Is ‘Korean’ the new ‘Asian’?
I’ve observed that it’s the trendy right now to slap the word Korean on any recipe that uses vaguely Asian ingredients.
This Betty Crocker recipe for “Grilled Korean Steak” is a prime example. There’s nothing inherently Korean about this recipe. Nothing! Was it labeled “Korean” so people would notice it?
This phenomenon is not limited to recipes. I’ve noticed it on restaurant menus (the Korean burger at The Counter possessed more of a Japanese and Vietnamese flavor combo than a Korean one) and grocery store shelves (for example, Safeway’s private-label Kalbi spray marinade). You can’t just throw ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar into a spray bottle and call it Korean.
Open up any Korean cookbook and you will discover that toasted sesame oil (참기름 chamgireum) is commonly used in Korean recipes. That oil, in subtle moderation, brings a nutty, musky, pungent aroma and savory flavor to your dishes but can easily be overdone by an unskilled hand. Chamgireum goes in and out of the Korean pantry far more often than rice vinegar.
If you want to seriously study Korean cuisine, what follows are links to several cookbooks I own and consult frequently. In each recipe, note the patterns of how the same ingredients are used repeatedly in different proportions and combinations to create a complex yet rustic and down-to-earth cuisine.