, and not at all contiguous with the ribs. The next morning, I called back, spoke to a different butcher, and was politely reminded how many years that particular employee had been a butcher (fifteen), and that, yes, boneless short ribs are the same thing as brisket. I had also contacted several specialty butchers, the first of which had this to say:

Sure. That’s the top of the chuck, and we’ve got … LOTS of chuck.

Huh? I’m certainly no expert, but even I can plainly see that the top of the chuck is basically right behind the head, i.e., nowhere near the short ribs. Now I really thought I was losing my mind. I did some further internet trawling and found this excellent article on CHOW that identifies the different possibilities for short rib (none of which, incidentally, is brisket). What specialty butcher #1 meant to say was “bottom of the chuck.” That made more sense.

Okay, without further laboring the point, the take-home message here is that if you want boneless short ribs with the same meat they use to make kalbi, you ask for “boneless short ribs from the short plate.” That was the magical combination of words that made my request unambiguous to all four butchers I spoke with. As it turns out, unless there is some special at Costco or something, most butchers will simply charge you for the rack, bones included, and offer the cut the bones off for you. If that’s what you end up doing, by all means keep the bones! You could leave them on, you could use them for stock, you could prepare the tendons separately, etc. I opted for 5 lbs of boneless meat from the bottom of the chuck, also called a chuck roll. I did this knowing that the meat was leaner (and likely tougher) than the short plate, but that it would be full of flavor. The meat was sourced from the Five Dot ranch, and I didn’t have to pay for the bone weight. It was cut into 6 strips, roughly equal in size, about 1.25 inches thick. Whew! First task complete. The rest was easy, by comparison.

Why doesn’t the picture look like a reuben? In my previous post about the reuben dinner party, I referred to my dish as A modern, disassembled reuben. I consciously avoided using the term “deconstructed,” because that term, as I understand it, implies some degree of fidelity to the spirit of the original dish. My intent here was reinterpret the dish, using similar elements but arriving at something else entirely. I would say that I had mixed success.

The meat I corned all five pounds of the short ribs using Michael Ruhlman’s recipe from Charcuterie. One modification I made was to weigh out the salt. I found that 10 oz of Morton’s kosher salt per gallon is considerably less than 2 cups. I then rinsed the meat thoroughly, vacuum sealed half of it and put in the freezer (for use later with treatment #4). The other half was vacuum sealed with some pickling spice, onion and celery, and cooked sous vide for 48 hours at 60C. To make it a “pastrami,” I coated the cooked meat with a freshly ground, 1:1 mixture of coriander seeds and tellicherry peppercorns. Inspired by David Chang’s 48 hour short rib, I subsequently fried the meat in about a pint of 365F grapeseed oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet for 3 minutes per side. The point here was simply to sear the outside of the meat. But as you can probably see in the picture above, I way overcooked it. It came out well-done, which essentially negated the 48 hours of sous vide’ing. I think this happened for a few reasons:

  1. Chang’s recipe is for shocked or refrigerated meat. The length of frying is to get the middle warm but not cooked. I was pressed for time, so I took the meat straight from the water bath, patted it dry and fried it warm.
  2. Curing the meat in the corning brine appears to affect the texture of the beef. It definitely emerged from the brine firmer than it was pre-corning. This likely contributed to the firmer texture in the cooked product.
  3. Chuck roll is significantly leaner than the short plate, which is presumably what Chang uses. The cured, lean (firm) meat thus accounts for more of the total volume and mass of the cut.

On the positive side, it was still pretty awesome, as you might imagine deep-fried corned beef would be. Light and crunchy on the outside, somewhat tender (though not nearly fork-tender) on the inside. All the spices I used were ordered fresh from World Spice. I believe that using fresh spices had a profound impact on the flavor and aroma of the meat.

The rest In case you’re curious about the other elements on the plate, I made my own steamed buns so that I could add caraway seeds and do a play on rye bread. I used this recipe here, adding 2T of caraway seeds. The buns were fine, and the caraway seeds did add sweetness and fragrance. But I’d just as soon buy buns from an asian market, since they’re cheap and just as good. Instead of Russian dressing, I made a classic aioli, to which I added sriracha for color and heat. One can probably imagine how that tastes, and suffice to say I’ll be making it again. I also did a braised sauerkraut, which I was unhappy with. I’ve yet to make a cooked version of sauerkraut that isn’t bitter, and would appreciate any suggestions/recipes from people who have.

