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2.115 Chicken Gujeolpan



-Cycle 2, Item 115-
30 (Sat) April 2011

-Korean-
Chicken Gujeolpan

* * *

at CBS Wedding Hall Buffet

-Mokdong, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and the In-Laws

Gujeolpan (구절판) is a Korean wrap dish.  It consists of eight individual ingredients--such as, typically, beef, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, zucchini/squash, carrot, cucumber, egg whites, egg yolks--that are sliced/shredded with razor precision and lightly seasoned and/or stir-fried, then wrapped in a paper-thin, palm-sized pancake--typically made of flour--and dipped in a dressing--typically mustard-based.  The name breaks down as “nine (gu) folded (jeol) platter (pan)”: 8 items for the filling + 1 pancake.  While the flavors and textures are extremely delicate, each bite manages to represent a perfectly balanced meal.  Gujeolpan is categorized as court cuisine, so called because it was once a dish fit only for the royalty.  In preparing both the stuffing ingredients and the pancakes, it’s labor-intensive, certainly not something that lowly peasants would’ve made for themselves back in the day.  Today, the dish is the ultimate expression of hospitality, either at home or in a restaurant, because of the time and effort involved.  It’s elegant in presentation and delicate in flavor.

Gujeolpan done right.

At this wedding hall buffet, however, where my wife’s cousin was getting married, the gujeolpan was not really the real deal.  First, it only had 7 items, including a raw and unseasoned and over-powering red bell pepper.  Second, they were all roughly cut.  Third, instead of flour pancakes, it was served with pickled radish slices, a short-cut common in situations without the luxury of kitchen servants.  I can forgive the chicken, though unusual.  In the end, it was more of a salad than a bona fide gujeolpan.

2.114 Barbecued Pork Nipple in Soy-Wasabi Dipping Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 114-
29 (Fri) April 2011

-Korean-
Barbecued Pork Nipple
in Soy-Wasabi Dipping Sauce

* * * *

at Ddungbo Dweji Galbi Tong Gogi
(뚱보 돼지갈비 통고기)

-Pildong, Seoul-

with Cho JH, Kim KH, and MtG

It wasn't pork nipple per se but rather pork skin in general. I was just lucky enough to get the part with the nipple, which are apparently rare (you know, just 18 per pig) and reserved for special customers, so I wanted to draw attention to my good fortune. Called "ggeop-dae-gi" (껍대기) in Korean, which literally means "skin," the outer layer of the pig is stripped away from the subcutaneous fat and meat, seasoned in a soy-based marinade, grilled to a crisp, and eaten with kimchi and other sides, much like other forms of Korean BBQ. Aside from the tufts of hair that sometimes come with any given piece, the distinctly porky smell/taste makes this one of those so-called "delicacies" that take getting used to.

Koreans tend to regard pork skin as being both healthful--based on partially true but mostly erroneous belief that it's pure collagen, a type of protein, not fat---and medicinal--based on the unproven but probably erroneous belief that collagen, which is often used in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery as a replacement or filler for skin, contributes to better complexion when consumed.


Although my prior experiences with pork skin have been less than enjoyable, this 30-year-old restaurant's offering was surprisingly quite palatable. No tufts of hair. No porky smell/taste. Just chewy goodness.


To boot, they gave us 2 nipples.

2.113 Dak Han Mari

-Cycle 2, Dinner 113-
28 (Thu) April 2011

-Korean-
Dak Han Mari (닭한마리)

* * * *

at Apgujeong Wonjo Dak Han Mari
(압구정 원조 닭한마리)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and MtG

While the names of most Korean dishes tend to be both literal and unhelpful, this one is particularly literal and unhelpful: dak han mari (닭한마리) means "one" (han) "chicken" (dak), the "mari" being a numeral classifier for animals in Korean (akin to something like "1 head of cattle" in English). In other words, the dish contains a chicken.

More specifically, the dish contains a chicken, cut into pieces and cooked in a thick broth with potatoes and other items (e.g., rice cakes, as here). The version here featured a spicy broth and tasted somewhat like dak tori tang (닭도리탕), another literally and unhelpfully named dish that I described in a prior post just a few days ago (see 2.110 Dak Dori Tang). I've been told that the original dish, originating and still available around the Dongdaemun/Jongro area, is not spicy, in which case I can't see how it would be much different than the more mainstream baeksuk (백숙), another literally and unhelpfully named dish that I described in several prior posts (see 2.045 Baeksuk).

"One chicken"--not so fast.

To improve the visual effect of the photo for this post, I took the ladle and dipped into the broth to bring the chicken pieces to the surface, only to discover a lack of breast meat. My wife and Mtg immediately began to groan in anticipation of the scene that was about to ensue. I called over the server and asked her if "dak han mari" at this restaurant actually meant that one entire chicken was in the pot, as opposed to being a figurative descriptor. She confirmed that one entire chicken was in the pot. When I told her that one entire chicken was not in the pot because the breasts were missing, she claimed that the breasts were in fact there. They're not, I said. They are, she said. Where, I asked. In the broth, she said. They're not, I said. They are, she said. At this point, I was intentionally half-shouting to make the conversation audible to the other customers. She suggested that the breasts weren't readily visible because the chicken was so small. In addition to the patent absurdity of her explanation, it also seemed ridiculous that they would charge 18,000 won for a dish in which the chicken was so small that the breasts were invisible to the naked eye.

