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3.026 Duck Legs Braised in Red Wine with Garlic Mash


-Cycle 3, Item 26-
31 (Sun) January 2012

-French-
Duck Legs Braised in Red Wine
with Garlic Mash

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

The duck part of this dish is the 3rd item that I've made following a recipe from James Peterson's cookbook Meat: A Kitchen Education (see most recently 2.354 Brisket Pot Roast with Red Wine Gravy). Coincidentally, all 3 have involved braising in red wine, each to varying degrees of success, this one being the best thus far.

Looking back, the quality of the wines have had enormous impact on the resulting dishes. Case in point, for this evening's dish, I used Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, an Argentinian wine that retails for less than 10,000 at E-Mart or Costco. Just like the wine itself, the sauce ended up with a vaguely grapey bouquet that lacked body and depth.

Though the importance of wine as an ingredient is frequently asserted by the experts, sometimes emphatically, I've been reluctant to use better wines in cooking. The problem is that a decent bottle costs at least 20,000 in Korea, more than 30,000 won for a good one; when a recipe calls for wine, I hear the ka-ching of the cash register and the tinkle of coins as I pour the stuff into the measuring cup, each cup 1/3 of the bottle. I know that the wine can make or break the dish, perhaps even more so than the meat, so I shouldn't be skimping. But I'd rather be drinking it.

3.025 Odeng Fried Rice


-Cycle 3, Item 25-
30 (Sat) January 2012

-Korean-
Odeng Fried Rice

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

I can't fathom why I'd save half of a sheet of odeng (오뎅) in the freezer rather than just using it up along with the rest of the package. It's not like odeng--which may be the cheapest and most widely available animal-based food product in Korea, a beige and largely flavorless, more flour than fish--is particularly worth saving.

In any event, having saved it, I couldn't waste it. Fried rice seemed like an easy solution to finish off the piddling tidbit, even though I've never heard of odeng as a fried rice ingredient. It turned out okay, the odeng making scant difference either way.

Following up on yesterday's comments, the green flecks in this evening's fried rice were celery.

3.024 Doenjang Jjigae with Celery Leaves


-Cycle 3, Item 24-
29 (Sat) January 2012

-Korean-
Doenjang Jjigae with Celery Leaves

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

I can hardly resist incorporating celery into the Korean dishes that I make, despite the unorthodoxy of doing so. The compulsion comes from my prediliction for cooking in the Western style, which embraces celery as a fundamental ingredient, either on its own or as a component of stocks/sauces (e.g., mire poix). For me, even where Korean cuisine is concerned, the absence of celery feels inherently flawed. But in past year or so, after several people had commented that my attempts at authentic soups or stir-fries tasted "unique" or "different" or "weird," while I'd been pleased at myself for getting it just right, I've come to realize that the subtle yet distinct undertone of the celery imparts an incongruous shade to the traditional flavor profile that Koreans are accustomed to. As a result, I hold back when guests are involved and go all out when it's just me and the family.

In related news, I've been learning to use celery leaves rather than discarding them after trimming. The practice follows from my newfound fondness for broccoli stems (see most recently 3.022 Ramen Noodles with Broccoli Stems and Cabbage Stir-Fried in Oyster Sauce), which started as a cost-saving measure but developed into a genuine preference for the stems over the florets. Celery leaves are perfectly edible, especially in soups, such as this doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) (see generally 1.174 Doenjang Jjigae), where they wilt down yet maintain a good structure in the broth. Interestingly, in line with E-Mart's ever-increasing selection of newfangled and/or exotic and/or foreign food products, including vegetables, the store has begun to sell celery leaves in packaging that recommends using them as wraps (ssam) (쌈).

3.023 Pan-Fried Duck Breasts in Five-Spice Glaze with Shredded Leeks

-Cycle 3, Item 23-
28 (Sat) January 2012

-Chinese-
Pan-Fried Duck Breasts in Five-Spice Glaze with Shredded Leeks

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

For the first time in my life, I bought a duck. It was a whole duck. Not quite confident enough to risk it all on a single recipe, I separated the bird into 4 components: the breasts (for this dish), the legs-thighs-wings (for a future dish), the carcass (for stock), and the excess skin (for the rendered fat, as well as the crispy skins themselves, which we ate as an appetizer dipped in sweet chili sauce). At 11,000 won for 1.5 kg, a pretty decent value. And fun.