All in all, I thought this was fun and turned out reasonably well, but it was not the most amazing thing I’ve made. Couldn’t figure out how to plate this attractively, since there wasn’t a broad palette of colors to work with. And there were lighting issues with the photo, etc. I went back to the store and bought some normal short ribs for

Attempt #3: Chang wins

The photo at the very top is my prep of the 48-hour short rib from Momofuku, which, as you may have guessed by now, was my favorite preparation of the four. Apologies to Amy Kim for not trimming the scallions. I don’t know what I was thinking. Actually, I had no plans at the time to blogify this. If I had, I probably would have strained the sauce a little better, as well. But as they say, the proof of the pudding’s in the eating, and I did plenty of that here. The texture was exactly what I had hoped for—a very superficial, crisp exterior and pillowy interior. The flavor of the meat, as in the Keller prep, was simultaneously delicate and rich. The kalbi marinade provides just enough sweet without overpowering the ribs, and is complemented nicely by a light dusting of Maldon salt. This is what sous vide cooking’s about, folks:

48-hour short rib
adapted (more or less identically) from Momofuku

1 1/3 C water
5 T usukuchi (light soy sauce)
4 tsp apple pear juice
1 1/4 T mirin
1/2 T Asian sesame oil (i.e., with pictures of dragons)
5/8 C sugar
5 grinds black pepper
1/4 small onion
1/2 small carrot
2 scallions, whites only
1 garlic clove

4 pieces bone-in short ribs (5 – 6 oz each), trimmed of any silverskin and cut into individual ribs
grapeseed or other neutral oil or rendered pork or duck fat for deep-frying

To make the marinade, combine all ingredients (except the meat and oil/fat) into a small saucepan and rapidly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, and cool in the refrigerator. Next, vacuum seal each rib with 1/2 C of marinade. I did not salt the meat in advance, though I see no harm in doing so. Ziploc sous vide bags are pictured above, but you can also get by with normal ziploc bags, as described here. Chang recommends double bagging them; the degree of anal retention is up to you. If you do double bag, I’d recommend putting water (or if you’re paranoid about leakage, marinade) in the outside bag so that you don’t have a pocket of air insulating your meat. Cook for 48 hours at 60C.

When the ribs are done cooking, immerse the intact bags in ice water. Note that the bags will be holding a fair amount of heat, so it helps to have LOTS of ice and a large reservoir of water. Ideally, you want to cool the ribs quickly and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them.

When you’re ready to roll, liberate the ribs from the bags, reserving the braising liquid. Strain the liquid and reduce over high heat to about a cup.

To finish the ribs, remove bones and trim off the tendons and any chunks of fat. Notably, the bones here slide right out (same ribs I used for the Keller protocol). So that 5C difference in cooking temperature does make a difference. Try to trim such that the large faces are relatively flat, and the thickness is uniform. I reserve the tendons and remnants and fry them, but that’s up to you. Heat grapeseed oil in a cast iron skillet about 1/4″ high to 365F. The goal here is to brown the outside of the meat and get the inside warm, but not to cook it further. You don’t want the oil to get too cold, so for a 10″ skillet, I’d do one or two ribs at a time. As for the timing, you need to determine by trial and error. Chang recommends 3 – 4 minutes on each side. This really depends on how thick the cut is. Odds are, your pieces will not all be of the same thickness, so to be on the safe side, I’d recommend that you try the first rib at 2 – 3 minutes a side, based on thickness. I feel that you get a lot of information out of that first rib, and from there, it’s easy to correct the cooking time.

In the book, Chang gives very explicit instructions on how to plate and what garnishes he uses. I didn’t have all of that stuff. I did have the scallions (blanched for 10 seconds in salted water and shocked). Be sure them to trim them to avoid ridicule and unsightly roots. I did not have/make pickled carrots, braised daikon or mustard seeds, so I quickly pickled a kirby cucumber. Slice thinly and toss with a 3:1 mixture of sugar to salt to lightly coat. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and it’s ready.

Serve ribs, sliced, over a couple tablespoons of reduced braising liquid and any garnishes. Immediately before serving, lightly dust ribs with flaky salt like Maldon or Diamond kosher salt. Luxuriate.

