Korea

Korea

By
Charmaine Solomon
Contains
35 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742701448
Photographer
Alan Benson

Korea

I thought I knew about fine slicing and shredding, having cooked Chinese food for years, but until I was taught how to make some Korean specialities I had no idea just how finely food should be shredded for traditional Korean dishes, such as guchulpan (or nine varieties). Strips of beef, vegetables and omelette are cut incredibly fine and are uniform in thickness and length.

As part of a guchulpan meal, small pancakes are piled in the centre of a tray (preferably a compartmented tray), surrounded by a selection of ingredients for filling the pancakes, each one shredded finely, stir-fried with a little oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper; where it will not spoil the colour, a little soy sauce is added during cooking. The ingredients are picked up with chopsticks and put in the centre of a pancake, which is rolled around the filling, dipped in a special sauce and eaten.

Guchulpan is usually served as a prelude to a meal or as something to nibble with drinks. I have found it can be a complete dinner — but one of those informal occasions where guests participate more than usual because they become involved in choosing their own fillings, and test their skill at completing the whole operation using chopsticks. Because guchulpan is served at room temperature, it is ideal for advance preparation.

Bean paste is a staple of Korean cooking. The nearest equivalent would be Chinese bean paste or Japanese aka miso (fermented soy bean paste), but the Korean version, dhwen-jang, has more flavour. According to Koreans it has more nutritional value too. A very salty chilli paste, known as gochujang, has a surprisingly mellow flavour, while silgochu, thread-fine strips of dried red chilli, are also widely used in Korean cooking.

It is traditional for soy bean pastes and sauces to be made in the spring, and most people make them at home. Equally important is the autumnal pickle-making season when jars of kim chi, the famous Korean pickle based on baechu (variously known as Korean cabbage, Chinese cabbage and celery cabbage) are put down in readiness for winter and the year ahead. Daikon and cabbage are the favourite vegetables for pickling and large quantities are made, for kim chi appears on the table at every meal, even breakfast.

In Korea, rice is also served at every meal. At breakfast it is sometimes served as gruel, especially for elderly people and children. At other meals steamed rice, cooked by the absorption method, is accompanied by soup, meat, fish, vegetables and, of course, kim chi. Rice is of such importance that meals are described as consisting of rice and panch’an, a term that takes in whatever else is served with the rice.

Sometimes the rice is combined with other grains such as barley and beans. Among the beans used are dried lima beans, adzuki beans and soy beans, or soy bean products such as tofu, bean pastes and soy sauce.

Korea has an abundance of fish and other seafood, and often the fish is combined in surprising ways with meat or poultry. Like the Japanese, Koreans use seaweed, especially the dried seaweed known as kim in Korea and nori in Japan. It is used as a relish. In order to give it a delicious flavour it should be liberally brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with salt on one side; the thin sheet is passed back and forth over a hotplate or open flame until it becomes crisp, then it is cut into small squares and served with steamed rice. Rice is wrapped in the seaweed by each diner and rolled up with chopsticks. Beef is the most popular meat in Korea. Pork and chicken are also used, but mutton (or lamb) never. Beef is not usually cooked in one big piece. It is very thinly sliced and cut into bite-sized pieces; sometimes the slices are beaten out for extra thinness. The beef is then kneaded well with a marinade and left for 2–4 hours to tenderise it and give it flavour.

While Koreans charcoal grill or broil such meals as bulgogi or bulgalbi, everyday cooking includes boiling, steaming, stir-frying and deep- or shallow-frying; baking is not one of their cooking methods.

The seven basic flavours of Korean food are garlic, ginger, black pepper, spring onion, soy sauce, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. The sesame seeds are crushed before being added to marinades or mixed with cooked dishes, releasing their full flavour — and it is amazing what a difference the toasting makes to the flavour of sesame. Thus, the Middle Eastern tahini (sesame seed paste), made with untoasted sesame seeds, seems to have no relationship to the sauces of Korea, which are made after the seed has been toasted, giving them a rich nutty flavour.

Serving a Korean meal

Silver chopsticks and spoons are used for Korean meals because silver discolours in the presence of poison, so they are considered the safe way to eat. A formal dinner setting will also have silver bowls for rice and soup. Expensive, but the silverware is usually part of a bride’s dowry. Everyday settings are of brass or china. Nowadays stainless steel is more popular than brass because it does not need the polishing that brass does. The spoon is for taking from communal dishes and for serving rice. Soup is also eaten with a spoon, not with lips to the raised bowl, as in Japan.

