4.238 Kerala Masala Beef & Beans with Tomato Basmati Rice

-Cycle 4, Item 238-
31 (Sat) August 2013

-Sri Lankan-
Kerala Masala Beef & Beans with Tomato Basmati Rice


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


This started out as a Tex-Mex chili, with ground beef and kidney beans and tomatoes and chilies and such, but it ended up as Sri-Lankan chunky curry, with a "Kerala Masala" mix (see generally 4.068 Mackerel & Potatoes in Kerala Masala) and curry leaves and cardamom pods and lemon grass.  The rice was steamed in the drained juice from the can of stewed tomatoes.  Of course, the dish probably wouldn't really qualify as bona fide Sri Lankan--in fact, it tasted/felt somewhat Mexican--but I like to categorize based on the primary seasoning involved.   

4.237 OKRKL/11 Cheongjinok: Haejang Guk

-Cycle 4, Item 237-
30 (Fri) August 2013

OKRKL/11 Cheongjinok: Haejang Guk


at Cheongjinok [청진옥]

-Jongro, Seoul-

with Wife

Given 100 landmark restaurants listed in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (OKRKL) (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당) (see generally 4.173 OKRKL/1 Woo Lae Oak...), I'm taking it upon myself to visit and review as many as I can.  For obvious reasons, I'll start with the 28 restaurants in Seoul, which I hope to complete within this cycle.

This is the 11th restaurant, in no particular order, to be reviewed (see previously 4.234 OKRKL/10 Mapo Jinjja Wonjo Choidepo...).  As explained below, this will be the final one.

The new digs.

The Wall of Fame (Shame).

More seating available upstairs.

Haejang guk (해장국) is a broad category of Korean soups ("guk").  The term "haejang" means, more or less, "hangover remedy."   In Korean drinking culture, all hangover remedies involve broth in some form or another.  Varying by region, many different soups traditionally consumed for that purpose would qualify.  In Seoul, for example, the local version typically consists of a spicy beef bone broth with coagulated blood ("seonji"), sometimes tripe and other offal, as well as bean sprouts and cabbage--conversely, all soups fitting this description may not necessarily be called "haejang guk" (see for example 4.110 Seonji Guk Bap).  Despite its name, the soup is not limited to the morning after; in fact, it's often served around the clock at 24-hr joints, where the sight of drunk men having a final round accompanied by haejang guk, as if preemptively, is quite common in the wee hours.  

I wasn't able to confirm whether this restaurant was in fact featured in the Michelin Green Guide.

Cheongjinok specializes in beef soups.  The house specialty is Seoul-style haejang guk.  The menu also offers various suyuk and jeon, presumably as anju (accompaniment for alcohol), ironically.  

Prices are on the steep side.  Whereas haejang guk is generally a cheap dish, often available for around 6,000 won, it's 9,000 won here.  The jeon averaging 15,000 won per plate, what a ripoff (see for comparison the market photos at 4.234...).  Even the soju is 4,000 won, WTF.

The haejang guk was terrible.  The broth was weird, not at all beefy, but kinda bitter and medicinal.  The seonji was crumbly and tasteless.  The offal was awful.  Both the wife and I left most of the bowl untouched.  I'm willing to concede that neither us is a fan of innards in general.  Still, while the place was pretty full, the customers within visual range, concededly younger customers, also seemed to be picking reluctantly at the food.  On the way home, we seriously discussed dropping by somewhere else for another meal to wash away the unpleasant aftertaste (but couldn't agree on a place by the time we arrived home, so we didn't).  

To be clear, the meal was for lunch.  This is the first post on the blog that lunch is being featured outright, without any connection to dinner.  Previously, I've featured an item eaten for lunch, but I'd ordered the same item to go and had it again that same evening for dinner (see most recently 4.229 OKRKL/9 Jinju Jib...).  But this time, I couldn't subject myself to the haejang guk again.  I also didn't want to experiment with an alternative menu choice; actually, I would've taken some jeon, but only soups were available at lunchtime.  It just occurred to me that I should've taken the leftovers to go and eaten a single bite of it later at home, if only symbolically; all I could think about at the time, however, was getting the hell out of there.  Although I do want to cover the restaurant, I'm not planning to go back ever, so this was my one shot.  Anyway, I didn't really eat anything for dinner.  

