Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Lunar New Year! (with pictures!!)

Lots of cooking talk and photos to follow. Unfortunately, if you're looking for exact recipes I will be no help since I just intuitively throw things in when it comes to Korean food, but I'll list ingredients where I can.

I decided to make the traditional Korean rice cake soup. I went with a popular variation that involves throwing dumplings into the soup.

I made my own mandu dumplings since the ones from the store turn my stomach when used for this particular dish...and come on, homemade dumplings are fucking brilliant.

So before we go on to the making of the soup, ingredients for the dumpling filling for your edification:

ground pork
ground beef
crushed firm tofu (extra water squeezed out with a cheese cloth, clean dish towel, or what have you)
boiled mung bean sprouts (minced, with excess water squeezed also)
minced chives
minced scallions
minced/grated garlic
two eggs
sesame oil

After mixing all this by hand I let the mixture rest in the fridge a bit. You can buy pot sticker or mandu skins at the store, which is what I do. Particular as I may be about cooking, I'm not that hardcore. This year I got fancy and and got some mandu skins with rice flour in them. I usually let the dumplings sit in the fridge a bit so the skin dries a tad. It makes storage a less sticky affair. As for storage, I dust them liberally with flour and put them in zip baggies. Freeze, and voila, you have thawable homemade dumplings waiting for you.

Now on to the soup. I went with kalbi (short rib) soup.

Soundtrack for cleaning house and making kalbi soup? Come on! Feel the Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens, Carry the Wood by the Teeth, and Moxie Bravo by The High Strung. That's right. Making of this soup took all of Illinoise and more.

I was going to cheat and throw in some canned kalbi soup broth, but I still boiled the short ribs for around three hours before I did that. I bought the canned stuff to boost the broth because most people prefer to boil ribs or oxtails for soup for at least 5 hours. I've been known to do 8 hours of oxtail boiling myself.

Ah, the broth is boiling away. As you can see, the meat has begun to recede from the bone. Also, the broth is taking on a milky color, which is what you want to see. Now when making Korean soups such as kalbi or oxtail, it is important to continuously dredge it of excess blood or fat that comes to the top.

Mmm, fat. Seriously though, get rid of that as much as you can. It will coat your lips and make you feel like you ate liquid pork rinds if you keep that in. Some more fastidious cooks like to chill the broth after cooking and put it in the fridge overnight so that any of the remaining fat will rise to the top and congeal in white blobs on top of the broth for easy extraction.

One way to avoid excess clean up is to first boil the meat for a while and to pour off that first boiling, which is what I did. This will not rid you of the fat so much, but it will cook off the blood from the meat. As you can see, there's not so many random pieces of blood detritus floating about.

Here is the fruit of my labor after close to 3-4 hours of cooking. I added the canned broth in the last hour since I wanted to draw out as much of the pure kalbi flavor before adding that. Let's put this aside get to work on the garnishes.

What I have lined up here are scallions and garlic for a traditional soup garnish known as dadaegi. The eggs are to help make egg jidan. The seaweed will be crushed for garnishing purposes as well.

The seaweed was put into a bag and summarily decimated.

The eggs were separated into yellow and white and fried on their own. After cooling, roll them up and julienne them. kitchen kind of lacks counter space. Anyhow, wardrobe for today's cooking session provided by myself. Acquired from The Weakerthans' show @ Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, 2004 (?).


Now, for the dadaegi.

Mince the garlic and chop the scallions. Add gochu garu, a Korean crushed red chili powder, and some sesame oil and mix.

Since that's taken care of, let me introduce you to today's stars.

Say hello to rice cake and dumplings.

I added the dumplings to the boiling soup first because cooking the rice cake slivers too long will make them spread and turn them into a sticky hot mess.

Look at how cute and plump the dumplings look. They look happy.

It's getting a bit the dumplings are all translucent and wrinkly. Cuuuuuuuttteee.

It doesn't look like much all huddled in the pot like that, but just wait until I plate this son of a bitch.

See, I told you.

I had Helen over to have a bowl with me and she was thoroughly pleased with the results. Also, she decided to bring over some green tea cake from Koryodang.

(Special guest appearance by Helen's left leg. Also important to note. Helen does not smoke or have any need for matches, yet for some reason she grabbed these matches from a bar we went to a while ago AND STILL HAS THEM. Another important note, the water glass in the background was knocked over and broke during an especially spirited bout of "Wario Ware: Smooth Moves" just a couple of minutes after this photo was taken.)

Why the candles, you ask? I asked Helen the same thing. Her response? "Well, the lady at Koryodang asked me if I wanted any I said yes."

Not to be the one to waste candles we decided to put them on the cake anyway.

" we just blow them out?" I asked.

Helen answered equally unsure, "I don't know. I think we're supposed to sing something first."

So we sang, "Happy Solnal (Lunar New Year) to you/Happy Solnal to you/ Have a Happy Year dear New Year/ Happy Solnal to you!" in Korean and blew out the candles together.



Okay, now I'm just hungry.

I'm glad you chose to sing before you ate this lovely food of yours. After all the effort you put in, I don't know, but SOMETHING had to be done. Singing seems as good a way as any of marking the occasion. I may actually force my girlfriend to sing, in future, every time I present her with one of my own sensational concoctions. It's a plan, certainly.

Know what you mean about intuitively throwing things in and eschewing the precise dogma of recipes. It just feels right and usually results in a far better meal. Man, I'm a bighead - but you know what I mean, I hope.

Anyway, hello. I really enjoyed - quite a long time ago - reading of your time in Ireland. And now, it seems, you cook as well. Like it.

Kind regards and greetings from County Cork....


6:41 AM  

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