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1.026 Chicken Soft Taco, 7-Layer Burrito

MEAL 1.026
31 January 2010

-Mexican-
Chicken Soft Taco
7-Layer Burrito

at Taco Bell

Camp Casey
Dongduchon
Gyeonggi

* * *

By pure coincidence, following 3 consecutive nights of planned meals in the Mexican tradition (see 1.023 Cheese Quesadilla with Shrimp Cocktail a la Veracruz; 1.024 Veggie Soup with Shredded Chicken; 1.025 Shrimp Fajitas), I found myself at Taco Bell. More specifically, I found myself in a food court that had a Taco Bell booth, along with other fast food titans, but I couldn't resist the opportunity. Taco Bell is not available in Korea, although one is currently under construction in Itaewon, but I was invited on base by an old fraternity buddy of mine, TJ Buttrick, who happens to be stationed at Camp Casey, where lo and behold the soldiers may avail themselves of Taco Bell every night, should they foolishly choose to do so. I don't know if I was tired of Mexican food at this point, although the connection between Taco Bell and real Mexican food (assuming what I made is "real" Mexican food) is somewhat tenuous, or if I'd outgrown Taco Bell (it'd been years since the last time, can't even remember when), or if Taco Bell had lost its magic (yes, magic), or if the Taco Bell on base wasn't up to the high standards of Stateside establishments (yes, high standards), but in any event I was a bit disappointed.

1.025 Shrimp Fajitas

MEAL 1.025
30 January 2010

-Mexican-
Shrimp Fajitas

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Part 3 of my foray into Mexican cuisine (see 1.023 Cheese Quesadilla with Shrimp Cocktail a la Veracruz; 1.024 Veggie Soup with Shredded Chicken), this time with something a bit more familiar: the ubiquitous fajita. I'll refrain going into specifics.

Aside from the food itself, I think I'm getting better at taking photos of the meals for this blog. The photo here is my favorite shot thus far.

1.024 Veggie Soup with Shredded Chicken

MEAL 1.024
24 January 2010

-Mexican-
Veggie Soup
with Shredded Chicken

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* * * * *

In the wake of yesterday's attempt at Mexican (see 1.023 Cheese Quesadilla with Shrimp Cocktail a la Veracruz), which wasn't entirely successful but at least got my creative juices flowing, I went back to the same cookbook and again tried something new.

This veggie soup was good--light and refreshing, the chicken adding a bit of substance to make it a main course, but could've done without. Better still, the soup was extremely simple to make, requiring just a bit of knife work to get all the veggies chopped into small cubes, after which everything is pretty much dumped into the pot with stock and seasonings then simmered for half an hour. And the best thing is that the soup is versatile, meaning that future variations can be made with or to get rid of whatever veggies happened to be on hand. As a bonus, that also made the soup cheap, using onions, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, canned corn, and canned tomatoes, along with leftover chicken from the baeksuk a few days ago (see 1.022 Baeksuk). A definite winner and permanent addition to my repertoire.

1.023 Cheese Quesadilla with Shrimp Cocktail a la Veracruz

MEAL 1.023
28 January 2010

-Mexican-
Cheese Quesadilla
with Shrimp Cocktail a la Veracruz

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

After a trip to Costco, where I scored a hairnet full of avocados, I tried my hand at the first new recipe of this project. In fact, the "Veracruz" part was new to me entirely--as are most authentically Mexican dishes, having grown up with Taco Bell. The cookbook calls it "Seafood Cocktail a la Veracruz," but I only had shrimp. It didn't turn out so well, owing more I would humbly suggest to the deficiencies of the recipe itself rather than any failure on my part to execute it properly, but just the effort has inspired me to get off my ass and start cooking for real again.

1.022 Baeksuk with Broccoli


-Cycle 1, Item 22-
27 (Wed) January 2010

-Korean-
Baeksuk with Broccoli

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Baeksuk (백숙) is a Korean chicken dish.  It consists of a whole chicken boiled in water, usually flavored with various aromatics, like a simplified samgye tang.  When ready, the meat is typically torn into pieces and dipped in salt or soy sauce to eat.  The resulting stock is often used to make porridge or noodles to end the meal.  With connoisseurs claiming that this is the only way to appreciate the true flavor of the meat, the naked preparation does require careful selection of ingredients and balance of seasonings.