* * * * *

I had almost forgotten about my 2.5 lbs of corned short ribs in the freezer when our friends Reid and Mary invited us to their housewarming/barbecue, which was to feature both a smoker and a grill from the venerable Old Smokey. Perfect opportunity for

Attempt #4: Going primitive

OK, this isn’t a sous vide prep. But it does qualify as slow and low, though it’s by far the quickest and highest temp treatment of the four. I was very interested to try a traditional pastrami made with this cut of meat. So Reid took the ribs that I sealed off in #2, coated them with the same coriander/peppercorn mix, and cooked them in an electric smoker for about 3 hours at 104C. By the end of the 3 hours, we were pushing on quite a bit past Esme’s naptime. So I was off in a corner entertaining her with Neko Case songs, desperately trying to stave off the inevitable meltdown. An excited Reid came by to give me the heads up:

You might want to go over there and check out your handiwork.

Several people were huddled around the three strips of Five Dot chuck roll pastrami as Matt sliced it into thin wafers. Raquel was already waving one of these pink wafers between her thumb and forefinger, and hounding me about its contents.

What kind of meat is this? What part of the cow has this flavor? It’s pink! Why is it pink? There’s so much FLAVOR!!! What is that? What does that mean?

It went over well. Three people asked for the recipe, including one labmate who just two weeks earlier had dismissed my choice of corned short ribs as “foodie nonsense.” He’s now a believer. My verdict? It was the most flavorful of the four, but the least tender. It had roughly the texture of a flank steak, done medium. As much as I like the lower temp preparations, there’s a deepness and structure to the flavor of the meat that you can only get with browning and smoke. I’ll definitely do this again, but with meat from the short plate.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Well, let’s see … She was asleep for preparations #1 and #3, and a little overtired when #4 was ready to eat. So I only have the well-done reuben meat to go on. She mostly wanted to try it because it was also what her new friend Naya was eating.

Daddy, I want that red thing.
You mean what Naya’s eating?
Yeah. Mommy said I could have more.
Do you like it?
Yeah. It’s too crunchy. It’s grown-up food, I think. Are we going to have ice cream?

She also liked the buns, though she prefers them white (no caraway seeds), with turkey and cheese.

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thomas keller sous vide short rib

sous vide pastrami reuben

vacuum sealed short ribs in marinade

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Categories
Desserts Index Korean Vegan

Yakbap (steamed sweet rice cake with nuts and golden raisins)

[one_half][I]’m no dummy. When I see David Chang getting flak for not including more desserts in his book Momofuku, I know better than to make the same mistake. Consider this entry Dessert #1. (Now I just need to open a white-hot NYC restaurant, and I’ll be in business …)

Yakbap literally translates to “medicine rice,” though this dish is a far cry from the foul concoctions my mother had me drink as an ill child (which, on at least one occasion, included red potato juice.  Don’t try it.). Rather, yakbap is among the many varieties of dduk, each of which I was likely to sample one, two, perhaps seven times after church every week when I was growing up. The post-sermon release of food was always a major highlight of my week. Sometimes we had donuts, other times kimbap, and on certain occasions, bowls of yuk gae jang. But the gauntlet of dduk remained a welcoming constant. Those unfamiliar with dduk may recognize some of its other forms: “New Year’s cake” in Chinese cuisine; or Mochi ice cream, a staple of Trader Joe’s frozen confections. What they all have in common is glutinous rice (also called sweet rice) as the dominant component. This results in a decadently starchy texture that would cause any God-fearing Atkins dieter to recoil in horror.

I’ve always been a big fan of this dish. A couple years ago, I was tempted to buy some at the dduk counter at our local Korean grocery. My mother waved me off.

Don’t get that. I’ll make it when we get home.
Oh, for real? How do you make it?
You just put the rice in. Cook it.
I see …

I had to bug my Mom to make this several times, and she kept not getting around to it. So I consulted my trusty guide, Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, and found a recipe that looked to be a royal pain in the ass. It involved cooking the sweet rice first, tossing it in the seasoning, and then resteaming it in a makeshift double-boiler consisting of a breadpan and a dutch oven. This could not possibly be what Mom does. Indeed, when confronted with this information, she admitted that she basically does everything in a covered pot, carefully listening at the stove for when the rice is done. That also didn’t sound appealing to me. Sensing this, my Mom looked over at my rice cooker and suggested the brilliant.