Then, in the bowl of (non-spicy) noodles that we'd ordered separately for the kid: huge chunks of breast meat. Later, when I questioned the restaurant's owner about all of this at the register, he claimed that they purchased additional breast meat for the noodles.

So I'm supposed to believe that a chicken restaurant purchases the most unpopular cut of chicken (Koreans hate breast meat) for their main noodle dish, while their signature eponymous dish features a whole chicken too tiny to have breasts.

Left to my own devices, I would've walked out, but the dish as is was actually pretty good. And my wife, already mortified to extremes of human tolerance, probably would've collapsed into a coma had I insisted that we leave.

2.112 Insalata Caprese with Romaine Lettuce in a Balsamic Vinaigrette

-Cycle 2, Dinner 112-
27 (Wed) April 2011

-Italian-
Insalata Caprese with Romaine Lettuce
in a Balsamic Vinaigrette

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

4 points, 1 for each component:

I was inspired to make this salad upon discovering roma tomatoes, a rarity in Korea, at my neighborhood market. Still on the vine, they're blood red and absolutely gorgeous. More important, they have that chewy density and rich sweetness that local tomatoes lack.

By coincidence, on an episode of The Naked Chef aired a couple days ago on TV here, Jamie Oliver was making some kind of salad with fresh mozzarella and noted a preference for breaking the cheese into chunks to give it a rustic feel, as opposed to slicing it, which he thought makes it look "plasticky." Hence, the crumbly looking cheese here (it looked better in person--the photo is a bit overexposed).

Not a true caprese salad without fresh basil, but the balsamic vinaigrette had dried basil in it, so close enough.

E-Mart, one of the country's largest supermarket/department store chains and my family's main source of groceries and sundries (they even sell camping gear), has been making notable efforts to diversify their non-Korean food selection. On a daily basis, just with respect to produce, they now offer lemons, limes, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs (e.g., basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro), celery, and ... romaine lettuce. These items were virtually unattainable outside of specialty import stores, Costco, or the black market as recently as a couple years ago.

2.111 Odeng, Sausage, and Bell Pepper Stir-Fry


-Cycle 2, Dinner 111-
26 (Tue) April 2011

-Korean-
Odeng, Sausage, and Bell Pepper Stir-Fry

* *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic and Nanny 2

I keep trying to explain to our nanny that neither odeng (오뎅), Korean-style fish cakes, nor sausages, the kind that are sold in supermarkets here, really constitutes meat. Begging her, when she's cooking for Dominic, to stick with the real stuff, I stock the fridge with copious amounts of fresh beef and pork and chicken and fish and seafood. But older ethnic Korean women from China love processed animal by-products. Yes, I've professed a deep fondness myself for Spam and Chicken McNuggets and hot dogs on these pages, but I don't serve them to my child for dinner, at least not at home, where healthier protein options are readily available. On occasion, she'll purchase some contraband on the sly with her own dime, smuggle it into the house, stash it in the deep recesses of the freezer, and make something with it when I'm not around. She doesn't really see the harm. Her logic is based on the following elements, none of which can really be disputed: the products do in fact have some meat in them, the chemical additives in them can't possibly be worse than those in all the other packaged foods in our pantry, and they taste good. Sometimes, I'm just too tired to argue.

2.110 Dak Dori Tang

-Cycle 2, Item 110-
25 (Mon) April 2011

-Korean-
Dak Dori Tang

* * * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

This dish, dak dori tang (닭도리탕), is a simple affair consisting primarily of chicken and potatoes braised in soy sauce and chili paste. Other veggies, such as carrots, mushrooms, or celery, as here, may be included but not necessary.

The name "dak dori tang" is a misnomer, something of a redundancy, and a point of controversy. First, as described above, it's not a tang (탕) in the technical sense, which refers to a soup made from a stock of some sort (see 1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang, 1.020 Samgye Tang, 1.283 Galbi Tang). Second, "dak" (닭) means "chicken" in Korean, while "dori" (도리) or "tori" means "bird" in Japanese. Third, while Koreans appreciate many aspects of Japanese culture, lingering resentment of the colonial occupation is evidenced by calls to remove vestiges of the Japanese language from the vernacular.

For any or all of these reasons, renaming efforts for the dish are de rigueur. The most popular candidate is "dak bokkeum tang" (닭볶음탕), the "bokkeum" meaning "stir-fry." That doesn't solve the misnomeric "tang," which would then be rendered oxymoronic with the addition of the "bokkeum." A simpler "dak bokkeum" seems most logical, if vague and unhelpful, but in line with other dishes made in a similar manner (see most recently 2.171 O-Jju-Sam Bokkeum with Ddeok). But since when do food names need to be logical?

2.109 Pan-Seared Tilapia with Asparagus in Soy-Sambal Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 109-
24 (Sun) April 2011

-Pan-Asian-
Pan-Seared Tilapia with Asparagus
in Soy-Sambal Sauce

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

I was initially intending this to be French with capers and butter and lemon juice and herbs de Provence but, after the fish was already sizzling in the pan, went the Pan-Asian fusion route upon discovering that our frugal nanny had reserved the leftover soy sauce base that I'd made for another fish dish from a couple days ago (see 2.107 Steamed Yellow Corvina in Soy-Ginger Sauce).