Here, the broccoli is entirely non-standard issue, just something I added at the last minute for the sake of the photo--a boiled whole chicken just doesn't look that appealing on its own--but ultimately I liked having the contrast in texture and taste.

1.021 Jesa Spread

-Cycle 1, Dinner 21-
26 January 2010

-Korean-
Jesa Spread

* * *

by my mother

at my parents' home

-Bundang (Seongnam), GyeongGi-

A common tradition in Korea is the jesa (제사), a ritual with shamanistic origins paying homage to one's ancestors. Usually conducted at home on the day of a particular ancestor's death or on certain major holidays to honor them all in one sitting, it involves laying out a variety of food and drink, burning incense, bowing. In the strictest interpretation, the ritual invites the actual spirit of the ancestor(s) to come and partake of the offerings; some people even leave the front door open, you know, because spirits can't get in otherwise. Many protestant families have forsaken the jesa as being contrary to Christian beliefs in the afterlife, but I would venture that most take it as a symbolic gesture and an excuse to get the family together.

My family does this 5 times a year: once each for my dearly departed grandparents on either side, and once on chuseok (추석), the Korean equivalent of thanksgiving. Because my mother's side is Catholic, so we do a compromise version consisting of a mini Mass celebration (my uncle is a priest) and prayers--no incense, no bowing, and the door is kept shut. My paternal grandparents were Won Buddhists, so the ritual is allowed to be more traditional. In fact, after my grandfather had passed, my then-still-living grandmother had insisted that two bowls of rice should be offered, one for him and one for his late first wife, just in case she turned out to be a spirit of the vengeful variety. Now that my grandmother has also passed, we lay out three bowls of rice, just in case.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a shot of the full spread this evening.

1.020 Samgye Tang


- Cycle 1, Item 20-
25 (Monday) January 2010

-Korean-
Samgye Tang

at Mong-Chon (몽촌)
(Lotte World Adventure)

-Jamsil, Seoul-

Samgye tang (삼계탕) is a Korean chicken soup ("tang").  It consists of a small whole chicken ("gye") stuffed with rice and ginseng ("sam") and a few other goodies boiled together and served in an earthenware pot.  From the commentary in English-language travel guides or in cookbooks, the dish would appear to be one of Korea's culinary masterpieces, though I've never really felt its presence outside the country. Even here, it's not widely available, limited to a few old-school specialty restaurants scattered throughout the city. For locals, it's most popular during the summer, particularly on the hottest day of the year, when its yin-yang properties supposedly provide some sort of relief from the heat.

I love chicken as much as the next guy, very likely more so, but I've never been a huge fan of this dish, especially when it's hot outside.

In Lotte World Adventure, a mini indoor amusement park within the city, a restaurant corner made up to look like a folk village offers various "traditional" menu items, including samgye tang.

1.019 Beef, Pork Schnitzel

MEAL 1.019
24 January 2010

-Austrian-
Beef, Pork Schnitzel

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

Not much to report here beyond my initial comments on schnitzel (see 1.002 Pork Schnitzel). This time, I tried both pork and beef filets, but honestly couldn't really tell the difference in taste, what with the meat so thin, although the beef turned out a bit darker in color and more tender. But either way.

1.018 Buffet Scraps

-Cycle 1, Dinner 18-
23 January 2010

-Pan-Asian-
Buffet Scraps

* *

at A. Swannie

-Samseong, Seoul-

In Korea, a special occasion celebrated in the company of a large gathering--wedding, birthday, not funeral but someday soon no doubt--will likely involve a buffet. If asked, most diners would immediately categorize the food as "western," probably because the format is Euro-American in origin, rather than the food itself, which is more or less equally divided between Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, with a smattering of Koreanized American-style Italian.

Here, on the occasion of my wife's friend's daughter's all-important first birthday, a typically big event involving family and friends, we arrived a bit late to discover that more guests had shown up than the hosts (the parents) had bargained for--literally, meaning that they'd paid for a certain number of servings, which turned out to be insufficient. At this establishment, parties were held in private rooms, each with its own customized buffet table, as opposed to the more common arrangement of a central buffet in a main hall that's shared by all parties and constantly replenished. Roast beef--sliced and neatly laid out in rows on a chafing dish--that's not what we ate. Carrot wedges and other random vegetables that line the perimeter of the tray--the garnishes--that's what we ate.