After consulting several cookbooks, I settled on a recipe in Man with a Pan, a collection of food essays and related recipes that I referenced in a prior post (see generally 2.353 Lemon-in-the-Ass Rosemary Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes and Pan Gravy). Developed by contributor Adam Bonin, the recipe was the synthesis of two duck recipes attributed to the venerable Mark Bittman, whom I quoted in yesterday's post (on an unrelated matter), whose video podcast The Minimalist is conceived on the notion of simplicity in cooking (see 2.223 Sesame Shrimp Scrambled Eggs). Nevertheless, the ingredient list left me a bit skeptical as to whether the recipe would work as is. I mean, for a glaze based on 7 total tablespoons of liquid, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce seemed excessive. According to the author, however: "Everybody in my family knows--and most of our friends know--that Adam can make duck, and he can make this duck. And he can just nail it." Self-reference in the 3rd person is often a sign of spurious cockiness, but I gave it a shot, confident myself that I could adjust if/when necessary.

As anticipated, the glaze was mouth-puckeringly salty. Even diluted with some stock, it was still a bit strong. The shredded leeks, not part of the original recipe, helped balance things out.


Americans don't appear to regard soy sauce as being particularly salty. Years ago, while helping out at my aunt and uncle's sushi boat restaurant in San Diego, I noticed that the customers ate inordinate amounts of soy sauce as a condiment; they would drop a piece of sushi into the soy sauce dish and wait for the rice to sop it all up and turn black. "Doesn't that make it too salty?" I once asked. "Salty? It's just soy sauce," the guy replied, looking puzzled. Another example, though I can't recall the details, I saw a cooking program in which the host, who was making something Asian, took great pains to explain that soy sauce may register as "sweet" but actually has a high sodium content and warned the viewers against the "temptation" to add extra salt. Indeed.

3.022 Ramen Noodle Stir-Fry with Broccoli Stems and Cabbage in Oyster Sauce


-Cycle 3, Item 22-
27 (Fri) January 2012

-Japanese-
Ramen Noodle Stir-Fry with Broccoli Stems and Cabbage in Oyster Sauce

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Hoping to get a bit of wok-charred flavor into the noodles, I stir-fried them first, but they ended up absorbing most of the oyster sauce and leaving the dish somewhat dry as a result.

3.021 Sundubu


-Cycle 3, Item 21-
26 (Thu) January 2012

-Korean-
Sundubu

3.0

at Giwajip Sundubu (기와집 순두부)

-Seocho, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, the Ka family, and the Shin family

In a prior post, I described the different types of tofu in Korea (see 1.315 Sundubu Jjigae with Clams).  In Korea, tofu is called "dubu" (두부).

Giwajib Sundubu is a Korean restaurant specializing in tofu.  For 18,000 won per person, the dinner set menu featured 7 dishes, including firm tofu with sauteed kimchi, soft tofu in a shrimp-stock soup, and the restaurant's signature silky tofu (sundubu) (순두부) straight up in its own cooking water as the final course, along with other non-tofu items, as well as rice and the standard side dishes.  I love tofu of all kinds but found the silky tofu, as good as it was, to be a bit too subtle for my liking.  But overall, the meal was characterized by quality grub, no frills, great value.



Indeed, the restaurant was a classic example of the Ajeossi Bellwether Standard (see generally 2.248 Mandu Jeon-Gol).  


Our party was the only one that included women, children, and men under the age of 45.


3.020 Monkfish-Clam-Beansprout-Tofu Soup


-Cycle 3, Item 20-
25 (Wed) January 2012

-Korean-

Monkfish-Clam-Beansprout-Tofu Soup

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that my cooking style is largely characterized by improv.

This is what I was talking about.

Of course, by its very nature, improv doesn't always turn out so perfectly.

3.019 Spaghetti with Shrimp & Shiitake Scampi


-Cycle 3, Item 19-
24 (Tue) January 2012

-Italian-
Spaghetti with Shrimp & Shiitake Scampi

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

The vast majority of the dishes that I make don't involve set recipes. It's usually improvisation flowing from a few fundamental ingredients. With Italian, for example, my pasta sauces are some combination of olive oil, butter, garlic, onions, and a dried herb blend of oregano-basil-thyme-parsley-bay. Beyond that, it all depends on what I happen to have on hand, a bit of this, a bit of that, tasting at every step, adjusting at every step. This is why I tend to describe the dishes in general terms, while promising on occasion to post a recipe in the unforeseeable future, even though I probably never will because my impromptu process isn't particularly amenable to documentation and subsequent repetition.

