3.116 Ika Karaage

-Cycle 3, Item 116-
30 (Mon) April 2012

Ika Karaage

* * *

at Doki Doki Kitchen

-Songpa, Seoul-

with Kim HJ and Park HY

I wrote about this same dish last cycle (see 2.363 Ika Karaage), except that it really wasn't the same.  For starters, the squid was cut into rings this time, whereas previously it'd been in chunks.  As far as I'm aware, the standards for karaage don't favor any particular shape. Maybe some people prefer rings.  I don't.  The point is, something had changed.  Second, despite being deep-fried, the coating was curiously dry, which brought to mind the "air frying" cookers advertised on late night cable TV these days; by contrast, the exquisitely executed coating last time prompted me to declare that "the restaurant's frymaster knows his craft."  Finally, if the squid had been marinated, then not sufficiently so--it just tasted like tempura, and a bland tempura at that.  Last time, in giving it a 6-star rating, I described it as "probably the best deep-fried squid of any kind that I've ever had. Perfection." This time, I was reluctant to give it 3.

My guess is that the establishment has outgrown itself.  Even on a Monday night, it was packed to capacity.  The menu, which had been a hand-written, double-sided piece of laminated paper, had swelled into a laser-printed, ten-page velobound catalogue.  Too many customers, too many dishes.  No quality control.  

3.115 General Chicken

-Cycle 3, Item 115-
29 (Sun) April 2012

General Chicken

* * * *

at Jackie's Kitchen
(Coex Mall)

-Samseong, Seoul-

with Dominic and the Ka twins

I believe that this dish would be known in certain parts of the world as "General Tso's Chicken," but I can't be sure.  While I've never had General Tso's Chicken anywhere else, I'm vaguely aware that it involves deep-fried chunks of chicken in a sweet soy glaze, and this matched that description.

According to subsequent research, most sources would appear to agree that General Tso's Chicken was invented, or at least named as such and popularized, by Chinese restaurants in the United States sometime during the late 20th century.  It's often categorized as Hunanese in style, probably because the restaurants that introduced the dish claimed to be Hunanese, even though traditional Hunanese cuisine doesn't have the dish (or any dish along similar lines).  Also, the name is most commonly attributed to a 19th century general and statesman named Zuo Zongtang from Hunan, the "Tso" based on an older transliteration system, even though no records show a connection between the man and the dish (or any dish for that matter).  As for why this obscure person of no historical significance would have been chosen for the honor, one theory points to the homonym "zongtang," a term meaning "ancestral meeting hall" that's sometimes used to describe dishes prepared on special occasions in large banquet-style gatherings. My guess is that a jumble of coincidental facts and convenient folklore were stitched together to create a retroactive mythology for a dish that sprung out of nowhere in particular.

Assuming that General Tso's Chicken and this "General Chicken" are essentially the same thing, it seems an odd menu item for Jackie's Kitchen (see previously 2.149 Black Bean Sauce Noodles with Seafood), a dim sum and noodle shop owned and/or fronted by Jackie Chan.  The restaurant doesn't overtly align itself with any regional style, but an American-invented dish, which is neither dim sum nor noodle, feels somewhat out of place.  

The decision to order the dish represented the convergence of 4 totally unrelated factors: (1) Dominic's current favorite movie is The Karate Kid, the new version starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, so he was all excited to eat at "Mr. Han's restaurant" following a playdate/fieldtrip with his friends to the Coex Mall Aquarium in the same complex; (2) for the kids, the menu was severely limited to a handful of items that were fork-accessible and non-spicy; (3) given those criteria, the server recommended "General Chicken," which reminded me that reader Seoul Food had recently mentioned General Tso's Chicken--specifically, as an example of American-style Chinese food (see comments under 3.104 Stir Fried Duck Rice Noodle); and (4) in light of a concurrent discussion (found in the comments under the same post) between reader DC and me about how this blog chooses to address the issue of a given restaurant that refers to a given dish on its menu by a given name, where the dish may otherwise be known by a different name by different people in different places, this apparent appellative aberration was too good an opportunity to pass.

Whatever its origins, whatever it's called, the chicken was good.  If that's an accurate reflection of General Tso's Chicken, then I like General Tso's Chicken.  Pricey at 13,000 won for the tiny serving, but I'd recommend it.  The kids loved it.

3.114 Spaghetti in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce with Pan-Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus

-Cycle 3, Item 114-
28 (Sat) April 2012

Spaghetti in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce
with Pan-Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Uncle DK's family

The shrimp was overcooked.  

