Meat


There are certain foods that I have pseudo-given up being in Korea in the spirit of cooking Korean food and for better health.  I speak about butter, one of my best cooking buddies, and THE secret ingredient that makes everything taste delicious.  Oh, how I do miss thee.

Luckily, there is some consolation to replace the saturated fat in the diet: the pork belly.  Yes, Koreans are absolutely obsessed with pork belly.  You can get green tea-fed pork belly, Jeju black pig pork belly, special pork belly that doesn’t smell.. and who knows how many other kinds.

All have a different price point and different taste character.  How do I know?  I have to admit that I always do my rounds at Homeplus when they are sampling samgypsal (grilled pork belly).  I just can’t resist most times.  I wonder how many silent calories that adds up with every trip to the grocery store…hmm, food for thought.

But let’s not worry so much about calories, health obsessed Koreans have a different view of this fatty meat than, say, Westerners, where fat has a bad reputation.  Whether it’s true or not, Koreans believe that pork fat, unlike beef fat, passes right through the body instead of gravitating to your love handles, and it also removes toxins from your body. Amongst the many anecdotal health claims in Korea, this one I WANT to believe.

So with that, here are pork belly two ways – one Korean bo-ssam style, and Japanese-style slow braised. I’m a big fan of bo-ssam with the burst of bold flavours that you create in your own individual morsel. It is essentially boiled pork belly slices wrapped in steamed cabbage accompanied by raw oyster, ssam jang and julienne turnip fresh kimchi.  It is particularly delicious when fresh kimchi is made in the late fall during kimjang, and when napa (baechu) cabbage is at its best with its tender, sweet yellow inner leaves.  In fact, I had it only for the first time last fall when I went over to my Aunts for her kimjang.  At the end of the day, all there’s left to do is to boil a chunk of pork belly for about 1 hour, and an array of components come together on the table from the ingredients of making kimchi. Very delicious and satisfying.

I searched for another way to prepare pork belly, a slow braised method, which I think brings out the best in this cut of meat.  I used a very simple recipe from justhungry.com for a slow braised pork belly mildly seasoned with sugar, soy sauce, ginger and sake (which I replaced with soju).  And I braised it in the slow cooker, a method I highly recommend, as not only was it easy to make, but it resulted in the most delectable soft jelly texture.  To put it simply, this dish is all about savoring the glory of pork belly itself and is a must-try recipe at home.

Piece of pork belly with julienned radish kimchi and ssam jang on steamed cabbage leaf.

The inner leaves of napa cabbage. They are beautifully yellow in colour and very sweet in taste. The very best for bossam.

BOILED PORK BELLY FOR BOSSAM

  • about 1 lb pork belly (in one piece)
  • 2 Tbsp Korean miso paste (duenjang)
  • 1 large piece of ginger
  • about 1L of water
  • about 15 cabbage leaves, steamed (either napa cabbage or green cabbage)

Accompaniments:

  • store-bought ssam jang
  • turnip (moo) kimchi, made fresh, not fermented
  • raw fresh oysters (optional)

In a pot, bring to boil the pork belly and water.  Add duenjang and ginger.  Reduce heat, and simmer about 45 minutes, or until meat is tender and cooked.

Separate the cabbage leaves and wash with water.  Steam in a steamer until tender.

To serve, slice the boiled pork in about 0.5cm slices.  To eat ssam, wrap a piece of pork, kimchi, ssamjang and oyster and try to eat at one go!

Gorgeous piece of pork belly and absolutely melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

JAPANESE BRAISED PORK BELLY
recipe adapted from justhungry.com
  • about 1 lb pork belly with skin
  • 2 Tbsp sugar — used brown sugar
  • 1 piece of leek (about 6 inches) — used large green onion
  • 1 large piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 star anise — omitted
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sake — replaced with soju
  • 2 cups water

Cut the pork into cubes, about 1 inch or so squares.  Heat up a large pan with a heavy bottom. Sauté the pork belly cubes until browned on all sides.

Place the browned meat in the slow cooker.  In the remaining fat, add the sugar and heat until caramelized.  Lower the heat, and be careful not to burn the sugar.  Scoop out the melted sugar with some of the fat and add to the meat.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker; cover, and set on highest level.  After about one hour, set on medium to low level for about 7 hours, or until meat is very tender.

Serve the pork belly with a little of the braising liquid and a splash of high-quality dark soy sauce.

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I love it when a dish comes together so much easier than it looks.  For the first time, and with guidance from my Mom, I made galbi-jjim, a traditional Korean dish served at special occasions, or rather to me, just really tasty meat on a bone that works as a great accompaniment to steamed rice to soak up the sweet ginger infused soy sauce.

