Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: South Korea

I always thought that when I got to that part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge -- the part in which I would a main course from South Korean cuisine -- that I would be making Bulgogi or Galbi.  It makes a lot of sense, especially given my carnivore ways. The thin slices of ribeye that make Bulgogi or the ribs that comprise Galbi seem right up my alley. However, this personal culinary challenge took a completely different turn.

This personal culinary challenge will focus on seafood.  This focus seems appropriate for a country with 1,499 miles of coastline.  With the Sea of Japan to the east (also known as the East Sea) and the Yellow Sea to the west, there is a wide variety of fish available. The fish include mackerel, sardine, anchovies, herring, sea bream, salmon and trout. One can also find clams, oysters and squid in both seas. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the records show that, as far back as the 12th century A.D., commoners ate a diet that consisted primarily of seafood that included shrimp, clams, and fish. 

Dried seafood is very popular in South Korea, with anchovies, corvina and croaker being the fish of choice for such preparations.  South Koreans also dry squid and cuttlefish. Historically, the drying of fish and other seafood was to ensure that these foods would be available during the winter. I did not have enough time to prepare dried seafood and, even if I did, I am not sure that would satisfy the challenge to prepare a main course of South Korean cuisine.  


The South Korean challenge began with a search for a recipe for grilled squid.  I had a hankering to eat the cephalopods.  As I searched the Intenret, I came across a recipe for Ojingeo Gui from Korean Bapsaeng.  The article described how squid -- or ojingeo -- is "an essential and versatile ingredient in Korean cooking."  Another site, Maangchi, observed that the recipe was a staple in Korean bars.  (I presumed that all references were to South Korea, as opposed to North Korea.)

This recipe marks the first time that I have worked with two quintessential South Korean ingredients.  The first is gochujang, which is a savory and spicy, fermented red chile paste,  The second is gochugaru, which are Korean red chile pepper flakes. 

While the recipe looked very good, and it tasted very good too, I decided that the grilled squid dish was not enough for a main challenge.

Recipe from Korean Bapsang
Serves 4
1-1/2 pounds of squid
6 to 8 perillla leaves (kkaennoip) or spring mix, arugula, lettce, etc.
1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped scallion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon Korean red chile pepper flakes (gochugaru)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Korean red chili pepper paste (gochujang)
2 tablespoons Korean corn syrup (oligodang) or sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Pinch pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1. Clean the squid.  If using whole squid, clean by carefully pulling the tentacles until the innards slip out of the body.  Use your fingers to reach inside the tube to remove any remaining parts.  Cut the tentacles from the head just below the eyes. Remove the beak from the center of the tentacles.  Discard everything except the body and tentacles. Rinse the squids under cold running water and drain.

2.  Prepare the marinade.  In a bowl large enough to hold the squid, combine the marinade ingredients and stir well.  Add the squids and coat evenly with the marinade, and then marinate in the fridge for about 30 minutes.  

3.  Grill the squid.  Heat a lightly oiled grill or a frying pan until very hot.  Add the squids and sear quickly until the squids curl up and turn opaque, about a minute depending upon the size of the squid.  Flip and cook another minute.  Base with the sauce if you like.  Remove the squid.  You can pour the remaining squid into the pan, bring to a boil, and use as an extra sauce.

4.  Serve the dish.  Plate the squid on the sliced leaves and any other vegetables of your choice.  Drizzle with lemon juice and garnish with a slice of lemon.


Having come to the conclusion that I needed more than grilled squid for this challenge, I continued to look for recipes.  The next one that caught my attention was a recipe for seasoned fresh oysters, which is known as Gul Muchim.  This is a raw oyster recipe, but it is not just any recipe.  The oysters are bathed in a sauce of garlic, green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  This was also a very good recipe, but, it too was not what I would consider to be a main course dish. 

Recipe from Maangchu
Serves 2

4 ounces fresh, cleaned, shucked oysters
1 garlic clove, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1.  Combine ingredients.  Combine oysters, garlic, green onion, soy sauce, hot pepper flakes, sugar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon.

2.  Plate the dish.  Transfer the oysters to a dish and serve with rice.


The main course for my personal challenge is Saengseon Gui (or Saengsun Gui), which is whole grilled fish.  The word Saengseon means fresh fish, and, as one could expect, it could be any whole fish pulled out of the water.  Many recipes call for mackerel, which can be found in both the Yellow Sea and the East Sea.  I saw whole mackerel in my local grocery store, but the smallest fish was three and one-half pounds and rather costly. That got me to thinking, grilled fish recipes can be made with both saltwater and freshwater fish. The store also had black bass, a freshwater fish, that was both smaller and cheaper.

Interestingly, there are black bass in South Korea.  The fish imported from Louisiana to South Korea and were introduced into three lakes around the peninsula by the government.  The government did all of this without performing any studies and, apparently without any planning.  During the rainy season, water was pumped out of those lakes to make room for the expected rainfall accumulation.  When the water was pumped out, so were black bass fry, who found a new home in the rivers of South Korea.  Soon the black bass, along with the bluegill (who were introduced into Korean waters a few years earlier) came to dominate the local river system.

It is said that South Koreans hate the black bass and, whenever they catch the fish, they leave it on the shore to die. I don't know if that is true, but it got me to thinking about how best to deal with invasive species. For example, the Asian carp is menacing the rivers in the United States. Yet, Andrew Zimmern -- a chef and the host of Bizarre Foods -- suggested a response ... eat it. The human appetite, when marshaled in the right way, can be the best check for the growth of an invasive species.

So, for this challenge, I have prepared Saengseon Gui using whole black sea bass.  I grilled the sea bass and filleted it for dinner and the presentation.  The bass produced two nice-sized fillets, which were perfect for my beautiful Angel and myself.  

Recipe adapted from  Bap Story
Serves 2

1 whole fish 
Sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

1.  Prepare the fish.  Cur crosswise slashes on the skin side of each piece.  Pat the fish dry with a paper towel.  Drizzle lemon juice over the fish.  Season all sides liberally with salt.  Set aside for 20 minutes.  Remove any visible traces of salt before cooking.  

2.  Grill the fish. Clean and lightly oil the grill.  Preheat the grill over medium high heat.  Place the fish on the grill, skin side down.  Cook until the bottom edges are golden brown and the flesh turns opaque, about 2 minutes.  Flip and cook the other side for another minute or two.

3.  Finish the dish.  Carefully remove the head.  Remove one fillet using a spoon and fork along the spine and plate it.  Then remove the spine, leaving the other fillet, which can be plated.

*          *          *

This personal culinary challenge took me on a different road than previous ones. While the main course may perhaps been the easiest one to prepare, the entire journey -- beginning with the Olingeo Gui and continuing with Gul Muchim -- allowed me to experience different methods of preparing seafood in South Korea.  It is time to move onto the next challenge and to see path lies ahead for me.  Until next time ...


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