Sometimes, it seems that my best efforts are those that don't involve forethought.

2.108 Beijing Duck

-Cycle 2, Dinner 108-
23 (Sat) April 2011

-Chinese-
Beijing Duck

* * *

at Mao

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Sadly, I haven't had an opportunity to try Beijing Duck in Beijing, even though I've been there. I've had it once in San Francisco, once in LA, half a dozen times in Seoul, one of which occurred last cycle (see 1.271 Beijing Duck), and once in Shanghai. And never have I had a particularly great experience with this most famous of Chinese dishes, certainly not to an extent that revealed to me what all the fuss is about. I'm hoping that it's better at the source.

At Mao, a modern Chinese bistro based on the idea of "affordable" Beijing Duck--30,000 won for a half order, 50,000 won for a whole--it's strictly mediocre, neither negative nor positive, the epitome of the 3-star rating. Dominic, who was trying duck for the first time ever, and whose request for duck prompted us to go to the restaurant in the first place, said after one bite that he preferred chicken.

2.107 Steamed Yellow Corvina in Soy-Ginger Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 107-
22 (Fri) April 2011

-Chinese-
Steamed Yellow Corvina in Soy-Ginger Sauce

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic and Nanny 2

The only occasion in my life that I've ever enjoyed steamed fish occurred in 2006 at a Chinese restaurant in Florence, Italy--at the time, the only Chinese restaurant in Florence, Italy. The wife and I were on vacation, scheduled for 2 nights in Florence followed by 2 nights in Rome. She was about 1 month pregnant. Being a drama queen, she swooned in dismay at the notion of eating "heavy" food like, say, pasta, and demanded "lighter" fare like, say, noodles--a distinction that Koreans often make, though I don't get it myself. However, Florence is a very small city and not the most cosmopolitan with respect to cuisine. As far as we could determine, it had a solitary Chinese restaurant and a modern fusion Japanese restaurant. After one visit to the Japanese place, which was awful and way over-priced, we were left with the Chinese place, which was awful but more reasonably priced. To make matters worse, the wife suddenly decided that she was in no condition to travel to Rome, where we could've had more options, including Korean food, so we stayed in Florence for the entire 4 days and ate lousy Chinese food. It wasn't even really Chinese food, just random pairings of diced vegetables and meats, stir-fried in soy sauce. On our final visit, I gave up trying to find anything tasty on the menu and asked the waiter to bring us whatever he thought was worthy of the VIP customers that we had become. The result was steamed fish. Like everything else, it came with soy sauce. But it was pretty good. We ate every last speck of it.

I tried to recreate that dish here. The sauce was okay, but the strong, somewhat fishy flavor of the yellow corvina overpowered the delicate soy and ginger combination.

2.106 Pan-Seared Scallops with Corn and Conchiglie Rigate in Clam Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 106-
21 (Thu) April 2011

-Italian-
Pan-Seared Scallops
with Corn and Conchiglie Rigate in Clam Sauce

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

A few minor and miscellaneous comments about this dish:

To brown sea scallops, starting at room temperature, my preferred method is to first sear them on one side in olive oil on high heat for exactly 2 minutes then flip and finish them off with a pat of butter for 1 more minute.

I find that a cast iron or stainless steel pan, anything but non-stick, works best both to achieve the desired crust on the scallops and to caramelize the scallop juices, which can then be deglazed and incorporated into a sauce/gravy right in the pan.

Here, I added some stock/broth leftover from a clam stew that I'd made as a side dish a few days ago.

Once again, I failed to make enough sauce/gravy, most of which was absorbed by the time I got around to plating and taking the photo.

I think that corn works well with scallops and most shellfish in general.

I think that shell pasta with shellfish of any kind is a bit too cute.

2.105 Barbecued Samgyeopsal

-Cycle 2, Dinner 105-
20 (Wed) April 2011

-Korean-
Barbecued Samgyeopsal

* * *

at Neul-Bori (늘보리)

-Yeoksam, Seoul-

with Cho JH, Kim KH, Kim IT, Lee HS, and MtG

Not much more to say about samgyeopsal (삼겹살), Korean-style pork bellies, that hasn't already been mentioned elsewhere on this blog (see generally 1.005 Barbecued Samgyeopsal, 1.298 Barbecued Samgyeopsal, etc.).

The only thing worth mentioning about the meal, a birthday dinner for Kiho, was that we had to eat it out in the cold. With the recent warm weather, we had reserved al fresco seating at the restaurant, a converted residential house with dining tables strewn about the front yard. But then the weather suddenly turned chilly again. Unfortunately, all the tables inside the house were already occupied. Being seasoned campers, of course, we didn't hesitate to stick with the original plan and rough it outdoors, noting with pride that we were the only ones brave enough to do so. We even chose a spot under the trees to make it feel more outdoorsy. However, we realized very quickly that roughing it outdoors is much easier with winter outdoor clothing, like, say, a goosedown parka and gloves, rather than white collar workwear, like, say, a wool suit and tie.