Short ribs are tough cut, so the best way to treat it is to braised or stew over low heat for a long enough time to tenderize the meat.  Tonight, however, without the luxury of hours before dinner, I was surprised to hear that my mom only cooks it for about 45 minutes after treating the meat to a couple of parboiling steps, in order to remove impurities and some fat.

The braising liquid is very simple being primarily soy sauce sweetened with a little sugar and aromatic ginger and garlic.  The vegetables also add more sweetness and depth, and colour and texture contrast to the dish.  My favorite is the Korean turnip, almost as good as the short ribs (!) – I love the mild, sweet flavour inside contrasted by the dark, savory juices soaked up in the outer edges.

There is just something very rustic and homey about throwing things in a pot that come out so delicious.  And not bad for just over an hour cooking time.  The result is short ribs that is pulled away from the bone, but still held together.  Really tasty served up Korean style as a banchan, cut up into little pieces with scissors at the table.

Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs

It’s very important to use high quality ingredients, starting with the short ribs.  The meat should have some marbling without too much fat on the outer edges (this can be trimmed off), and about 1.5″-2″ meat on the bone.  The soy sauce should be the brewed kind, eg. Kikkoman, and vegetables should be fresh.  I used an old carrot in the fridge, and well, it turned out that it tasted just like an old carrot.  You can substitute some of the vegetables for things like sweet potatoes, shittake mushroom and pearl onions, though I have never tried it yet.

The cooking method in this recipe is what my Mom uses, and par-boiling meat and bones is a common technique used in Korean home cooking to remove the impurities and some fat.  As well, it is common to soak the raw meat in cold water for about 20 minutes to remove some of the blood, though it is omitted here.  I think this is a great recipe for the slow cooker, or pressure cooker for even faster preparation, without the parboiling steps, probably resulting in softer, more tender meat.

Serves 3-4

  • 1.5 lbs high quality beef short ribs, about 5-6 pieces
  • 1/4 cup brewed soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • approx. 150g Korean turnip, cut 1.5″-2″ chunks, about 6-8 pieces
  • 1/2 large carrot, cut 1.5″-2″ chunks
  • 7 chestnuts, peeled, whole
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 large chunks of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 6 daechu (also known as jujube or Chinese dates)

1.  Clean the short ribs well by rinsing with cold water several times.  In a large surface pot, place the meat in single layer and cover with cold water.  Cover, and bring to boil on high heat.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain the water, and place the meat back into the pot.

2.  Add cold water again, about 1 L, or till it’s just covering the meat.  Again, bring to boil covered and cook meat for 10 minutes.  Drain off most of the liquid (you can reserve this liquid for other uses), leaving about 1 cup liquid in the pot.

3.  Add soy sauce, brown sugar, whole garlic, ginger chunks, and daechu.  Snug in the turnip and carrot chunks, trying to fit the meat and the large vegetables in one layer.  Simmer on low heat with lid on for about 45 minutes, remembering to add chestnuts about half way into cooking.  The vegetables should be cooked through, and the meat should be tender when pierced with a metal chopstick (or knife, of course).

4.  It is best cool, and place in freezer for a few minutes to skim off the fat.  Then, reheat, and reduce the juices by about 1/2 (or when it thickens slightly and saltiness is just right).  Normally, I do this with the leftovers.  Serve the beef, cut into bite size pieces, and the vegetables on rice with a bit of the juice on top.

Short ribs in water.

Short ribs next day with rice. This was actually a different recipe, made with pureed onion, Korean pear and apple to replace the sugar. Still very tasty, but just not a fan of the texture so best to stick with sugar or fruit juices.

Yesterday I came down with yet another cold of the month. Feeling defeated after an exhausting afternoon of running errands, I decided to follow my Mom home instead of going to my cooking class in the evening.  There was just one stop before going home: to my Aunts, where luckily it was Wednesday Market day.  Literally, as we hopped out of the cab, there was fresh ginseng staring at me.

The guy gave me a little piece to try.  I took a bite and gave a little squint at the bitter, medicinal taste – yup I guess it’s the right stuff.  Really, I had no idea as it was my first time buying ginseng, but my Aunt gave it an ok – we bought about 350g for 12,000 won of 5 yr old ginseng.

Down a couple of tents, there was a guy selling free-range chicken.  8,000 won for a small chicken, maybe 1.5kg.  He gave it a nice little trim, quickly bagged it, and we were almost on our way out of cold, wet snow misery.

Just a quick stop by the fruit and vegetable tent, a place we frequent a lot.  Though you pay a little bit more, they have great fresh produce.


Here’s the guy peeling the chestnuts on this nifty machine, it has an abrasive wall inside that tumbles the chestnuts until it is peeled down to your liking in about 30 seconds. Great tool as it’s a pain to peel raw chestnuts!