1.017 Spaghetti with Meatballs

MEAL 1.017
21 January 2010

-Italian-
Spaghetti with Meatballs

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

I wish I could muster more enthusiasm in writing about this meal, but it is what it is. My meatballs are mediocre, and frankly I've never felt inspired to improve upon them. I'm just not a meatball guy.

1.016 Beef Shabuki Noodles

MEAL 1.016
21 January 2010

-Korean-
Beef Shabuki Noodles

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Using leftover ingredients from the full-course shabuki meal a week ago (see 1.008 Shabuki), I skipped to the noodle part. The broth, though it didn't have the depth of flavor to be expected from a stock at the end of the shabu shabu course, was lighter and crisper and thus more preferable in terms of texture.

1.015 A Typical Korean At-Home Meal


-Cycle 1, Item 15-
20 January 2010

-Korean-
A Typical Korean At-Home Meal

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

A typical Korean meal consists of a bowl of steamed rice, a soup/stew, a meat/fish, and a variety of small side dishes consisting of seasoned vegetables/tofu/whatever that are called "banchan" (반찬). Most banchan, especially kimchi, which is the most basic and omnipresent banchan of all, are often prepared in large batches out of convenience for the purpose of eating them through several subsequent meals. The typical meal, therefore, is comprised largely of whatever happens to be on-hand, though the rice and sometimes the soup/stew/meat/fish may be prepared fresh, depending who's doing the cooking and who's going to be eating.

Clockwise from bottom left: steamed rice, pan-fried yellow corvina, pan-fried mandu, rolled egg omelet, sauteed potatoes, kimchi, bulgogi, sundubu jjigae, and miyeok guk.

What's a bit unusual here is that there are 2 broth dishes, only 1 type of kimchi, and no other vegetables. But close enough.

1.014 Bulgogi

-Cycle 1, Dinner 14-
19 January 2010

-Korean-
Bulgogi

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Bulgogi (불고기) (see 1.003 Bulgogi) may be prepared by one of three methods. First, ideally to some (including me), the meat is cooked on an open grill over charcoal. The primary benefits are the smoky flavor and crisp texture of the slightly burnt edges from the direct heat. One drawback is the loss of marinade dripping into the fire, which can result in dry eats if the meat is of poor quality or the marinade is insufficient. Thus, some prefer pan-cooking, which retains the juices. This is also the most common method used at home for obvious reasons of convenience. Finally, more of a restaurant thing, bulgogi is sometimes cooked in a ceramic hotpot, along with broth and sliced vegetables (e.g., mushrooms, napa cabbage), somewhat like a stew. Whatever the method, it's almost certain to be accompanied by rice and kimchi, and maybe a few additional sides.

As the primary meal-maker in my family, I'm grateful that most major supermarkets here, even Costo, have bulgogi marinated and ready to go. I usually add more sugar, fresh cracked black pepper, and some sesame oil to suit my personal tastes, as well as any vegetables that may be lying around (e.g., paprika, as pictured above), but it's all good.

1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang


-Cycle 1, Item 13-
18 (Monday) January 2010

-Korean-
Daegu Maeun Tang

1.5

by my mother-in-law

at the in-laws' home

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

Tang (탕) is a broad category of Korean soups.  The essential characteristic is that the broth consists of a stock made from boiling meat/chicken/seafood, ideally low and slow to extract maximum flavor.  Any given tang is typically served as an individual/stand-alone/main-course dish, along with rice and side dishes (e.g., kimchi). 

One popular form is maeun tang (매운탕).  The stock is derived from fish.  The type of fish doesn't really matter, though certain fatty species are preferred, such as daegu (대구), a local type of cod (as here).  Other ingredients include, for example, garlic, scallion, onion, radish, and red chili powder.  Indeed, "maeun = spicy."  The dish is popular both as a dinner course or as an anju (안주) (food accompanying alcoholic beverages).

Reportedly, my mother-in-law is an excellent cook. I have yet to see or taste evidence in support of this claim.