2.104 Engawa Nigiri Sushi

-Cycle 2, Dinner 104-
19 (Tue) April 2011

-Japanese-
Engawa Nigiri Sushi

* * * *

at E-Mart
[take-out]

-Seongsu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic
(though they ate other things)

First, a definition of terms. Hiramae, as it's called in Japan, is species of white flatfish that's often served raw as sashimi or nigiri sushi. The same fish is called "gwang-eo" (광어) in Korean and "fluke" or "flounder" in English. Though many Japanese restaurants in the States refer to hiramae as "halibut," the label is a misnomer: halibut is indeed a similar-looking if much larger flatfish but only a distant relative of hiramae; some of these restaurants reportedly do serve halibut, but then it shouldn't be called "hiramae" (see description of hiramae at sushifaq.com). Anyway, the muscular section adjacent to the fin of the hiramae is called "engawa," a perfectly apt metaphor derived from an architectural term that describes the strip of wooden flooring in front of windows and doors in traditional Japanese houses.

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia]

Engawa is my favorite type of nigiri sushi, as I mentioned in a previous post (see 1.254 Engawa Nigiri Sushi), and perhaps my favorite type of sashimi overall.

Unfortunately, because it's the fin section, and because hiramae itself is relatively small, each fish yields only a few nigiri-sized pieces. Thus, engawa can be hard to come by. At some opportunistic restaurants here, where the cut is popular among knowing patrons, it can be expensive, sold at a premium.

[photo courtesy of 6speedonline.com]

Fortunately, when it comes to eating raw fish or "hoe" (회) in Korea, gwang-eo is the most popular variety--bar none--which means that there's a lot of fish, and fins, to go around. But for some reason, mainstream customers don't really seem to dig the fins. So, at large scale supermarkets, the sushi corner will occasionally set aside the engawa and sell them together, at a discount, for the minority of shoppers who might like it, like me. Here, the package was just 9,900 won for 11 pieces, dirt cheap compared to prices as high as 5,000 won for a pair at those aforementioned opportunistic restaurants. A few years ago, I went to an all-u-can-eat sushi-boat restaurant just prior to closing time, where the chefs served the engawa en masse at the very end, begging us stragglers to finish them off. Yes, thank you.

2.103 UFO Yakisoba

-Cycle 2, Item 102-
18 (Mon) April 2011

-Japanese-
UFO Yakisoba

* *

by Nissin
[instant]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Something that I picked up in a supermarket on my trip to Japan in January but never got around to eating while I was there. It wasn't so bad as far as instant noodles go, certainly a welcome change from Korean instant noodles (not that I eat a lot of instant noodles), and definitely better than that crappy "fast food" yakisoba that was featured in a prior post (see 2.042 Chicken Yakisoba).


I'm not entirely sure that it is in fact "yakisoba." One thing that I noticed while I was in Japan is that Japanese products display virtually no English on the packaging, which is surprising for such a modern country that has adopted a lot of English words into their mainstream vocabulary. Although I studied a bit of Japanese in college, I've since forgotten how to read the characters, and I'm too lazy to look it up--it's really not that important. Anyway, the noodles taste like yakisoba, a bit heavy on the worcestershire sauce, so I'm going with it.

At the supermarket in Tsushima, Nagasaki, Japan
[photo courtesy of Kim Kiho]

2.102 Kimchi-Bacon Fried Rice


-Cycle 2, Item 102-
17 (Sun) April 2011

-Korean-
Kimchi-Bacon Fried Rice

2.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Kimchi bokkeum bap is a Korean rice dish.  Consists of kimchi, minced and sautéed, typically with onions, scallions, carrots, often with SPAM, ham, or other processed meat, then tossed with steamed rice, plus egg, either scrambled and embedded, or sunnyside-up and topped.

In theory, bacon and kimchi should play pretty well together, the smoky sweetness of one and the sour spiciness of the other.

But not so much in fried rice. Kimchi fried rice at its best, made ideally with old kimchi, intensely tart, intensified further by the heat, delivers a refreshing kick in every bite. The addition of bacon, however, which didn't complement the kimchi so much as counteract its mouth-puckering qualities, rendered the dish somewhat conflicted and clumsy. Furthermore, maybe it was the bacon fat, but the rice felt heavy in the mouth. Then again, in keeping the heat level down for the sake of my toddler, I didn't use as much kimchi or kimchi juice as I normally would, so perhaps the bacon was overpowering due to ill-matched proportion.

In any event, I personally believe that kimchi fried rice should be meatless.

2.101 Chicken with 44 Cloves of Garlic

-Cycle 2, Dinner 101-
16 (Sat) April 2011

-French-
Chicken with 44 Cloves of Garlic

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Earlier in the day, while browsing through a special-edition chicken-dedicated copy of the magazine Cooking Light and seeing the simple recipe, I was inspired to try my hand at this dish for the first time. Although I'd heard the name of the dish before, I had no idea what it entailed, so I followed the recipe to the letter, which was simple enough: chicken and garlic, seasoned with tarragon and salt and pepper, placed in a covered baking dish on top of celery and onions, which release their liquid and sort of braise the bird in the process. It was okay, certainly moist and garlicky, but a bit insipid overall.

It wasn't until after tasting the result did I do some online digging to see what the real deal is. 3 minutes later, I hadn't come across a definitive recipe, but they all had what Cooking Light omits: olive oil.