OKRKL claims that Cheongjinok invented Seoul-style haejang guk.  I don't even want to bother explaining how it supposedly happened.  

This was the last straw.  After Korean BBQ (see 4.234 above) and bibim bap (see 4.206 OKRKL/5 Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan...) and samgye tang (see 4.219 OKRKL/7 Korea Samkyetang...), I've finally had enough of all these baseless, patently absurd origin stories.  I wouldn't mind so much if the food had been good, but it's been outright lousy in many cases, as here, competent at best.   My exploration of OKRKL comes to a resounding close.  I've lost the book itself in any case, so good riddance.

A previous location.

According to OKRKL, Cheongjinok was established in 1937.  Blah, blah, blah.

Address: Seoul Jongro-Gu Jongro 1-Ga 24 (서울시 종로구 종로1가 24)
Phone: (02) 735-1690
Hours: open 24 hours; open 365 days
Parking: in building, validated
Menu: Korean
Wingspoon Rating (as of this writing): 7.56 (94 reviews)

I'd considered making a chart to summarize the results, but I won't now in light of how disappointing the experience has been.  I'll just note that my average rating of the 11 meals came out to 1.86.  At a mere 3.0, my highest rated meals were at Woo Lae Oak and Korea Samkyetang.  The worst meal was 0.5 at Cheongjinok here, followed by 1.0 at Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji.  What a joke.  

Food aside, OKRKL doesn't deliver on the promise of its title.  Some of the restaurants have become so successful, moving to newer locations with shinier interiors, updating the menu to match modern sensibilities, raising the prices to target the upper middle class, that they've lost any trace of their "old" world roots, what had made them popular to begin with (e.g, Woo Lae Oak, Kangseo Myun Oak.  On the other end, some restaurants now seem to have so few customers that they're apparently no longer "loved," if ever they were (e.g., Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji, Yeolcha Jib).  

Whereas the book doesn't specify selection criteria, as mentioned in the first post of the series, my experience with the 11 restaurants doesn't provide any further insight as to what the fuck the authors were thinking in deciding which places to feature.  I'm left to wonder whether some restaurants simply paid their way in.

Finally, the research is laughably shoddy.  The years of establishment, for one thing, were so ludicrously calculated in some cases--Kangseo Myun Oak: 1948, a guy opens a noodle shop up north; 1951, flees to a small city in the south; sometime during the 1960s, moves to Seoul and opens a different kind of noodle shop under a different name; therefore, "since 1948"--Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji: no later than 1940, an old woman whose identity nobody knows starts selling octopus on the streets of the neighborhood; after about 10 years, she opens a restaurant; neither the 1940 nor the 10 years is explained; regardless, therefore, "since 1950"--that I'm stunned that they had the audacity to attempt explication.  And all those origin stories--surely, the inventor of kimchi would've come up at some point--whatever.  After awhile, this prolonged suspension of disbelief got to be too much.  In fact, I began to feel insulted that I was supposed to buy into any of it.

In retrospect, this was the dumbest side project that I've undertaken on the blog.  

4.236 Spaghettini in Meatball Mash Sauce [recipe]

-Cycle 4, Item 236-
29 (Thu) August 2013

Spaghettini in Meatball Mash Sauce [recipe]


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic and Ian

At long last, I present a recipe for my meatball mash sauce.    

A couple caveats, however.  

First, I've never made the sauce with a set recipe.  Meat sauce in general is the first real dish that I learned to cook, back in high school, from my mother, who just tossed stuff into the pot, eyeballing/tasting along the way, Italian(Korean)-grandmother-style, and I've been winging it myself ever since.  Whereas my mother's method was generally consistent--1 package of ground beef, 1 can of stewed tomatoes, 1 onion, etc.--I'm more improvisational, making use of whatever happens to be on hand--fresh tomatoes if I have them, bell peppers maybe, wine sometimes, etc.  As such, writing down specific ingredients/amounts felt a bit strange.  This is the initial formulation, but I'll probably be tweaking it as I continue to retest it in future batches.  