The food is served and eaten from bowls, not plates. Everything is put on the table at once – hot dishes to the right of the table with the exception of rice which, along with cold dishes, is to the left. The spread of dishes at a typical Korean meal might include rice, soup, fish, chicken, beef, hot sauces, sweet and sour sauces, vegetables prepared in several ways and kim chi of various kinds. There are numerous varieties of kim chi, some prepared with the addition of dried shrimp or salt fish, and elaborate versions including rare fruits and vegetables. Some are very pungent while others are quite mild.

The meal does not generally end with dessert. Sweets are a treat reserved for special occasions such as holidays and festivals. These might take the form of tteok — rice cakes filled with sweetened fillings that might include adzuki beans, chestnuts, jujube (a dried red date), sesame seeds, pine nuts and honey. There is also confectionery made from wheat flour, sesame oil and honey, and waffle-like pastries filled with red beans that are made in the shape of a fish (bungeoppang) and even a shaved ice dessert, not unlike those found across South-East Asia, called patbingsu. Sometimes fresh fruits are served, or a popular fermented chilled rice and barley flour drink called sikhae (pronounced shikhay), but this is not the everyday pattern of eating. Korean fruits include apples, Korean pears (like the Japanese nashi pear) oranges, grapes, cherries, plums and persimmons.

Utensils

The traditional Korean kitchen featured wood fires, before the advent of gas and electric stoves. Most of the cooking is quite simple. A good heavy-based frying pan, a wok and some saucepans or flameproof casserole dishes will see you through any of the Korean dishes in this chapter. The only other unusual vessel you need is the traditional pot used in ‘steamboat’ or ‘firekettle’ meals if you want to serve sin sul lo in true Korean fashion. This pot has a central chimney surrounded by a moat, which holds the broth. It cooks and keeps hot at the table because the chimney is filled with glowing coals. Get the coals ready an hour or more beforehand in an outdoor barbecue, an hibachi, a small traditional table-top size barbecue, or a metal bucket so they will be well alight and glowing when needed.

The food can be arranged in the pot well ahead of serving time and the whole pot placed in the refrigerator. Just before starting the meal the moat is filled with boiling stock, the cover put on the pot to ensure particles of coal don’t fall into the food, and the coals or briquettes (which should be alight and glowing) are transferred to the chimney with tongs. To protect the table, put the pot on a heavy metal tray and put the tray on a thick wooden board. After the broth has simmered for a while, and the contents of the pot are heated through, guests pick out food with chopsticks and eat it with rice and a dipping sauce. At the end of the meal the stock is served as soup.

These pots are often sold at Asian grocery stores. While some models in polished and ornate brass are quite expensive, the modest anodised aluminium versions are inexpensive and work just as well. In Korea, the pots are either individual-size silver ones, or larger stainless steel versions. Of course you can always substitute an electric frying pan or deep-fryer or wok, three-quarters filled with stock; or use any fairly deep pan on an efficient table burner.

Fresh ingredients

In addition to the items listed below, which keep indefinitely, there are the all-important garlic, ginger and spring onions. Toasted, crushed sesame seed is such an essential item of Korean seasoning that it is useful to prepare a fair amount and store it in readiness for use. To do this, put 145 g white sesame seeds in a heavy-based frying pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sesame seeds are golden brown. As soon as they have acquired the right colour and smell cooked, remove them to a plate or they will darken too much and turn bitter. When slightly cool, crush the seeds using a mortar and pestle or pulverise in a food processor. Cool completely and store in an airtight jar for up to 2 months.

Your Korean shelf

This is a list of spices, sauces and other ingredients which are often used in Korean cooking and that are good to have on hand to make the recipes in this chapter.

–bamboo shoots, tinned

–black pepper, ground

–cayenne pepper

–cellophane (bean starch) noodles

–chilli powder

–chillies, dried red

–fermented bean sauce (dhwen jang ) (see note)

–Korean fermented chilli bean paste (gochujang)

–moong dhal (split dried mung beans)

–peanut oil

–rice, short-grain

–rice wine or dry sherry

–rice vinegar or mild white vinegar

–sesame oil

–sesame seeds

–shiitake mushrooms, dried

–soy sauce, light and dark

–water chestnuts, fresh or tinned

Note

If fermented bean sauce is unavailable, use Chinese bean paste or Japanese red miso instead.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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