Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recipe: Kimchi Dakgalbi (김치 닭갈비)

Korean barbecue depends on the quality of the marinade. Diners might not have the well-trained sense of a sommelier, but they will detect a difference even if they can't identify exactly which ingredient they are noticing in a good or bad way.

There are two basic styles of marinades: acidic or enzymatic. Commonly used acidic marinades include citrus juice, such as orange or lemon juice, vinegar or wine. Enzymatic marinades include papaya or pineapple purees. The marinade's jobs are to enrich the flavor of the meat and, depending on the cut, help tenderize it.

Herbs, oils and spices in the marinade tag along for the ride.

This particular marinade depends on the acid of the kimchi to flavor the chicken before grilling.


For many cravers of Korean cuisine, the word 닭갈비 dakgalbi is associated with commonly called 춘천 닭갈비 Chuncheon dakgalbi, a stir-fried dish of diced chicken with large rice noodles, cabbage, and sweet potato. Although dakgalbi is simpler than Chuncheon's iconic variation, it's very tasty in its own right.

There was enough sauce that I decided to serve it as a pasta sauce rather than on top of rice. It worked surprising well.

Kimchi Dakgalbi (김치 닭갈비)

Inspired by Eueueunji

2 chicken breasts, diced into bite-sized pieces
1-2 cups kimchi
1 cup kimchi juice
1 onion, diced
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons 물엿 mool yut (Korean malt syrup), honey or other liquid sweetener
  1. Dice the chicken, kimchi and onion into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Mix with other ingredients and allow to marinate for a half-hour.
  3. Cook the chicken and its marinade in a skillet on medium-high heat until chicken is well done. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Secret Recipe Club: Hungarian Paprika Chicken

This month's Secret Recipe Club dish comes from the blog Cooking Whims. Megan, its editor, started cooking for the same reason many of us did: necessity. As she said,
At first, I started cooking simply because I had to. After I moved out of my parents’ house, it suddenly dawned on me that I had to feed myself (and my boyfriend) healthy meals. College wasn’t an excuse anymore. No more grilled cheese sandwiches or eggs on toast as meals for five days out of the week.
I always have Hungarian paprika on hand because it's a decent substitute for 고추가루 gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder). Just like that Hungarian spice, gochugaru can be spicy as well as sweet. That might be why my eyes were drawn so quickly to this dish. I often use Hungarian hot paprika as a substitute for spicy gochugaru in many recipes.

Since I enjoy my food on the spicy side, I used two teaspoons of hot paprika in my version of Megan's recipe, rather than the sweet paprika in hers. Just that small amount of hot paprika might not blow your taste buds at first, but your nose will be running before the end of the meal.

I just couldn't help serving this with spaetzle, which is very traditional for the dish and comfortingly old-fashioned.


Hungarian Chicken Paprikash (Paprikás Csirke) 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil (I used Sonoma Smoked Olive Oil from The Smoked Olive.)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 11/2 pounds), trimmed and cut into three-inch pieces
1 large yellow, red or green bell pepper
3 fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons Szeged Hot Paprika Powder
2 teaspoons cornstarch
8 ounces sour cream
1 box Spaetzle (10 ounces)

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and fragrant, about three to four minutes.
  2. Bring four quarts of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add the chicken, cover and cook for five minutes, but do not cook until browned and/or cooked through.
  4. Add the bell pepper, tomatoes and paprika. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink inside.
  5. While the chicken is simmering, add the spaetzle to the water and boil for 20 to 25 minutes (or follow the directions on the box)
  6. In small bowl, stir the cornstarch into the sour cream. Add to the pan and cook uncovered for five to 10 minutes, until the sauce is hot and thickened.
  7. Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Restaurant review: Korean BBQ Plus!, Concord, Calif.

Serendipity brought me to this restaurant on the east side of the San Francisco Bay area. I had an appointment with friends in Concord early one February morning. By noon, our meeting was over, and I was hungry.

Rather than waiting until I returned to more familiar territory to eat, I followed my instinct — and my insistent stomach. Tapping "Korean restaurant" into my smartphone map app pointed me toward Korean BBQ Plus!. It was less than a mile from where I was and from an onramp for Interstate 680, my ticket home. That recommendation hit the spot.

One of my brave friends came with me. She has very limited experience with Korean food and felt more comfortable with an "expert." Since I had not done any preliminary research on this restaurant, I had no idea what we would find.


Korean BBQ Plus! is tucked into a small shopping center and was a little challenging to find. The restaurant shares a building with a small Korean grocery store and a Mexican restaurant. Across the parking lot is a larger Mexican grocer.

As we walked in the Korean restaurant, I quickly noticed that almost every table was full at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. That was a promising sign.

The waitress quickly brought menus and cups of hot barley tea — a beverage I've had to ask for at other restaurants. That was promising sign No. 2.

The lunch menu had a good assortment of standards such as 비빔밥 bibimbap (a bowl full of meat or dubu (tofu) as well as vegetables over rice), 닭구이 dak gui (spicy sweet marinaded chicken) and 된장 찌개 doenjang jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew). However, my friend and I ordered 돌솥 비빔밥 dolsot bibimbap (bibimbap in a hot rock bowl; $12.95) off the dinner menu.

Among the dozen-plus bowls of 반찬 banchan (side dishes) that came out first were baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), radish kimchi, egg omelette with ham, cucumber pickle, mung bean sprouts, soybean sprouts and soy sauce–marinaded sweet potatoes.

Dolsot bibimbap came with topped with bulgogi, cucumber pickle, soybean sprouts, enoki mushroom, shredded carrot, mushroom, spinach and a raw egg cracked open on top.