Finally home, I searched online for a samgyetang recipe.  There are just a few recipes, and in fact most are quite straightforward – stuffed chicken with sweet rice, ginseng, daechu and garlic, boiled in water for a couple of hours.  But I found a great blog by myepikorean.com with a post on Super Natural Samgyetang Recipe, a souped up version of the classic.  Besides some different ingredients, what makes it better I think is the herbal broth preparation prior to boiling the chicken, and using a slow cooker to get good extraction from the medicinal herbs and chicken to make a deep, rich broth.

Unfortunately our slow cooker was too small for the chicken we bought, so I started with the herbal broth with daechu and ginseng in a large pot, simmered on low for 1.5hrs.  And no gogi berries today, instead a chunk of fresh ginger went in.

Meanwhile I prepared the soaked rice with garlic cloves, shelled ginkgo nuts, chopped chestnuts and more daechu for the stuffing, and wrestled with the chicken as I tried to sew up the ends with a small needle and thread.

I added about a quart more of cold water with the chicken, brought it to a boil, then added the strained herbal broth to cover the entire chicken.  Then rest was easy, just simmer for… well I didn’t know how long.  It definitely needed at least 2-2.5 hrs for good extraction and to cook the chicken until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. And this was key IMO, about half way into simmering, not being sure about the watery broth, I added rest of the rice that didn’t fit inside the chicken to the broth and threw in another ginseng root for good measure.

The hot broth was comforting, but my taste buds were shot from the cold so I didn’t know what I was tasting…just knew it was good for me.  Before going to bed, I had the entire inside stuffing filled with rice, garlic cloves, ginkgo and chestnuts, like it was my medicine.

The next morning, though the cold was still there, I felt surprisingly better considering I felt like a truck ran over me before going to bed.  It felt as if  the cold was reversed on its tracks (I swear!).  And the soup was 100x better.  Maybe I got my taste buds back, but certainly this is one of those dishes better the next day.  The aroma wafted of bitter-sweet ginseng that was not off-putting, the broth was rich, fatty and soothing, and the chicken and broken rice were oh-so-tender and nourishing.  So with LOTS of leftover still, I now have the goodness to fight off this cold to never return again^^!

Today, finally, was the day to indulge in this simple comfort food, an idea I had when I bought some ground Korean hanwoo beef at the department store a few weeks ago.  It’s no brainer, cook up some tomato sauce and pasta, but I was curious as to how the meatballs would turn out.  The main issue, after looking up some recipes online, was that I had no breadcrumbs or anything that resembles bread or crackers in the pantry.  So instead, I used whole wheat flour as the binder, snipped off a few bits of rosemary from good old herb pots and added lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese which tied everything together.  The result was a nice, soft textured meatball with just enough binding to stay intact (also helps to be a bit gentle with the stirring).

A word about Korean beef – it is extremely expensive if you come from a country that produces Alberta, Texan or Aussie beef.  Depending on the cut and marbling, you can easily pay $150 per Kg for good quality meat at the shops (restaurants will indeed be more) and it is usually 2-3 times the cost of imported beef.  Yet there seems to be still a strong market for hanwoo in beef-loving Korea, no doubt in part due to the fierce pride in all things Korean.  As for my Mom, who refuses to buy imported beef in Korea, says that the taste of hanwoo takes her back to her childhood memories growing up in Korea in the 60’s.

Then I thought, feeling a little uneasy as she reached for some kimchi to add something missing to the spaghetti…THAT is perfect comfort food for her.

SPAGHETTI WITH MEATBALLS

Serves 4

Meatballs:

  • 250g lean ground beef
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • about 1 Tbsp packed fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt
  • pinch of black pepper

Tomato Sauce + Pasta:

  • 500g crushed tomatoes, canned
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 small green Korean hot pepper (optional)
  • about 350g spaghetti noodles
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt for boiling pasta
  • grated parmesan cheese for garnish

1.  Finely mince the onion, garlic, rosemary and olive oil in a mini-blender (hand chopping works too).  In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for meatballs.  Add more flour if the mix is too wet.  Shape into round meatballs, and pan fry until browned on all sides (about 5 minutes).

2.  Meanwhile, in a medium pot, saute 1 chopped small onion in olive oil until soft. Add in minced garlic and tomato paste.  Add crushed tomatoes, hot green pepper (keep whole) and dried basil, then heat to a simmer for 20 minutes.  When the meatballs are ready, add them to the tomato sauce.  Keep on low simmer until pasta is ready, about another 20 minutes.  Take out the hot green pepper, and season with salt if needed.

3.  In a big pot, boil at least 8 cups water.  Add sea salt and pasta, and cook according to directions.

4.  Toss the spaghetti with the sauce and serve with grated parmesan.