Perhaps I'm approaching what food writer Mark Bittman, in his piece "Finding Myself in the Kitchen," which appears in the anthology Man with a Pan, a book that I mentioned in a prior post (see 2.353 Lemon-in-the-Ass Rosemary Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes and Pan Gravy), refers to as the final stage of home cooking: "Stage four is that of the mature cook, a person who consults cookbooks for fun or novelty but for the most part has both a fully developed repertoire and--far, far more importantly--the ability to start cooking with only an idea of what the final dish will look like. There's a pantry, there's a refrigerator, and there is a mind capable of combining ingredients from both to Make Dinner."

3.018 Bibim Bap with Holiday Leftovers

-Cycle 3, Item 18-
23 (Mon) January 2012

-Korean-
Bibim Bap with Holiday Leftovers

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In Korea, traditionally, when it comes to preparing for and participating in holiday gatherings, the sons-in-law are practically free of obligation. The patriarch of the family, and his sons by extension, are responsible for the ritual aspects of the occasion--this is relatively easy, given that very little actual ritual is required nowadays. The matriarch of the family, and the daughters-in-law by extension, are responsible for the cooking--this is the most labor-intensive and important part of the occasion nowadays. The daughters, who may be formally absolved of direct responsibility with the understanding that they will be required to work as daughters-in-law in their own husbands' families, are nevertheless obligated to pick up the slack and assist their mother when necessary, given the female-oriented nature of the food preparation.   But the sons-in-law, who may otherwise have their own responsibilities at home, where they're the actual sons, aren't really expected to do anything except eat.

However, as my wife (the daughter), her brother (the son), and his wife (the daughter-in-law) were raised to be utterly incapable of fulfilling their traditional duties, I (the son-in-law) take it upon myself on every occasion to ensure that the table is set properly, both literally and figuratively.

On this New Year's day, I prepared all the goodies and invited everyone over for lunch.

radish

bujigaengi (부지갱이)

bean sprouts

microgreens in sesame dressing

kimchi

mushroom jeon


steamed squash/chestnuts/ginko nuts in honey glaze

japchae

boiled mandu
ddeok gum

The full spread.

With the leftovers--perfect for bibimbap (비빔밥) (see generally 1.043 Bibim Bap)--I enjoyed a quiet dinner with the wife and kid later that evening.

3.017 Pan-Fried Mandu


-Cycle 3, Item 17-
22 (Sun) January 2012

-Korean-

Pan-Fried Mandu

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Having invited the in-laws for New Year's lunch tomorrow, I had to prepare a few things the night before, like these mandu (만두) (see 1.135 Steamed Mandu). Any home production of mandu (see photos at 2.297 Octopus/Sora/Minari/Sesame Oil/Salt/Pepper) inevitably results in a number of rejected units that are typically cooked and eaten on the spot. With the wife and kid working the line, the rejects were plentiful. We made dinner of them.

----

Earlier in the day, I'd invited Kiho and Jinhee over for brunch to show off my stash of sourdough from Fog City International Cafe. The remaining bread had gone a bit limp since being delivered 3 days before, but I managed to restore its crispy glory by wrapping it in moist parchment paper and popping it in the oven at full whack for a few minutes. In addition to the bread bowl clam chowder (see 3.015 Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl) and the pork sandwich (see 3.016 Pan-Grilled Pork Sandwich on Sourdough with Cole Slaw and JG-Inspired Dressing), I also served the sourdough in big torn chunks with my own spinach dip, another amazing accompaniment, maybe the best one yet, which showed how versatile a good sourdough can be. My guests, both of whom had never heard of nor tasted sourdough, were blown away by their first experience.

3.016 Pan-Grilled Pork Sandwich on Sourdough with Cole Slaw and JG-Inspired Dressing

-Cycle 3, Item 16-
21 (Sat) January 2012

-American-

Pan-Grilled Pork Sandwich on Sourdough
with Cole Slaw and JG-Inspired Dressing

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In my first post referencing the Kimchi Chronicles, I noted that their decisions to feature certain items to the exclusion of others seemed a bit arbitrary in some cases (see 2.361 Bulgogi). This is particularly true in the street food episode (Episode 12), which, for example, devotes a great deal of time to the strictly tourist neighborhood of Insa-Dong and a selection of gimmicky snacks (e.g., "dragon's beard") that the average Korean probably has never tasted. By contrast, bare lip service is paid to ddeokbokki (떡볶기) (see 1.161 Sundae in Ddeokbokki Sauce) and odeng (오뎅) (see 2.159 Odeng Skewers in Ddeokbokki Sauce), and no mention at all of sundae (순대) (see 1.048 Sundae & Ddeokbokki), arguably the definitive items where modern Korean street food is concerned. Stranger still, when the program shifts back to the host's home kitchen in New York, where Marja and Jean-Georges cook up their interpretations of the dishes shown in Korea, they make kimchi hotdogs and spicy chicken sandwiches.