1.012 Jjajang Myeon


-Cycle 1, Item 12-
17 (Sun) January 2010

-Chinese-
Jjajang Myeon

2.0

from The Hu [delivery]

at my brother-in-law's home

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

Jjajang myeon (짜장면) is a Korean-Chinese noodle dish.  Flour noodles ("myeon"), topped with a black sauce made from fermented/roasted soybean paste ("jjajang"), along with pork or seafood, onions, and other aromatics.  In contrast to the original zhajiang mian in China, the version found in Korea is very different, much darker, sweeter, richer.  Having cooked it myself, I know that a serving contains a sickening amount of oil and sugar, which is why it tastes so good.  It's the equivalent of pizza in the States: cheap, simple (at least in its basic form, though more expensive and fancier varieties are served in more expensive and fancier restaurants), available for delivery wherever, usually from neighborhood joints specializing in delivery (as opposed to in-dining), often 24 hours, and even when it's bad it's still pretty good.

In fact, despite the crappy quality of the photo, which may appear to suggest a lack of regard, it's my favorite dish of all-time.   I was so excited to dig in that I forgot to take the photo until I was halfway done.  Whenever I watch a prison movie involving the execution of a prisoner on death row, and the guard asks the condemned what he'd like for his last meal, this is what flashes through my mind.

1.011 Kimchi Mari Guksu

-Cycle 1, Item 11-
16 (Mon) January 2010

-Korean-
Kimchi Mari Guksu

* * * *

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

11 days in, and this is the 3rd visit to the same restaurant (see most recently 1.005 Samgyeopsal). It's mostly for the convenience, but the service is excellent, the prices are reasonable, and the food's pretty good.

That said, I would drive across the city, tolerate rudeness, and pay anything to get these noodles at Bon-Ga (본가), which may be the best kimchi mari guksu (김치말이국수) that I've ever had. The dish, the name breaking down as kimchi (김치) + mari (말이) ("dunked/submerged") + guksu (국수) ("noodles"), consists of thin flour noodles in a chilled fish stock, topped with sliced kimchi, cucumbers, and maybe egg ribbons. Somewhat sweet and sour in character, it's both refreshing and filling at the same time. At 6,000 won, an excellent bargain to boot. Although the noodles alone deserve 5 stars, very close to 6, the 4-star rating here may be attributed to the fact that I'm just a bit tired of the place in general.

1.010 Oyster Sauce Chicken with Bokchoy and Broccoli

-Cycle 1, Dinner 10-
15 January 2010

-Chinese-
Oyster Sauce Chicken
with Bokchoy and Broccoli

* * * *

at home

by me

-Oksu, Seoul-

This particular version of "oyster sauce" is derived from a recipe that I found in a Korean cookbook on Chinese cooking. It's a cooked sauce that contains many ingredients, including soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, ginger, etc., in addition to the unadulterated oyster sauce from a bottle. So it should really be called "oyster-sauce-based sauce." The first time I made it, I flipped out because I was so surprised at how "real" it tasted, by which I mean it was very close to something I might find at a Chinese restaurant in Korea.

Here, I remembered to take a photo just before the last bite. It actually looks more appealing than these scraps would suggest.

1.009 Chicken Korma, Aloo Panek

MEAL 1.009
14 January 2010

-Indian-
Chicken Korma,
Aloo Panek

at Chakraa

Hannam
Seoul

* * *

While the food at Chakraa isn't bad, and the restaurant's proximity to home is a plus, I was reminded tonight as to why I had stopped coming regularly to the place last year after several service-related gaffs.

A typical example of their ineptitude involved their "membership card," which was free and could be used on the following visit to accumulate redeemable points and get a 10% discount on the bill. One problem I encountered was that, after I'd collected points for a few months, they told me that their computer had lost all the customer data, so I was forced to start all over. On a separate occasion, we had ordered a set meal and an additional curry a la carte, as well as drinks and some extra naan. At the register, I was denied the 10% discount because of the set meal, which they said wasn't eligible for the discount. When I asked why they couldn't charge me separately, they replied that it just wasn't the way they did things.

Tonight was more of the same. When I presented a coupon for free naan that I'd clipped from their own menu, they initially refused to accept it because they said it was only good for deliveries--until I showed them the boldly written "GOOD FOR IN-DINING" at the bottom of the coupon. The food took over 30 minutes even though we were the only people in the place. And, I swear I'm not making this up, I had to apply for another membership card because their system had crashed again.

I'm not banning the place outright, but I'm hard pressed to imagine what it would take for me to go back.