The raw egg excited me way too much, because it was an authentic touch. Most Korean restaurants I've visited in the Bay Area fried the egg sunny side up then add it to the bowl, so only the yolk needs to be cooked on the side of the hot bowl.

My friend was far more excited about the crunchy rice at the bottom of the bowl. It gets that way when the cooked rice fries in a little oil put in the bottom of the very hot bowl.

I squirted onto the fixings in my bowl a generous amount of 고추장 gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) from the squeeze bottle. (Red squeeze bottles on Korean restaurant tables likely aren't filled with ketchup.) My friend made a tamer mix of soy sauce and gochujang.

It also came with a small bowl of 미역국 miyeok guk (seaweed soup). The soup had a full body to it with a little touch of beef.

Between the dolsot bibimbap, generous banchan and the soup, I left the restaurant satisfied. Korean BBQ Plus! is a good ambassador for traditional Korean cuisine.

As we were finishing our meal, my friend asked me, "Would you come down here again just go to this restaurant?"

"No," I answered honestly. Concord is a 90-minute drive from my home, and there is a traditional Korean restaurant just 20 minutes away.

However, when I'm in Concord area on business, I will arrange my schedule so I can return for lunch or dinner, hopefully with my patient photography-loving husband in tow.

Is there a Korean food experience that you would drive (or even fly) a long distance just to experience repeatedly? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Korean BBQ Plus!
1450 Monument Blvd
Concord, CA 94520
(925) 680-9090
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
www.koreanbbqplus.com

What do peppers and cats have in common?

Last week, I finally started my Korean peppers. They are tropical plants that need lots of warmth and time to grow well. I started my peppers on a south-facing window sill to give them a good headstart.


During the day, this is probably the warmest spot in the house with the sun light coming in through the window and the curtain retaining the heat to keep them as warm as possible.

Charles Dickens wrote:
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
It's not quite March in Northern California, but our entire winter season can be summed up nicely in this quote. That's why this climate can be a challenging for growing chilis.


The other challenge to my pepper-growing aspirations is my cat, Mi-sook (Pretty Girl). Mi-sook loves that same windowsill for the same reason my peppers need the space: sun and warmth. I suspect she's unhappy about sharing her warm comforting hiding place with my interloping pepper plants.

Mi-sook doesn't know it yet, but by late March to early April, these peppers should be living out the rest of their lives outside.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recipe: Asiago Serrano Polenta (from Bale Grist Mill)

This past summer, my husband and I visited Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, located three miles north of St. Helena in California's Napa Valley. Since I brought my single bag of stone-ground polenta meal home, I've been looking for a recipe that represented Northern California's Mexican-Italian heritage.


The park, located at 3369 N. St. Helena Hwy. (Highway 29), has a functioning water-powered grist mill, providing local, organically grown stone-ground wheat, spelt, buckwheat and pastry flour, cornmeal and polenta to local businesses. Sacks are also "sold" on site to visitors for donations starting at $5.

My husband bought a bag of buckwheat flour for his father, hoping he'd get some buckwheat pancakes out of the deal. He's still waiting.

Although the bags are marked "Not for Human Consumption," all the flours and meals ground there are safe to eat.

The bags carry the warning not because of the milling process or the raw materials. Current California building and health department codes require any establishment making foodstuffs to have nonpourous floors and stainless-steel appliances, which are impractical to impossible to install in a historical grist mill with wood floors, stone mills and iron gears.

The mill is powered by a 36-foot-diameter water wheel. When English surgeon E.T. Bale built the mill in 1846, he had water from a creek channeled to the mill, later storing creek water in a reservoir for consistent operation.

Nowadays, the water is recycled. The chute supplying the wheel ends just beyond the right side of the photo above. Water is pumped from a pool below the wheel back up to the chute.

Bale died in 1848 and didn't live long enough to see the mill become a commerically viable enterprise.  His widow, Maria Bale, niece of famous California founder Gen. Mariano Vallejo, single-handedly brought the mill from bankruptcy. She eventually became one of the wealthiest landowners in Napa Valley. The mill operated until 1905, when it was shut down.

Restoration began in the late 1980s and was completed just this past August. It was open for public tours daily, but now is open only Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to state government budget cuts. The park's location along one of Napa Valley's busiest wine tourism thoroughfares makes it a convenient detour to discover a long-cherished aspect of Northern California's food culture.

Local restaurants, breweries and culinary schools order custom-ground flours and meals from Bale Grist Mill. A miller-ranger told our tour group that outside work probably saved the mill from total closure.

The Mexican heritage of the mill and California as well as the role of spiciness in Korean cooking inspired me to blend Spanish chilis with Italy's polenta cornmeal in a Koreafornian dish.


Asiago Serrano Polenta

Inspired by PromiseMe2's Creamy Corn, Asiago Cheese and Serrano Pepper Polenta

Ingredients

11/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
2 medium-sized Serrano peppers, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup half and half
2 fresh thyme sprigs
11/2 cups polenta (yellow loose cornmeal)
1/2 cup fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Melt butter and olive oil together on medium-high heat.
  2. Add chopped garlic and Serrano peppers.
  3. Once garlic and peppers are golden-brown, add stock and simmer for a couple of minutes
  4. Add milk, cream and half and half, along with thyme.
  5. Gradually pour in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.
  6. Once the milk is completely absorbed, lower the heat and set a timer for 20 minutes.
  7. Continue cooking, whisking often, until the timer goes off. Add chicken stock if the mixture is too thick. (It should have the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes.)
  8. Once the timer chimes, the polenta should be thick and smooth. Finish with butter, grated Parmigiano along with salt and pepper.
  9. Pull out the thyme sprigs before serving.

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