My main regret is that I couldn't seem to make it look good for the photo.

But it prompted me to try my hand at a Korean-American fusion sandwich. Inspired by Jean-Georges's recipe for the dressing, I mixed gochujang (고추장), mayonnaise, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, and sesame seeds. Instead of chicken breasts, I grilled slices of pork shoulder. Whereas Jean-Georges had gone with a simple topping of julienned Asian pear, I concocted a quick cole slaw of shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions in mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. And finally, I assembled everything between 2 slices of sourdough from Fog City International Cafe (see 3.015 Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl), which I described in detail yesterday--the tangy-chewy bread providing a perfect bed for the sweet-spicy-sour dressing, the crunchy-zesty cole slaw, and the smoky, fatty pork. It was one of the best sandwiches that I've ever made.

3.015 Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl

-Cycle 3, Item 15-
20 (Fri) January 2012

-American-
Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl

* * * * *

from Fog City International Cafe
[delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Sourdough is the bread of choice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike leavened breads made with yeast, the lactobacilli involved in leavening sourdough produces lactic acid that imparts a distinctly sour taste. I mostly ate Wonder Bread while growing up in the South Bay, but I came to love sourdough while I was an undergrad at Berkeley, when sandwiches constituted a large portion of my diet. The bright acidity of the bread, as well as its chew, works especially well with meaty sandwiches. Whenever guests came to town, a default stop on the tour was Fisherman's Wharf, where restaurants serve clam chowder in hollowed out sourdough rounds ("bowls"), the zesty bread providing a perfect counterbalance to the creamy soup, and the dense texture being optimally engineered to absorb the liquid without succumbing to sogginess. Alas, yeast-based breads represent the norm throughout most of the world, including Korea, where sourdough is virtually non-existent.

A few days ago, in response to an earlier post on the outstanding baguettes from the Paris Croissant in the French neighborhood of Seoul (see 1.315 Smoked Salmon with Romaine and Capers on Baguette Slices), a reader informed me that he had "great bread" for sale by delivery. The reader, as I would soon learn, runs a restaurant/bakery in Incheon called Fog City International Cafe (see Fog City International Cafe's website and Facebook page). Sourdough is listed as the first item on the website's delivery menu. The menu also includes clam chowder, as well as a suggestion to eat the chowder with the sourdough in reference to the tradition of Fisherman's Wharf. I couldn't resist the offer.


After several email exchanges, which confirmed our mutual connection to the Bay Area, we agreed on an order for 4 sourdough bread bowls at 10,000 won and 2 orders of clam chowder at 5,000 won each. In addition to the agreed upon (i) 4 sourdough bread bowls and (ii) 2 orders of clam chowder, he delivered (iii) 2 additional large rounds (each the size of 2 bread bowls), (iv) 1 bottle of proprietary salad dressing made with blue cheese imported from the Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County, and (v) 1 bottle of chardonnay from the Napa Valley winery Cartlidge & Brown: all so that I could enjoy a thoroughly Northern California dining experience, as his note in the box explained. "The perks of being a power blogger," the wife said. "Yup!" I said, beaming. "But you're not a power blogger," she said. Bazinga. Anyway, in terms of volume, it was undoubtedly the greatest food value that I've ever purchased, even if I hadn't bargained specifically for it.


Without the freebies, a single loaf of the bread alone would've made the transaction worthwhile. Although a straight-up comparison to the aforementioned Paris Croissant baguette would be unfair, the latter being a yeast-leavened bread and therefore at an inherent disadvantage as far as I'm concerned, the Fog City sourdough now ranks as the best bread that I've ever had in Korea. Prior to tasting it, the tactile sensations-- the powdery flour lightly dusted on the outside, the rough surface of the crust, the rigidity that gave ever-so-slightly when squeezed--all suggested that something special lay within. It crackled when torn apart. Inside, the coarsely yellowish bread was uneven and ugly, like a beautiful handmade bread should be. At first bite, the exquisite tang immediately made my mouth water as the sense memories came flooding back; it's hard to believe that nearly a decade had passed since I last had sourdough. I finished an entire round just standing there over the box. Awesome. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would've preferred it a bit tangier; I'm wondering if some of the zip had dissipated, the way that sour does over time, in the 24 hours that it had sat around before I got to it (we were away on the day of delivery). Now that I plan to be a life-long customer, I can taste it fresh the next time.

This was the original presentation, but the bread bowl looked better broken open.