1.008 Beef Shabuki


-Cycle 1, Item 8-
13 (Wed) January 2010

-Japanese-
Beef Shabuki

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Shabu shabu is a form of Japanese hot pot (see generally Wikipedia on shabu shabu).  It works as follows: a diner will toss a couple slices of thinly sliced beef and vegetables into a boiling cauldron of stock, either an individual pot or a larger one at the center of the table for everyone to share--supposedly, the term derives from the sound made from everything swishing around--wait a few seconds for the ingredients to cook (to whatever degree of personal preference), remove them with chopsticks, dip them into a sauce of some sort, such as ponzu or sesame or peanut, eat, repeat.

The Korean variation, which is more or less identical up to that point, although the vegetable ingredients may vary a bit, takes the process to another level: after the meat and veggies are finished, the remaining stock, now more of a thick broth, is first used to make noodles and then afterwards, in the even thicker broth, rice porridge.

My own version--"shabu" + "ki"--consists of shredding all the vegetables and mixing them together.  I usually include napa cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, leeks, perilla leafs, celery, various types of mushrooms, as well as whatever greens happen to be available.  This allows for a wider variety of veggies, including some, like celery, that wouldn't work so well in larger pieces, or others, like bean sprouts, that wouldn't work so well independently.  Also, I find the combination of flavors in any given bite to be much more rich than that which could be derived from any single vegetable.  In the end, depending on how full everyone is, I may do the noodles and/or rice in the Korean style.  From start to finish, this is definitely one of the easiest/cheapest/fillingest/healthiest meals in my repertoire.

1.007 Pan-Seared Salmon with Mac & Cheese

MEAL 1.007
12 January 2010

-American-
Pan-Seared Salmon
with Mac & Cheese

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* *

A meal that would not have been but for the grace of Costco Wholesale: frozen shrink-wrapped salmon fillets (Kirkland), mac & cheese in a box (Annie's), and 5-lb (2.27 kg) bag of string beans (Bybee). The curse of Costco, a warehouse store where shoppers buy a lot of crap that they don't really need because it's cheaper (in a certain sense), has become something of a mixed blessing for expats living in Korea; with three locations gracing Seoul, the US-based chain offers products otherwise unavailable through local retailers, which often results in (i) the exciting discovery of some item with nostalgic ties to home ("I haven't seen a turkey burger in ages!"), regardless of whether that item was ever actually liked, much less bought and used, back home; (ii) impulse purchase of the item, meaning impulse purchase of the item in bulk; and (iii) trying to finish the item, one by one by one by one by one, as it slowly but surely succumbs to freezer burn in the ensuing months. Currently, in addition to the string beans mentioned above, my freezer contains 1/3 of a 4-lb (1.81 kg) bag of frozen turkey burger patties (Kirkland), 4/5 of a 6-lb (2.72 kg) bag of frozen strawberries (Kirkland), and 2/3 of a 3.5-lb (1.6 kg) bag of frozen jumbo pork hot dogs (Bryan). Tonight's meal had been to celebrate finishing off the salmon fillets, a package that I'd purchased, excitedly, over a year ago.

1 week in, and already my second home-cooked disaster. Maybe it was that "gotta get rid of it" mentality, but my head wasn't in it.

1.006 Grilled Chicken Pesto Salad and Spaghetti alla Ragu


-Cycle 1, Item 6-
11 January 2010

-Italian-
Grilled Chicken Pesto Salad
and Spaghetti all Ragu

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

I suspect that I went to the spaghetti alla bolognese to regain a measure of ego that I might have lost on from recent fiasco with the fried rice and wings (see 1.004). After the "Breakfast Sandwich," meat sauce spaghetti (as we called it back then) was the 2nd real recipe that I learned to prepare, both from my mother. Before I began to cook regularly and in earnest sometime during law school, this dish was the go-to number in my extremely limited repertoire. Apparently, I still rely on it.

The pesto chicken salad, somewhat of a cheat, consisted of romaine lettuce topped with grilled chicken breasts and button mushrooms mixed with dressing from a bottle. I don't know why I keep buying pesto, which I've always found to be mildly unpleasant. I think it's that pesto seems sophisticated to me, for some inexplicable reason, and it bothers me that I can't seem to acquire the taste, and I'm hoping that one day after all the forced repetition I'll have an epiphany. I should probably start by doing away with the bottled stuff and trying to make a fresh pesto, or even ordering it at a good restaurant. But I don't like it enough to bother. Vicious cycle.