Otherwise, the dish involved what has become my default/go-to/signature pasta sauce these days, first developed back in Cycle 1 (see generally 1.340 Spaghetti Nero di Seppia with Black Olives in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce), followed by numerous variations since (see most recently 2.316 Spaghetti al Peperoncino with (Baked/Refried) Gold Mountain Pork Bellies in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce).  

3.113 Pennette Ian (Beta)

-Cycle 3, Item 113-
27 (Fri) April 2012

Pennette Ian (Beta)

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

A couple days ago, I'd made a huge batch of oxtail soup for the wife upon her return home from the hospital with the new kid in tow (see 3.111 Ggori Tang).  I mentioned in the related post that the meat and stock work well as components of other dishes.  To prove my point, I attempted to use the soup as the basis of a pasta sauce.   For obvious reasons, I'm naming the dish after the kid.  

Overall, the result was a decent effort, though it certainly would benefit from some fine-tuning.  The addition of mushrooms, onions, celery, garlic, fresh basil and parsley, dried thyme and oregano, extra virgin olive oil, and white wine made the dish taste pretty much like an Italian beef stew.  It needed something more, a slight kick to up the sophistication.  I'd chosen pennette for esthetic reasons, but a long noodle (e.g., spaghetti) would've been better to take in the soupy sauce.  I'll get it right the next time.

I've now developed a pasta dish for each of my boys.  The two dishes are essentially the same technique, differing only in the main ingredient.  Appropriately, Dominic's dish features shrimp (see most recently 2.341 Spaghetti Dominico Redux), which is whiter in color and lighter in tone, like him, the child who takes after his mother, whereas Ian's dish features beef, which is darker in color and heavier in tone, like him, the child who takes after his father.  

3.112 Pan-Grilled Duck Breast in Soy-Orange Sauce

-Cycle 3, Item 112-
26 (Thu) April 2012

-Sui Generis-
Pan-Grilled Duck Breast in Soy-Orange Sauce

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Some things work out.  Some things don't.

This dish was a "don't." 

3.111 Ggori Tang

-Cycle 3, Item 111-
25 (Wed) April 2012

Ggori Tang

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with the Wife and Dominic

Having described the details of my process for making this dish in a post over a year ago (see 2.099 Ggori Tang), I've finally gotten around to photographic documentation, which I present here.  

I mentioned then that I usually make it for my wife as a comfort food, e.g., "when she's sick or returns from a long business trip."  This time, it was to welcome her home from the 3-week recuperation (vacation) at the hospital and postpartum recovery center (see generally 3.101 Engawa & Sake Nigiri Sushi) following the birth of our baby boy Ian Zachary. And, as a bonus, bone broths supposedly stimulate the production of breast milk--yet another dubious folk remedy relating to postpartum care, courtesy of the mother-in-law (last week, she'd brought over a pig's foot and instructed me to make a soup out of it for the same purpose, but I refused to touch it, so she took it back home and did it herself).  

Australian oxtail from Costco

2.2 kg for 24,000 won

Submerge in water...

... and boil for 30 min to extract the blood.

Discard the water, rinse the meat...

... and wash the pot.

Fill the pot with 12 liters of clean water.

Aromatics for the stock include leeks, onions, garlic, pepper corns, and daikon radish
(I used to add celery and carrots, which would be standard for a Western-style soup,
but people started commenting/complaining about a "foreign" flavor, so now I resist the urge.)

Bring to a boil... 

... and remove the aromatics after 30 min.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add 2 teaspoons of salt, cook uncovered...

... for 4 hours until the liquid is reduced to half, and remove from the heat.

By then, the meat will be completely fall-off-the-bone tender.

After the liquid has cooled to room temperature, 
transfer everything to a smaller vessel,
(unless your fridge can accommodate a 14-liter stock pot) 
 place it in the fridge...
(or it's winter and you can leave the pot on the balcony)

... for 1 hour until the fat congeals on the surface.

Skim the fat with a strainer
--promptly, before the liquid begins to gel, as explained below.

It ends up being a lot of meat and stock, but the 8-plus hours required should leave something to show for it; and fortunately, the meat and/or stock work well as components of other dishes.  

Reheat, season with salt and black pepper, and garnish with scallions or leeks.