Next time, I'll be sure to start by browning the chicken and garlic in olive oil. In addition to providing the rich flavor of the oil itself, the browning would intensify the taste and texture of the main ingredients.

2.100 Bavette alla Ragu with Mushrooms and Black Olives

-Cycle 2, Dinner 100-
15 (Fri) April 2011

-Italian-
Bavette alla Ragu with Mushrooms and Black Olives

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic,
Dominic's ex-girlfriend and her family

Bavette, a new type of pasta for me, almost exactly like linguine but ever-so-slightly convex.

Tonight was the sequel to a dinner party for the "future in-laws" (as I'd then put it) that I hosted 2 months back (see 2.041 Shrimp-Shiitake-Broccoli Scampi), the only difference being that the couple appears to have broken up in the interim. They still remain friends, Dominic assures me.


At the 100-post mark, I tallied the stats so far this cycle in the main categories.

By rating: 6-star (1), 5-star (13), 4-star (39), 3-star (32), 2-star (12), 1-star (3).

By cuisine: Korean (29), Italian (18), American (17), Japanese (10), Chinese (8), Mexican (6).

The most frequently featured ingredients were (some may overlap): beef (22), bread/wrap (19), rice (19), pork (18), mushrooms (18), cheese (17), tomatoes (16), chicken (14), shrimp (13), noodles (12), pasta (11), fish (11).

By source: all restaurants (47), home-cooked-by-me (42).

At this point, compared to the stats from the end of Cycle 1 (see 1.365 Pork Galbi), I seem to be enjoying my dinners a bit more (53% vs. 50.1%); Korean food is way down (29% vs. 43%), while Italian has surged (18% vs. 8%); I'm eating less pork (17% vs. 21%) and chicken (14% vs. 20%), about the same amount of beef (22% vs. 20%) and fish (11% vs. 12%), and way more other seafood (42% vs. 22%); and I'm cooking less (42% vs. 47%).

Well, not that any of this means much, now or forever.

2.099 Ggori Tang

-Cycle 2, Dinner 99-
14 (Thu) April 2011

-Korean-
Ggori Tang

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic and Nanny 2

Korean-style oxtail soup, aka "ggori-tang" (꼬리탕), which literally means "tail" (ggori) "soup" (tang) in Korean, is both the simplest and most time-consuming dish that I make.

It starts with a full tail, precut into jointed segments. Costco here sells Australian beef tails for 24,000 won each. I first boil the pieces for about 30 minutes to extract the blood and impurities, discard the water, rinse the pieces of all the gunk, and then dump everything back into the clean pot with about 12 liters of fresh water. As the water comes to a boil, I add a combination of aromatics, including garlic, onions, leeks, radish, carrots, and celery, which I discard after about 30 minutes. I add 2 teaspoons of salt to season the meat as it cooks. Then, I reduce the heat to low, half cover the pot, and simmer for 4 hours. After 4 hours, the stock is reduced to a third and the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. I place the pot in a cool place until it's nearly room temperature, around 2 hours. I transfer the pot to the refrigerator for another 2 hours or so, at which point the congealed fat on the surface of the stock can be skimmed off. (In the winter, I leave the whole thing out on the balcony overnight and skim the fat in the morning.) I return the pot to the heat, now with a dense, fat-free, intensely beefy broth, and add salt and liberal amounts of both black and white pepper. Just prior to serving, I top it off with sliced leeks.

Among all my dishes, this one is my wife's favorite. I usually make it for her as a comfort food, several times a year, when she's sick or returns from a long overseas business trip. With the 8-plus hours that it requires to prepare, I tend to start the process the day before and serve it for breakfast or lunch the following day, which explains why it's never been featured on the blog as a dinner item before now.

The wife returned from a 4-day trip to Beijing this evening, so I'd spent the whole day making a batch to be ready in time for dinner. Turns out that (a) the trip had been more of a jaunt for company execs, featuring back-to-back-to-back banquets of the finest Chinese cuisine, which meant that she hadn't suffered much on the food end and thus wasn't really in need of comfort food; and (b) as soon as she arrived home, she immediately changed and went out to a VIP dinner. Poor me, the neglected housewife.

2.098 Pork & Corn Enchiladas

-Cycle 2, Dinner 98-
13 (Wed) April 2011

-Mexican-
Pork & Corn Enchiladas

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic, Cho JH, Kim KH, and MtG

I can never get the damn things to maintain their tube form after baking. It all ends up in a pile of mush.

Now that I think about it, certain Mexican dishes can be deceptively tricky when it comes to technique. I'm referring to those common items found in mainstream Mexican restaurants in the States, items that I've tried to make myself at home, such as tacos, burritos, tostadas, chimichangas, and enchiladas. Although the first step (the getting-all-the-ingredients-together part) is often simple enough, as is the third and final step (the no-frills-no-fuss-everything-loaded-on-a-single-plate presentation part), it's the in-between step (the assembling-the-fillings-into-the-tortilla part) that always seems to get me. The tortillas either crumble or crack or tear or disintegrate on me.

2.097 Pan-Seared Monkfish with Mushrooms and Clam-Saffron Rice in Clam-Saffron Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 97-
12 (Tue) April 2011

-Italian-
Pan-Seared Monkfish
with Mushrooms and Clam-Saffron Rice
in Clam-Saffron Sauce

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic

To illustrate the notion of "too much of a good thing," I present this dish, a flop in the wake of and directly linked to the success from the night before (see 2.096 Clams in Tomato-Paprika-Saffron Broth).

