Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Interview with the Fermentor

On Monday I radio-blogged with Graham Steinruck and Jackie Rebideau on their show A Fermented Affair. Fermentation, kimchee, food, Los Angeles, art college, Colorado, the rendering plant it Greeley, pets... I think we covered a lot of ground in under and hour.

To hear this humorous candid, interview, check it out on BlogTalkRadio.

Juk, Jook and Congee

Porridge with kimchee is my comfort food. I always make it after when I make chicken stock, and there’s never a shortage of rice in this place. Juk, jook and congee are basically that same thing, porridge made from leftovers. My Korean dak-juk is made island style with homemade chicken stock, flaked coconut, ginger and caramelized garlic. The coconut gives it more body... who doesn’t like coconut? A fresh egg is the traditional thickener. I like tossing toasted sunflower seeds or pepitas on it for a little smoke. The best part of this meal was Pablo Pineda’s fresh Napa cabbage kimchee.

Pablo is a new Kings County Fermentation Group member, originally  from Mexico. We traded jars Sunday evening after a tasting with Tater Tots. His micro-company, BrooKimchi, sells locally here in the Park Slope area. Shout out to Pablo! This man make  mean fresh kimchee. Check him out at http://brookimchi.tumblr.com. And if you you have some day old rice, make some juk.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kimchee to Go

The visual brand seeks out its audience with look and feel. In a voiceless language it describes and informs the buyer with logos, images and color. But information architecture and ergonomics are also requirements of product development. They merge in an artful dance.

Kimchee’s popularity is growing world-wide and as Americans discover that there are many types of kimchee they may not want to purchase a full pound of one type. I’ve been working on a personal size retail packaging system. The “Black Label” concept is based on making this variety of fine-aged foods more accessible in 9 oz portions. I’ve done months of product stability testing on six types of vegan products, three have risen to the top: Napa Cabbage (beachu mak kimchee), Korean Radish (kkakdugi) and red Beets Radish & Radish (bunhong dongchimi).

The next hurdle is product title. How do you get Americans to embrace a Korean name? They sound almost Elvish in nature. It may take time, but over the course of introduction many types of foods have become a part of our food lexicon. These once-new words now almost seem ancient: sake, sushi, miso, Bolognese, pesto, Hollandaise, fromage, Champagne, dimsum, Humus, baba ganoush, falafel... etc. Are Americans ready for a new fine-aged pickle from Brooklyn? I have long road ahead of me but the path to the future is clearly marked.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kimchee Fried Rice to the Rescue

Kimchee fried rice is my go to meal when I can’t figure out what I want to eat. It’s also a good way to use up stuff in the fridge. I have yet to throw out rice that’s a few days old... and it’s not like there’s ever been a kimchee shortage in this house. This Korean brunch includes leftover fermented stem garlic, stewed eggplant and a fried egg. Toasted black sesame seeds, onions and bonito flakes add flavor but there are basics to getting the right texture.

Short grain rice works the best and it should be a day old. Long grain rice tends to break easily, where as shorter grain rice will reheat and hold its shape and has a better distribution of moisture. As cooked rice cools, it tends to clump. Wet your hands and run your fingers through the rice to break up the clumps and then lightly salt. Season with lightly with garlic powder and coriander, or ketchup, soy sauce and chili paste.

Fried rice is actually seared in an open pan. Use a high-heat oil with a well seasoned stainless steel pan or one that has a non-stick surface. Too much oil will make it greasy, use just enough to coat the entire surface of the pan.

The best way to sear rice is to firmly press it into the pan and listen for a popping-squeaking sound. Wait for a minute, then break the rice up and press into the pan again. Now add ingredients like chopped scrambled egg, onion, bell pepper, shrimp, ham., etc. Mix well and sear again until the rice is evenly cooked.

Most of all, serve it while it’s hot. There aren’t many things worse than cold fried rice.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chop Chop! Kimchee Productivity

We’ve all heard the phrase “Chop chop!” Although it’s mildly laced with racial overtones, it does find its origins in the China. Often heard during the construction of our early American rail roads, it literally means “Hurry hurry!” in Cantonese.

As I court the retail and wholesale world I need to hurry-up my kimchee productivity. I recently purchased a new kitchen tool, the Nemco Chopper II. It has a 1/2" gauge plate that’s perfect for making my cubed fermented radish (kkakdugi). For future uses, I can purchase adaptable plates that range from 1/4" to 1". Even on sale it was more that most high -end blenders ($230) but worth every cent.