1.005 Grilled Samgyeopsal Dinner Set


-Cycle 1 Item 5-
10 January 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Samgyeopsal Dinner Set

* * *

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

Samgyeopsal, slices of pork belly, is unquestionably the king of barbeque here in Korea. The name comes from the words "sam" (삼), which literally means "three" in Korean; "gyeop" (겹), which means "layer;" and "sal" (살), which means "meat" or (more precisely in this case) "cut of meat." I'm not sure if it's 2 layers of flesh and 1 layer of fat, or the other way around, or if it's even 3 layers exactly. In part, its immense popularity can be attributed to the fact that it's (i) relatively cheap, usually 8,000 won per serving of 200 g in a restaurant, as low as a quarter of that if purchased from a supermarket; (ii) easy to prepare, as it can be cooked on virtually any surface (except directly over open flame due to the flare-ups from the fat); and (iii) well-suited to pairing with a variety of condiments, such as chili pepper paste and sesame oil and salt, as well as side dishes, such as kimchi and mixed greens, according to personal preference. But the primary attraction is that it tastes good: flesh and fat, grilled to a crisp.

Just 5 days in, and already I've repeated a restaurant, the place where the idea for this blog was hatched (see 1.001 Grilled Pork Galbi). On this occasion, accompanied by my wife and 2-yr-old boy Dominic, we ordered the samgyeopsal dinner set for 2, which included 400 g of pork (frozen and imported, which is much cheaper and considered far inferior to fresh and local), a spicy bean paste with seafood as a condiment, a refillable basket of fresh mixed greens as wraps, rice and soup, a steamed egg casserole that my kid loves (one reason why we frequent the place), and of course the omnipresent array of traditional side dishes, like kimchi--all for just 16,000 won total.

1.004 Deep-Fried Wings, Shrimp Fried Rice

MEAL 1.004
9 January 2010

-Chinese-
Deep-Fried Wings
Shrimp Fried Rice

at home (by me)

Oksu
Seoul

* *

Just 4 days in, and already I've had a lousy meal, a meal by my own hand. While I won't dignify the experience by discussing the wherefores in detail, I will say that the result was largely a failure of technique, as evidenced by the burnt wings in the photo.

1.003 Bulgogi on Romaine


-Cycle 1, Item 3-
8 (Fri) January 2010

-Korean-
Bulgogi on Romaine

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Bulgogi is a Korean beef dish.  It consists of thinly sliced beef in a sweet soy marinade, often with minced garlic, onions, scallions, or other basic aromatics.  The name derives from the words "bul" (불), which literally means "fire" in Korean and refers to the traditional method of cooking the meat over an open flame, and "gogi" (고기), which means "meat." Traditionally, the meat is beef, but variations with pork and seafood can also be found.  After it's cooked, the meat is often wrapped with fresh greens (e.g., red lettuce or perilla leafs) into a small bundle and eaten by hand.  One Korea's most iconic dishes.

My personal observations suggest that, although the dish has become a popular mainstay in Korean BBQ restaurants overseas, its presence on local menus has dwindled in recent years.  This is probably due to: (a) the exorbitant prices of Korean beef, aka "hanwoo" (한우), which can range anywhere from 4,000 won per 100 g to 12,000 won (about US$45 per pound), and those are supermarket prices; (b) consumer dislike/distrust of imported beef, particularly American beef in the wake of the mad cow scares in recent years; and/or (c) a growing belief that good beef is better consumed as is and that marinades are more appropriate for cheap cuts that require masking or tenderizing of some sort.  Whatever the reason, the availability of beef bulgogi here in Korea now seems to be limited to (i) expensive hanwoo specialty restaurants where a serving of 150 g can run in excess of 50,000 won, (ii) restaurants catering to tourists, (iii) large scale cafeterias at lunch time using cheap meat, or (iv) at home.

1.002 Pork Schnitzel with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

-Cycle 1, Item 2-
7 January 2010

-Austrian-
Pork Schnitzel
with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

* * * * *

at home

by me

-Oksu, Seoul-

As far as I'm aware, schnitzel is Austria's most famous culinary contribution to the world. It consists of a thin cutlet of meat coated in breadcrumbs and pan-fried. The name derives from the German "schnitzen," which means to carve or slice, as in meat. Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel, considered by many to be the classic form, is made from veal; in Austria, only veal schnitzel may legally be referred to by that designation. A common variation made with pork, as discussed below, is called "schnitzel vom schwein."