So pleased with yesterday's result, I had reserved a good portion of broth for a follow-up meal. Tonight, I first blended the chunky soup to fully incorporate the bits of saffron, paprika, garlic, and onions. Some of it went into making infused rice. The rest, which was reduced to concentrate the flavors and get a thicker consistency, served as a sauce for the monkfish fillets.

I achieved exactly what I'd been going for--a complete entree that took full advantage of the clam and saffron essence--but it didn't work. The rice was okay, a simple paella. But the sauce was too intense, overpowering the delicate taste of the monkfish, which should've been the star ingredient. And I don't know what possessed me to think that clam sauce would be appropriate for fish. Chalk it up to inexperienced ambition.

2.096 Clams in Tomato-Paprika-Saffron Broth

-Cycle 2, Dinner 96-
11 (Mon) April 2011

-Italian-
Clams in Tomato-Paprika-Saffron Broth

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Almost identical in concept to a dish that I made in March of last year (see 1.073 Clams with Tomatoes and Mushrooms in Saffron Broth), with 3 slight but significant alterations that improved the basic recipe: (i) the amount of saffron was increased from a mere pinch to, say, a pinch and a half (I'm still too stingy to go all out with this most valuable and expensive herb); (ii) the tomatoes were added early on, which broke them down and infused the broth with their flavor; and (iii) minced paprika, or red bell peppers, were added to give a bit of contrasting liveliness and texture.

Although the photo unfortunately doesn't provide scale, those clams were enormous.

This came very close to being my first self-made 6-star dish, but 3 points kept it from perfection: (i) being in a hunger-induced rush, I failed to season it properly and didn't bother to adjust ex post facto (not a big deal); (ii) the clams hadn't yet spit out all their sand, leaving the broth a bit grainy and certain bites of clam somewhat rocky (out of my control); and (iii) while intended to be a soup dish, I couldn't help feeling that it was missing something, like a pasta or bread or rice, to give it more substance (could've been the hunger).

2.095 Grilled Skirt Steak


-Cycle 2, Dinner 95-
10 (Sun) April 2011

-Korean-
Grilled Skirt Steak

* * *

by my mother-in-law

at their home

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and the In-Laws

Skirt steak, aka anchang-sal (안창살), is my favorite cut for cooking Korean BBQ-style. Without being overly marbled, it packs more flavor than most other cuts. The fibrous texture of the skirt, which can be somewhat tough to manage in larger form, gives just enough chew when pre-cut into smaller pieces. The single drawback is that each animal yields relatively little skirt meat, thus making it more difficult to find and expensive when found.

I realized this evening that I can get through or maybe even enjoy a meal cooked by my mother-in-law if it doesn't involve sauce or seasonings--hers being too intense for my delicate palate. Tonight was the first time ever that she hadn't gone out of her way to make a "dish" of some sort, opting instead to grill unmarinated beef at the tableside. She kept encouraging me to eat more of her kimchi, not an easy proposition for me, but I was otherwise happy with the plain beef, dipped in salt and wrapped in fresh lettuce. I may have to insist that she continue to take it easy in the kitchen and keep things simple from here on out. A win-win situation, if there ever was one.

2.094 Peperoncino Spaghetti in Shrimp Sauce with Shrimp, Scallops and Oyster Mushrooms

-Cycle 2, Dinner 94-
9 (Sat) April 2011

-Italian-
Peperoncino Spaghetti in Shrimp Sauce
with Shrimp, Scallops and Oyster Mushrooms

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

For the first time ever, I've succeeded in making back-to-back (yesterday plus today) 5-star home-cooked-by-me meals. Yay for me.

I didn't quite know what to call the sauce, which was based on stock made from shrimp shells, so I went with the obvious. Incidentally, there doesn't appear to be any sauce because, by the time I got around to getting this photo of the dish after several failed platings, the pasta had absorbed most of the liquid. Anyway, along with the whole shrimp, and the scallops, the seafood flavor of the sauce was intense--one of the best that I've ever made.

The orange pasta was spaghetti infused with chili peppers, which gave it a slight kick. Wanting some kind of colored pasta in anticipation of a cooking duel with Lisa, I bought it on the same day as the spinach linguine featured a few weeks back (see 2.077 Linguine con Spinaci in Creamy Scampi Sauce with Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, and Shrimp). In that linguine post, I noted that the green of the pasta didn't seem to go so well with the pink shrimp. Orange works better, I think.

2.093 Pan-Seared Pork Chop with Garlic Mashed Potatoes in Martini-Caper Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 93-
8 (Fri) April 2011

-French-
Pan-Seared Pork Chop
with Garlic Mashed Potatoes
in Martini-Caper Sauce

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Like the simple gravy that I made last Friday (see 2.086 Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak in Garlic-Mushroom Gravy with Hasselback Potatoes in Beurre Maitre D'), the base of the sauce here was the caramelized drippings/fat from the meat. I can't believe that it's taken me this long to get around to using this technique. This time, I got a bit fancier by deglazing the bits with dry vermouth and vodka--hence the "martini"--which, I believe, makes the dish a bit more French than American.