Why don’t you just put everything in there and turn it on?

I did, and the yakbap came out perfectly. I’ve read other recipes online that involve the double-boiler method, pressure cookers, microwaves, etc. But in my mind, nothing beats being able to take an ordinary piece of equipment, set it, and forget it.

* * * * *

Yakbap (steamed sweet rice cake with nuts and golden raisins)
adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook

2 C sweet rice
1 T soy sauce
2 T corn syrup, honey
or molasses
**
2 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil (label bedragoned)
1 C walnuts, skinned; or chestnuts, cooked, shelled and skinned
1 C pitted jujubes (dates) or 1/2 C raisins
2 T pine nuts
1/2 C brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon

A few notes on the ingredients:

  • Make sure you use sweet rice (glutinous rice, pictured above). You need the high amylopectin content of this type of rice. Other types of rice (which include a normal percentage of amylose) won’t be sticky, and will therefore not make dduk.
  • Many Asian markets now carry roasted, shelled chestnuts packaged in foil or mylar (pictured above). They are perfectly fine for this recipe, and for $1.19, the value of not having to roast/steam and shell chestnuts yourself can’t be beat. I thought my Mom’s head was going to explode the first time she saw these. She took about 10 packs back with her to LA.
  • For the dried fruit component, jujubes are more traditional, but I don’t prefer to use them because the peels have a tough texture. Raisins are a common alternative, and I used about half the amount recommended in the book. My wife doesn’t like raisins, so I have tried using currants before. They are wonderfully tart, but do not hold their shape when steamed. So they do get a bit messy.
  • Though they are significantly more expensive, I use pine nuts of European origin, lest I once again make my thesis co-advisor’s wife suffer from the dreaded “pine mouth” (sorry, Heidi).
  • **Update 24 October, 2010. I spoke with my mom about this post, and one tip she added was to use molasses instead of corn syrup or honey. This secret she carefully guarded for years, feeling that molasses was an ingredient that gave her dish a familiar flavor that other versions could not capture. I suspect that she used molasses as a proxy for maltose or rice syrup, which was not commonly available when she immigrated here. Any particular kind of molasses? The one with the rabbit on it. I tried this and found that it’s definitely not as sweet if you use only molasses. I’ll probably try molasses + honey next time.

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Soak rice in lukewarm water for at least 1 hour. Rinse rice thoroughly about 3 – 5 times in cold water. With all types of rice, my Mom often says to rinse until the water is clear, but even she will acknowledge that this will not happen for a very long time. You can safely stop at 5. If you have a rice cooker, combine all ingredients, and add just enough water to cover. Press the button. 30 minutes, and one delicious-smelling house later, you’re done!

Serving I think it tastes best warm, and because it’s so dense, ramekins are a good serving vessel. Commonly, people will pack the cooked rice into a baking dish (grease it with a bit of sesame oil first), let it cool, and then cut into brownie-sized squares. It will keep nicely in the fridge for about a week, but I always nuke it for 10 – 20 secs to get it nice and warm before eating.

Additional tips This recipe makes a lot of yakbap. If you’re not going to a potluck, you can halve the recipe, as I did when making it for this post. However, keep in mind that with a medium or large rice cooker, a relatively thin layer of rice at the bottom of the insert is more likely to scorch or cook unevenly. Your alternatives are to use a small cooker, or cook on the stovetop in a smaller pan with low heat. The latter is the way my Mom does it, but this method requires a bit more attention to make sure you don’t burn the bottom. If you don’t feel that you added enough water during cooking (or if it dried out in the refrigerator), simply add a small amount of water and zap it for about a minute on medium.

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The Esme rating I told her that I made special rice. She eyed it, suspicously.

I don’t want it.
Try it. It’s sweet.
I don’t want to try it. I don’t like it.
[takes bite] I like it. I like sugar. What’s this, daddy? It’s a chestnut.
Chess-nut. It looks like a little bit like chocolate. It tastes like chocolate, too. It’s a little bit like chocolate, Daddy.
Do you like chestnuts?
Yeah. I don’t want this anymore.

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And now, a moment of bliss … [/one_half]

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sweet rice

korean yakbap in spoons

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