Awhile back, I'd cooked a batch for my cousin Eel Sun.  She's been asking me for the recipe, and this is what I came up with.  

Second, on a conceptual level, I have no idea what the sauce is exactly.  As noted above, the progenitor of the base sauce was my mother, who'd gotten it from a colleague (at her engineering firm in Silicon Valley) back in the 80s, who'd probably gotten it from a Betty Crocker cookbook back in the 70s.  The base sauce was getting along just fine for 25 years, developing with minor adaptions through the years, until a fortuitous accident led to the "meatball mash" mutation (see link above)--like textbook Darwinian evolution.   I have no idea where my meatball mash sauce would lie in the classification scheme of classic Italian ragùs, assuming that it would even qualify.

Come to think of it, I have absolutely no frame of reference, because I've never tasted a meat sauce that wasn't made by mother or myself.  Among the countless pasta dishes prepared by someone else that I've had throughout my life, all in restaurants, no one has ever cooked Italian for me in their home, except my mother, the closest has been marinara with (whole) meatballs, but nothing like ragù alla bolognese.  In fact, I'd estimate that 99% of the sauces have been seafood, most tomato-less.  A look back at the restaurant pasta dishes featured on the blog show just 6 (surprisingly) (see most recently 4.153 Spaghetti Napoliana): all 6 were oil/wine/cream sauce, 4 included seafood, 0 included meat.  I can't explain why.  

In any case, here's the recipe.

- - - -

Recipe for Meatball Mash Sauce
(serves 6-8)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
400 g ground beef
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced celery 
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp dried Italian herbs (e.g., oregano, thyme)
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 can (400 g) stewed tomatoes, juice and solids separated
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup julienned fresh herbs (e.g., parsley, basil)
3 cups stock
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 whole milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp sugar

I like to think that sautéing the tomatoes separately intensifies their flavor, but maybe not; probably just as well to skip step 4 and dump in the whole can at step 6.

1 packet of concentrated beef gel + 3 cups of warm water = 3 cups of beef stock.

For so many reasons--quality (better cut of meat), safety (meat grinders in stores tend to be unclean), convenience (any randoms meats on hand)--I prefer making my own ground beef from whole chunks.

My processor is small, so I have to work in batches; so long as the machine is on the counter, I also pulse the onion + carrot + celery + garlic.

The degree of chunky/fine depends on personal preference; for kids, I go finer.

1.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp of the oil and sauté the beef for about 2 min.

2.  Drain the beef and set aside.

3.  Add the remaining oil + onion + carrot + celery + garlic + dried herbs  + pepper + salt and sauté for 5 min.

4.  Add the tomatoes and sauté for 5 min.

5.  Add the tomato paste and sauté for about 2 min until caramelization begins to show on the bottom of the pot.

6.  Add the fresh herbs + stock + tomato juice, increase the the heat to high, and bring to the boil.

7.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally.  

8.  Remove from the heat.

9.  Using an immersion blender, pulse the sauce directly in the pot to a smooth consistency.

If an immersion blender is unavailable, cool the sauce down to room temperature and pulse in a food processor or standing blender.

Or just skip this step altogether for a chunkier sauce.

10.  Add the beef + bread crumbs + milk + cheese + sugar + salt, return the pot to high heat, and bring to the boil.

If skipping the blending step, the ingredients at step 10 can be added earlier at step 6.

11.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 30 min, preferably 60 min, ideally 90 min, stirring occasionally, adding more stock/water if necessary.

In fact, simmering the sauce for 3 hours or more will ultimately break down all the veggies and achieve the same effect.

12.  Serve with pasta (see for example 3.324 Pasta Fresca in Meatball Mash Sauce...) or bread (see for example 4.003 Meatball Mash Sauce with Baguette Chunks) and garnish with fresh parmesan cheese/parsley/basil.