It's also somewhat French by virtue of the vodka: Ciroc, a French product distilled from grapes that gives a subtle hint of fruit on the bouquet.

This is the only vodka that I actually like. I don't get the point of drinking "pure" vodkas, which are supposedly at their best when they taste like nothing. And I think flavored vodkas are vile. But Ciroc, yes please thank you.

2.092 Spam & Egg with Steamed Rice

-Cycle 2, Dinner 92-
7 (Thu) April 2011

-Korean-
Spam & Egg with Steamed Rice

* * *

at The Kimchi Jjigae

-Sinchon, Seoul-

with Cho JH, Kim IT, Kim KH, Lee HS, MtG, Yun YH


At my buddy Ictaek's kimchi jjigae restaurant, a place that I've discussed ad nauseam on this blog either directly or otherwise (see most recently 1.364 Kimchi Jjigae), one of the menu offerings is a sizzling hot plate with a fried egg and Spam. Just 1,000 won (with an order of jjigae), more of a giveaway than a moneymaker. It wasn't initially offered when the restaurant first opened but came about as we were discussing ways to expand the menu. Controversy remains as to who was the mastermind behind the idea. I claim credit, adamantly, citing as evidence my long history with and passion for the dish (see 1.101 Spam & Egg & Tofu with Steamed Rice).

Yeonhee, a great cook but not the greatest dancer
(photo courtesy Kiho)

Anyway, the group got together this evening at the restaurant to celebrate Yeonhee's birthday. I arrived late, after the other food had been eaten.

2.091 Shredded Chicken & Spanish Rice Pizza

-Cycle 2, Dinner 91-
6 (Wed) April 2011

-Mexican-
Shredded Chicken & Spanish Rice Pizza

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic


To avoid possible controversy as to how this pizza could be categorized as Mexican, I'll be very specific about the ingredients. The crust was a pre-made pizza crust, but it was so thin that it turned crispy in the oven, not unlike a baked tortilla. For the sauce, I combined tomato paste and salsa. The shredded chicken, along with sliced onions and green chilies, was seasoned with lemon juice, fresh cilantro, and cumin, chipotle, and paprika powders. The "Spanish Rice," frozen leftovers from way back when, was made with the long-grained variety and tomatoes and garlic and onions and chicken stock and chili powder. The cheese was a combination of mozzarella and a "Mexican cheese blend." Although I doubt that the resulting dish qualifies as being traditionally Mexican, I'd like to think that the individual components are Mexican in nature, or Mexican-inspired, or at least more Mexican than anything else. If a Mexican cook were to make a pizza at home, wouldn't it maybe taste something like this?

2.090 Smoked Salmon High Rollers


-Cycle 2, Dinner 90-
5 (Tue) April 2011

-American-
Smoked Salmon High Rollers

* *

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-

solo

The "High Roller" consists of smoked salmon (a ham version is also available), cheddar cheese, tomato, romaine lettuce, mayo (or some mayo-based white sauce), all wrapped in a tortilla.

They work in party situations when utensils and/or plates aren't readily available, and while shopping at Costco, eaten with hands, straight out of the box, to stave off starvation delirium and prevent hunger-induced purchases of things like a 10-can box of Chunky Soup New England Clam Chowder.

The problem is, they're not very good.

Incidentally, I've always been curious about the placement of Costco's food courts, both here and abroad. At the Costco branches where I used to shop in California, way back when, the food courts were/are located at the entrance. While this may be better for customers by encouraging them to eat in advance and thus shop more rationally and thus buy less, I would think that the store would prefer the opposite. By contrast, at the main Costco branch in Seoul, the food court is located just beyond the cash registers, just before the escalators and elevators to the parking levels above. This forces customers, except those who violate store policy and eat ready-to-go items from the cart without first paying for them, to do their shopping on an empty stomach and then eat afterwards (if they so choose).

2.089 Ganjang Gejang

-Cycle 2, Item 89-
4 April 2011

-Korean-
Ganjang Gejang (간장게장)

* * *

by my aunt

at their home

-Seongsu, Seoul-

with Dominic, Wife, Mom, Dad,
and various maternal-side relatives

This same dish (ganjang gejang (간장게장): raw blue crabs pickled in soy sauce), made by the same person (my aunt) at the same place (their home) under the same circumstances (a family gathering to celebrate an ancestral ritual), was described in greater detail last cycle (see 1.349 Ganjang Ge-Jang).

One thing that I failed to discuss in the earlier post is the name. The "gejang" (게장)) is an idiom referring specifically to pickled crab dishes; etymologically: "ge" (게) = "crab" and "jang" (장) = "sauce." The "ganjang"--which means "soy sauce" and can be broken down into the constituents "gan" (간) = "seasoning" and "jang" (장) = "sauce"--refers to this particular style.

In fact, the ganjang style is generally the most popular and regarded as the most difficult to master. Achieving the perfect level of saltiness rests on an extremely fine line between way too much and way too little. And the quality and freshness of the crabs themselves are clearly evident in the delicate soy sauce, without other spices to mask any off-flavors. By contrast, gochujang gejang (고추장게장), which contains red chili paste, is more about the spice than the crab. The latter, made in bulk without particular concern for taste, is sometimes served as a free side dish in barbecue restaurants, whereas the former is sold as its own dish in specialty restaurants at a hefty price of 50,000 won and upwards for a pair of crabs.