The broth should be viscous when cold, even to the point of being a bit gelatinous. This results from the breakdown of bone and connective tissue, making the taste and texture that much more intense. Although cooking the tail for longer than 4 hours will intensify the broth further, I've found that the meat then becomes too mushy, and the fat becomes difficult to remove as the liquid solidifies quickly along with it. Once, I tried a multi-staged approach--boiling for 4 hours, skimming the fat, picking the meat off the bones, putting just the bones back into the stock, and boiling for another hour--which produced a thicker soup while preserving the integrity of the meat, but was quite a hassle and didn't look that appetizing with all the boneless bits and pieces floating around. Hopefully, there's a trick to it that I'll figure out someday.

3.110 Wonjo Kimbap

-Cycle 3, Item 110-
24 (Tue) April 2012

Wonjo Kimbap

* * *

at Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with the Wife and Dominic

As I noted in a prior post, kimbap (김밥) has always been "one of the most popular food items in Korea" (see 1.200 Kimbap).

Not that it needed further incentive, but kimbap enjoyed a period of several years around the mid-00s in which the price of a roll dropped to just 1,000 won each.  Before then, the going rate had been 2,000 won or more.  What began as one restaurant's successful pricing gimmick--attributed by many observers to Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) (Kimbap Heaven)--suddenly set the standard throughout the country, as copycats were quick to follow suit, often with the same name and logo.  In fact, the original restaurant had failed to secure trademark protection for its brand, prompting a court to dismiss an early series of infringement suits on the grounds that the name had become genericized through common use.  Eventually, some branches were consolidated under various corporate ownerships, as identified by secondary logos.  Anyway, a Kimbap Cheonguk--or Kimbap Nara (김밥나라) (Kimbap Nation) or Kimbap Sarang (김밥사랑) (Kimbap Love) or some similar alternative--would soon pop up on virtually every street corner, sometimes literally next door to one another.

It's across the alley from Dusi Kentucky Chicken and Sandong Gyoja-Gwan,
as well as a Kimbap Nara (not pictured).

The idea had been to offer cheap kimbap as a price leader, tempting customers into the restaurant so that they'd order other, more expensive items from the menu.  In addition to kimbap, these restaurants typically offer a wide range of casual Korean dishes, ranging from noodle dishes, such as ramyeon (라면) (instant noodles), for about 3,000 won at the time, to rice-based meals, such as sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) (silky tofu stew), for about 4,500 won at the time (most prices have since risen 500-1,000 won across the board).  

With all the components ready to go, a roll of kimbap takes seconds to make.

Unfortunately, with many customers opting for the kimbap alone, the owners found themselves making rolls all day--open 24 hours--for little or no profit.  Stories started circulating, some probably true, that the only possible way to maintain the 1,000-won price point was by using downmarket ingredients barely fit for human consumption, like eggs cracked during production or rice at the limit of expiration.  In any event, the prices inevitably crept up here and there, until they stabilized at the current 1,500 won, which seems reasonable enough that it wouldn't invite skepticism (see generally 2.268 Kimbap).

The sides are minimized to keep costs down,
a practice that all Korean restaurants should adopt.

On the eve of the wife's discharge from the hospital and postpartum recovery center where she's been staying for the past few weeks (see generally 3.101 Engawa & Sake Nigiri Sushi), the mother-in-law authorized leave of absence for a meal off the premises, even if it didn't involve seaweed.  She still doesn't know about the secret burger excursion a few days earlier (see 3.106 Dry Aged Hanwoo 1++ Fielt Mignon Burger).  

Ddeokbokki (3,000 won) pairs nicely with kimbap.

Dominic's favorite is donkatsu (5,000 won), 
which is Japanese, of course, but a staple in these types of restaurants.

When we gave Dominic the choice of venue, he didn't hesitate to select Kimbap Cheonguk, which has many of his favorite dishes, and he can check off the boxes for what he wants on the order form, and he's allowed to get whatever he wants because everything's so cheap.  The food was okay, pretty much the same as at any other Kimbap Cheonguk/Nara/Sarang that I've even been to.  The wonjo kimbap (원조김밥) (original kimbap), so called in reference to the original 1,000-won kimbap that started it all, was bare bones as ever, though pleasant in its simplicity. We had a good time.

For some reason, as evidenced by the menu in English-Japanese-Chinese, something that I don't recall ever having seen in any restaurant anywhere in Korea, this particular establishment appears to be a popular destination for tourists; we saw 2 groups of Japanese women that evening (they didn't order donkatsu).

3.109 Grilled Lamb Galbi

-Cycle 3, Item 109-
23 (Mon) April 2012

-Sui Generis-
Grilled Lamb Galbi

* *

at Yijing

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Park MS & JS

I'd noticed this place on the way to The Butcher's Cut (see generally 3.106 Dry Aged Hanwoo 1++ Fielt Mignon Burger), located a block further down the alley.  A big sign out front--again the damn signage--advertised lamb, a personal favorite that's difficult to find here in Korea and thus gets me all excited whenever I get a chance to try it.