The clam chowder was also excellent. Compared to the canned stuff, or even the mass produced stuff found in certain chain restaurants, Fog City's clam chowder was chock full of fresh clams that burst with actual clam flavor upon every bite. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would've liked it a bit thicker; I'm wondering if it had been bottled somewhat loose to compensate for thickening upon reheating, which it did. And of course, as per the plan, the chowder paired perfectly with the sourdough.

Unfortunately, I couldn't incorporate the salad dressing or the wine into this first meal, but I'll get around to them soon enough. And I still have a lot of bread left.

3.014 Grilled Hanbang Eel with Mugeunji and Ssamjang in Lettuce Wraps


-Cycle 3, Item 14-
19 (Thu) January 2012

-Korean-
Grilled Hanbang Eel with Mugeunji and Ssamjang in Lettuce Wraps

3.5

at Jangsucheon (장수천)

-Bundang, Gyeonggi-

with Wife and Dominic

Mugeunji (묵은지) is a type of kimchi.  Technically starting out as the standard napa cabbage kimchi, it's fermented to the extreme.  No exact standard for how long of an extended fermentation, but usually around a year.  The process intensifies the pungency while mellowing out the sharp spiciness.  It's typically used as an ingredient in certain kimchi dishes, such as kimchi jjigae, rather than eaten on its own.  

Here, the restaurant pared down the mugeunji by removing the fillings and rinsing off the juices.  The remaining cabbage leaves, now clean and tangy, provided a pleasing contrast to the fatty, smoky grilled eel.  



I was disappointed to find that, for whatever reason, the eel didn't seem nearly as good on this second visit to this restaurant.  On my first visit a few weeks earlier, I'd raved about it (see 2.362 Grilled Hanbang Eel).  All else being equal, the eel itself may have been the problem, which wasn't as thick and juicy as I remembered.   The wife commented that the eel lacked eel flavor.  Even the kid, who usually goes gaga for eel, wasn't very impressed and declined to eat more than a couple perfunctory bites.  I still thought it was very good, but not worthy of the prior 4.0 rating.

The restaurant employs a nifty logistical system in which the trays act as insertable/removable tabletop for quick service/cleanup.

Maybe my opinions are more capricious than I'd like to believe, even though I try to maintain objectivity and consistency where the ratings are concerned. Admittedly, I do tend to vacillate in the presence of a third party, as in my recent encounter with Lisa (see 3.007 Nokdu Bindae Jeon).

3.013 Lemon-in-the-Ass Bay Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes and Pan Gravy


-Cycle 3, Item 13-
18 (Wed) January 2012

-American-

Lemon-in-the-Ass Bay Roast Chicken
with Roast Potatoes and Pan Gravy

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Essentially the same dish as before (see 2.353 Lemon-in-the-Ass Rosemary Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes and Pan Gravy), but without rosemary and, instead, bay leaves tucked under the skin. While I'm gaining confidence in my chicken roasting technique, as well as making pan gravy from the drippings, I still struggle to get the potatoes as crispy as I'd like. Also, I can't seem to find an herb combination that does it for me, neither the forest aroma of the rosemary nor the bitterness of the bay being particularly desirable to my sensibilities. But the dish is getting there.

3.012 White Pizza

-Cycle 3, Item 12-
17 (Tue) January 2012

-Italian-
White Pizza

* * * * *

at The Pizza Peel

-Itaewon, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Of the many pies that I've tried at The Pizza Peel (see most recently 2.178 Pizza Quattro Formagio), where the best Napoli-style thin crust in the city can be found, this "white pizza" demonstrates how delectable it is. With just ricotta, mozzarella, EVOO, oregano, and fresh spinach as toppings, the crust's toothsome flavor comes through. And the absence of tomato sauce, which can render the light crust a bit soggy, allows the texture to remain pristinely soft and chewy, even after several minutes of sitting on the table. Excellent.

Anderson Valley's Boont Amber Ale,
a nice hoppy accompaniment to the pizza.

3.011 Doenjang Jjigae


-Cycle 3, Item 11-
16 (Mon) January 2012

-Korean-
Doenjang Jjigae

* * * *

by Wife

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Just 11 meals into Cycle 3, I'm already appreciating the freedom of allowing myself to eat whatever's on the table without worrying about whether it's a repeat of a prior dish or whether I should "save it" for the future. On so many occasions during Cycle 2, I would've been thoroughly satisfied with a bowl of simple doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) (see generally 1.174 Doenjang Jjigae) but abstained and went instead for something ostensibly "different" just for the sake of difference. What a relief.