An overflowing Ziplock bag of stale bread crusts, which had been cut off in the process of making sandwiches over the past few months and collected in the freezer for some future unspecified project necessitating hand-made breadcrumbs, inspired me to attempt schnitzel. I found a basic recipe on BigOven (see below) and, with minimal fuss, produced what appeared to be a reasonable facsimile. Just grateful for the opportunity to do away with several ingredients that had long overstayed their welcome, including a handful of pork tenderloin filets that had been of questionable quality when I acquired them at a rock bottom sale sometime last year, I was aspiring for nothing and expecting very little. When I took my first bite, I had to pause for a few seconds, first out of surprise, then to savor the experience. Such depth of flavor, a harmony of flavors, in such a thin patty.

----

Recipe for (Pork) Schnitzel
(serves 4)

8 pork tenderloin filets (400 grams)
3 cups bread crumbs (200 grams)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (50 grams)
1/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp (salted) butter
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Pound filets into paper-thin escalopes. (Pounding has tenderizes the meat, and the thinner patties cook faster, thus absorbing less butter and oil and ultimately resulting in a crisper schnitzel.)

2. Combine bread crumbs, cheese, herbs, black pepper. (The easiest method here is to throw in whole slices of stale bread, a chunk of cheese, and the herbs and pepper in a food processor; not only does this save time, I'm sure the whizzing blade forces the ingredients to become better acquainted. Although most recipes call for fine bread crumbs, I prefer them to be a bit bigger, which makes the crust flakier; of course, the size of the crumbs will affect the amount of bread that's required, as discussed below.)

3. Whisk eggs, salt, white pepper, lemon juice. (The lemon juice, which adds a bright note to what might otherwise be a somewhat heavy dish, is the key to this recipe's success.)

4. Dredge each patty in flour, dip in egg wash, and coat in bread crumb mix. (Even with the same amount of meat, I've sometimes found myself with a lot of leftover bread crumbs, depending on the thickness of the filets (thicker patty = less bread crumbs used) or the coarseness of the bread crumbs (thicker crumbs = more bread crumbs used); since leftover bread crumbs can't be saved and reused once they've been expose to the egg wash, I usually set aside about a third as a reserve and use it only if necessary.)

5. Set aside for 1 hour. (This allows the coating to set and adhere to the patties.)

6. For each patty, heat 1/2 tbsp of butter and 1/2 tbsp of oil in skillet on medium. (My 10-inch pan holds 2 patties at a time, so I add 1 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of oil per pair.)

7. Gently place patty in skillet and saute for 1-2 minutes per side. (Because the patties are so thin, the meat will cook very quickly. As soon as the coating takes on a rich brown color, it's done. Be vigilant because mere seconds can make the difference between a perfectly cooked schnitzel and a burnt one--bread crumbs, cheese, butter all burn easily.)

8. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

1.001 Grilled Pork Galbi


-Cycle 1, Item 1-
6 (Wed) January 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Pork Galbi (돼지갈비)

3.0

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

Galbi is a type of Korean BBQ.  It consists of meat, traditionally beef ribs but often pork shoulder, marinated in a sweet sesame-soy sauce and grilled over coals or gas. The term "galbi" literally means "ribs" in Korean but is often synonymous with the dish, though nowadays the more accurate term "yangnyeom (양념) (seasoned) galbi" is becoming quite common.  Although the version presented here is pork, beef galbi is probably more familiar on the international scene.  Pork galbi is relatively cheap at around 8,000-10,000 won per 200-gram serving, pairs well with beer and soju, and allows for slow grilling at the table, so it's a common menu choice for the impromptu midweek dinner-and-drink get-together.  

On an unassuming Wednesday evening, with my friend MtG, discussing new iPhone apps, over a plate of pork galbi, the seeds for this blog were sown.  By chance, the name of the restaurant is Bon-Ga (본가), which happens to mean "house" (ga) of "origin" (bon).  Upon discovering the free Project 365 app a few days earlier, MtG had begun to photograph his daily lunches as his theme. For an obsessive-compulsive anal retentive food snob who takes photos of his meals, both at home and elsewhere, for absolutely no reason and to no good end, this was exactly the sort of thing--an actual platform--that would enable the practice. I downloaded the app on the spot and chose dinner as my theme. The blog, featuring in-depth and detailed accounts accompanying the daily photos, would soon follow.