With a few thumps with the push block I’ve cut my time into a third of what I can do with a sharp knife. I admit there’s much pleasure I get from using something that looks so medieval. I do have to mind the blades though, they are very sharp. I don’t want to find myself in the ER explaining a waffle shaped cut to the hand.

But Knife skills are not indispensable. After cutting the fries, I still use my clever to make perfect cubes. Of course this also cuts perfect thick wedges of French fries. I made sure to test that out first. In case you were wondering, deep fried radish is very gross. I think my new Nemco Chooper is going to get a work out this summer. I better check into the cost of blade replacement. I’m sure they’re not cheap.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kid-napped in Queens

I wound my way down Main Street in Flushing Queens through a bustling Sunday crowd as the boom of planes departed overhead. Flushing always reminds me of the movie Blade Runner. I could hear the many different Chinese dialects as shoppers haggled over the usual dried Asian goods and fresh groceries. I followed my nose to food stalls on every street corner stocked with hot scallion pancakes, longs rice noodles, pork dumplings, fish cakes, spiced chicken wings and the like. But I was there to shop for vegetables.

So into the crowd I dove, not quite blending in and apparently standing too long to look at vegetables; a spry old woman grabbed my shoulders, muttered at me and then pushed me out of the way to let a stock boy refill the cucumber bin. The produce is incredibly fresh and the shoppers demand high quality. With that kind of floor traffic I imagine the bins are refreshed at least hourly. The prices in each store vary but are notably much cheaper than what I’m accustomed to here in Park Slope, even by food co-op standards.

I left the madness of Main street and headed towards Roosevelt Avenue to the Korean neighborhood but got turned around in the crowd. I stopped a family en route to a Presbyterian church and asked if they knew where I could find H-mart. As they gave me confusing directions to Parsons Boulevard a voice belted out “I know where it is!” I turned around to see a ten year old boy in a blue hoodie with a key lanyard around his neck. He held a large paper file under one arm. “I go there all the time. It’s near my house.” The church bound family hurried across Union Street. It was already noon.

“So how far is it?” I asked. “It’s not far but you have to promise to walk me home, I’m carrying a lot of money.” With apprehension I agreed but asked in a low tone voice “Why are you telling me you’re carrying a lot of money.” He just giggled and pointed me across the street and I followed with a raised eyebrow. “Just follow me.”
[Flash back, decades ago in the ‘80s] I caught a train bound for Philly to spend a weekend my friend Bill Covaleski. In mid-ride a Chinese woman with an infant got my attention away from my magazine. In an imperative tone she spoke to me in Chinese pointing to her sleeping baby. She repeated what sounded like “wei wie wei” getting more agitated with each word. She nodded her head and I nodded back politely (which I now realize was my first mistake). She put her baby down next to me, repeated the same words and walked briskly through the door into the next car.

I thought to myself that she was just looking for a bathroom or maybe the snack car and returned to my reading. After ten minutes the baby awoke. I said “Hey there little guy” and he started wailing. I picked him up and tried to calm him down as the woman next me said “You have to do something about your baby!” to which I said “This is NOT my baby.” The woman in the seat in front of me gave me advise about calming infants then made a snide comment about first-time fathers, to which I replied again “This is NOT my BABY.” Ten more minutes passed and he quieted down and fell back to sleep as I hummed an ABBA song. It was then I realized that his mother may not be coming back. I had panicked visions of telling little Wei Wei that he was adopted but I raised him as my own. I thought about taking Mandarin classes to one day assimilate and return him to his people. I hoped he would one day become a good doctor.

But then the baby awoke again and then let out a piercing scream as if I were skinning him alive. The woman next to me ruffled her newspaper in protest, got up and stormed off. Soon a conductor arrived. FINALLY! I told him what had happened; he took me seriously and told me not to go anywhere. Holding the crying baby I said “Trust me, I’m not going anywhere.” The train sped up and shot passed the usual local stops. Someone yelled out “Holy shit!” I said “Hey, NOT in front of the baby!” The train slowed down and pulled up to a small station but the doors did not open. We idled for a few minutes. The police boarded the train as the conductor pointed their way to me. With a screaming baby in my arms they asked me many questions about the woman—what she wore, what her manner was, her ethnicity. Then they took the baby from me. Through the window I saw them leading her away. She was without any emotion on her face. The police lead here away holding tightly to her ill-fitting pink and cream cardigan. I had no idea what had really happened, but the conductor told me she was hiding in a locked bathroom. To this day I often wonder what happened to little Wie Wei.
Meanwhile back in Flushing, we finally arrived at his house. Over the course of 20 minutes and many winding blocks I learned that his name was Ju but prefers to be called John; he once lived in Pennsylvania but doesn’t remember where or anything else because he was very young; he had lived in three houses before this one; he always feeds his ice cream cones to the birds because they might be hungry. He emerged from his front door with an ice cream cone in one hand and a cell phone to his ear speaking in Korean. As we ambled further I asked again “Are you sure you know the way to H-mart?” “Of course, I told you I go there all the time! I have to get some stuff for my mom.” As we crossed the corner I grabbed him out of the way of a passing car. With adult authority I declared “Here are the rules. When you cross a street you stop, look and you put that phone away.”