After years of trying, I've finally come to the inexorable conclusion that I simply don't like gejang--of any kind. I tried so hard because most everyone around me goes googoogaga over it--the ganjang kind especially--and I kept thinking that I must be missing something, something that I'd eventually get. I don't care anymore. I give up. I have more than enough other things to eat.

2.088 Tojong-Dak Onban


-Cycle 2, Item 88-
3 (Sun) April 2011

-Korean-
Tojong-Dak Onban

* * * *

at Pyeong-Ga-Ok (평가옥)

-Bundang (Seongnam), GyeongGi-

with Dad, Dominic, and Wife

To explain this dish, I should first summarize descriptions for 2 of the primary forms of Korean broth dishes that have already been covered to varying degrees in previous posts. These include: (i) tang (탕): a watery soup centered on a particular protein source, typically beef, chicken, or certain types of fish, as well as the rich stock derived from boiling the flesh/bones for several hours, usually served in a large bowl as a main dish along with rice and sides (see 1.283 Galbi-Tang); and (ii) jjiigae (찌개): a thicker soup, sometimes translated as "stew," containing a hodge-podge of ingredients in a denser, more intense broth, usually served in a pot also as a main dish along with rice and sides (see 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail); .

Onban (온반) is something of a hybrid of the tang and the jjigae. It's like a tang in the sense that the broth is made from a long-simmered beef stock, augmented in this case by large strips of tojong-dak (토종닭), or Korean native chicken. It's like a jjigae in the sense that it mixes a wide variety of ingredients together, such as mandu (만두) (meat dumplings--in this case, beef), bindae-ddeok (빈대떡) (bean pancakes), glass noodles, enoki and oyster mushrooms, and onions and leeks. With a name that literally means "warm" (on) "meal" (ban), I'm wondering if the dish came about by cooks who didn't want to bother separately plating the many sides characteristic of a Korean spread and just tossed everything into the pot; before this, I'd never seen bindae-ddeok in broth.

Onban is likely to be found only at places specializing in North Korean food, such as Pyeong-Ga-Ok, one of my favorite restaurants, which I've discussed before (see most recently 2.065 Mul Naeng-Myeon).

2.087 Barbecued Lamb Chops in Worcestershire-Thyme Marinade

-Cycle 2, Dinner 87-
2 (Sat) April 2011

-Sui Generis-
Barbecued Lamb Chops
in Worcestershire-Thyme Marinade

* * * * *

by me

at Aliman Camp Grounds (알리만 오토캠프장)
[campsite]

-Chuncheon, Gangwon-

with Cho JH, Kim KH, Lee HS, MtG, and Yun YH

The lamb itself was exquisite. Eschewing published recipes, most of which called for spices that I either didn't have (e.g., marjoram) or don't like (e.g., cloves), I tossed in a bunch of seasonings at random, including worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, lemon zest, red wine vinegar, vermouth, thyme, garlic powder, celery powder, cayenne, salt, black pepper, white pepper, sugar. The worcestershire sauce and thyme came through. And somehow, it all worked. I'm tempted to rate this 6 stars, but without extensive experience cooking or eating lamb I can't confidently state that the dish exemplified perfection. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, too.

Even better, the chops might be featured on TV! On this camping trip, we had agreed to be filmed by a camera crew from KBS, one of the main local networks, for a lifestyle segment on the evening news. What with the coming of spring, and the ever-increasing popularity of camping in Korea, and the celebrity of some of our members in the camping community, they wanted to interview us and asked us to participate in a semi-scripted exchange between us and a family on their very first outing: the veterans showing the newbies how things are done. Although food wasn't specifically in the script, they suddenly decided to use the lamb--I'm imagining that it mostly had to do with the novelty of eating lamb per se in Korea, along with the visual appeal of the bone-in chop being barbecued over coals in my VHS portable grill, and maybe because I just happened to be cooking them at the time. In any event, I didn't want to be on camera--my hands might've been filmed during the cooking process--so Hosup took the lead role.

The following photos are screenshots taken from the video that I took with my iPhone.


The dialogue went something like:

"Please, try some lamb. It is very good."
"Wow, this is very good! A very unique flavor! What gave you the idea to make lamb?"
"Well, we started out with beef and pork like everyone else, but after a while we began to seek out more unconventional foods, like lamb."
"I see. Thank you for the yummy food and the words of wisdom. We hope to learn from your example."



Taking advantage of the opportunity, at my insistence, Hosup shilled a bit for Tapatio Hot Sauce. Due to Korea's strict broadcasting laws against product placement and "incidental advertising," brand names/logos are forbidden from being said/shown on the air, but at least the tape will exist somewhere.

2.086 Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak in Garlic-Mushroom Gravy with Hasselback Potatoes in Beurre Maitre D'


-Cycle 2, Item 86-
1 (Fri) April 2011

-French-
Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak
in Garlic-Mushroom Gravy
with Hasselback Potatoes in Beurre Maitre D'

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Those little white things in the gravy: lumps of flour, not garlic. My first gravy.

That perfect crust, that perfect rare: pan-seared and finished off in the oven. Not my first steak.