However, the lamb here wasn't that great.  The meat had the sweetish sesame-soy flavor of Korean bulgogi (불고기) and/or galbi (갈비), which works with beef, of course, as well as pork or chicken or even shrimp, but seemed to clash with the distinctive gaminess of the lamb.  FYI, "galbi" literally means "rib," the dish featuring a pair of lamb rib chops.  As if the marinade alone weren't incongruous enough, the odd seasoning dip combo of green tea powder + anise seeds + chili powder made matters worse. 

The problem is that Koreans regard lamb as having an unpleasant odor.  As such, they go to great lengths to mask or eliminate that odor.  Without fail, the first thing that anyone will say about a restaurant or a recipe featuring lamb, if it's perceived as being good, is: "It doesn't taste like lamb!"  And yes, this raises the obvious question of why they bother eating lamb at all.  I don't know.  

The other dishes on the menu of this "Oriental Bowl & Chopsticks Pub" appeared just as confused, ill-conceived fusions of Chinese and Korean, like silky tofu cubes with century eggs doused in sesame oil--uuuuugh.  We received that dish in settlement of a billing dispute concerning the price of the lamb, advertised on the sign as 20,000 won for a pair but, as we discovered after we'd finished our 3 orders, listed on the menu as 23,000 won--either way, a ripoff; when we complained, the owner offered to provide us with an additional dish, and we agreed, and that's what he gave us.  I really regret forgetting to get a photo, because it looked as gross as it tasted.

3.108 Kentucky

-Cycle 3, Item 108-
22 (Sun) April 2012


* * * * *

from Dusi Kentucky Chicken (두시켄터키치킨)

at Hosan Postpartum Recovery Center

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Again (see 3.093 Kentucky).  

Frankly though, having the chicken for a second time in as many weeks, I was less impressed than the first time.  I still maintain that it's excellent, one of the best that I've had, in years, maybe ever.  But it just didn't deliver the bam upon repeat that it did a couple weeks ago.

A weird thing about the chicken, which I'd noticed in the previous batch and confirmed here, is that it came with 3 leg/thigh quarters and 4 wing/drumette sections.  The breasts, while cut into smaller pieces, appeared to be present.  So, it seemed to be a whole bird plus a leg/thigh and a pair of wing/drumettes.  I'm not complaining, but it's kinda odd. 

3.107 Sundubu with Spicy Soy Sauce

-Cycle 3, Item 107-
21 (Sat) April 2012

Sundubu with Spicy Soy Sauce

* * * * *

by Yong I

at his home

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

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

We were all invited to dinner over at the home of Yong I, a semi-regular in our camping crew.  I mentioned him in a prior post, covering the phenomenal steak that he'd made, as one who "enjoys a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption (see 3.086 Pan-Seared Ribeye with Wild Porcini Salt).  The last time that he'd had people over, an occasion that I couldn't attend, he'd busted out a 5,000-year-old special edition Glenfiddich single malt costing 4 trillion won--to this day, whenever whisky is on the table, the mind-blowing experience of tasting that once-in-a-lifetime whisky is inevitably brought up and how everyone was thinking about me at the time, knowing how much I love malts, but fortunately my absence left more for those present.  I wasn't about to miss out again.

The dinner table seats 12, at least.

Alas, I had to leave early.  The host had prepared sukiyaki for the main course, but, by 9:30PM, when I could stay no longer, we'd only gotten through a few appetizers, as well as the stuff that each of the guests had brought potluck style.  The booze was flowing slowly, just beer and wine, no hard stuff anywhere in sight.  As far as I know, it remained a mellow evening.  Maybe next time.

Incidentally, this tofu was awesome.  As I'd once described a similar dish, "straight up in its own cooking water" (see 3.021 Sundubu).  Yong I had purchased it at the Sinsaegae Department Store in Gangnam, which has become the destination of choice for premium food shopping; in fact, Dean & Deluca is located in the same building, adjacent to the main supermarket.  The tofu, without any additional seasonings, was one of the best that I've ever had: simultaneously creamy and lean, soft yet substantial.  I'm definitely going to buy some for myself and try it at home.

MtG, who is perhaps the most envying person that I know, 
described the apartment as the coolest that he'd ever seen in his life.

It certainly had a lot of hardware.