He nodded and he put it away. “Hey do you play video games?” I said “No, I’m too old for that kind of stuff.” I though better than to tell him that I was on the lam for killing and looting a hobo while playing Red Dead Redemption. We stopped to feed the birds. “Is that a real leather jacket?” he asked. “Yes it is” “Wow, I want one but my mom says it’s too expensive.” “Save up your money and quit playing video games.” He laughed and said “Nah.” The scenery became more suburban—cheery tree lined street, double garages, lawn ornaments, decorative mail boxes. I wondered if we were still in Queens. “Are we even close to H-mart?” He nodded, then sarcastically quipped “No it’s like ten more miles.”

Finally I stopped a jogger who told me to take a right, get back onto Union and walk eight more blocks to 29th Avenue. Arms akimbo, I gave Ju a sly look with both eyebrows raised. He said “I was going to tell you that.” But not long after, there we were. Closer to a mile from where I started, I stood before Korean Mecca—the largest H-mart I’d ever seen. It was the size an an airplane hanger. “See, I told you.” he said as I stood below the giant H. I asked him how he was going to get his groceries back home. “I’m going to play video games right now, I’ll get them later” and he skipped off around the corner and disappeared.

I felt a bit played, but after that mile long trek I had arrived. The worth of it was the free food samples for the Sunday shoppers—tofu simmered in kimchee and squid on rice. I was starved after all that walking. The store was bright and clean, with a prepared food section that wrapped around clearly marked isles. The fresh seafood and meats seemed to glow with a healthy color. The produce looked very fresh and was literally half of what I pay here in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the Korean chili flakes (gochucaru) were an authentic brand grown and milled South Korea (not China). I lugged 20 lbs of Korean radish (mu) and over 15 lbs of sea salt and chili flakes up and down Union Street to the 7 Line. I had to laugh about that kid—what a curious character. As I entered the subway station a plane flew low over my head. Ciao Queens, I’ll be back with a very large granny cart.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crisp Kimchee Bacon

Yo vegans! Kimchee bacon is a smoky, salty treat from the dehydrator. I sprayed them with a little oil and fried them up in a pan. It’s mildly spiced with a nice balanced tang. I saved a few to snack on but the rest will be dehydrated and milled into my powdered seasoning (Hanguk Saffron). I should dehydrate a batch just to make bacon, flavored with maple syrup and liquid smoke.

Toasting the Gorgon

Peanut butter, kimchee and Gorgonzola sandwich? It’s simply delicious! This super umami bomb is called the Gorgon, a toasted sandwich made with creamy peanut butter with a drizzle of honey, Napa cabbage kimchee, sweet Gorgonzola cheese and scallions. Much as with the creature of Greek mythology, you’ll be stunned with the first bite. The complex combination of flavors eat like a savory Thai meal in each bite.

I lightly toast my bread first and allow it cool. Then I butter it, top it with stuff and then toast again to get a light crunchy texture. This ensures that the center of the bread slice never becomes soggy. Pre-toasting works also well with grilled sandwiches, especially with softer breads and rolls.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Grilled Kimcheese... Please

Grilled kimcheese with cucumber kimchee on the side

A grilled kimcheese sandwich to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day—I made this with New York cheddar and gongonzola cheeses and Napa cabbage kimchee on buttered potato bread. I always toast and lightly butter my bread before grilling it in a pan to get an extra light crunch. The only thing better than this would have been another one.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Purple Pickled Eggs

These purple beauties were pickled in the juice from a batch of fermented radish kimchee (bunhong dongchimi). The hard boiled eggs sat in the fridge overnight, but I wonder how deep the color will be in a week; that is, if I don’t eat them all first. They are simply delicious. This would make the prettiest egg or potato salad. So when in doubt, don’t throw out the juice. BTW the Korean word for purple egg is “jajusaeg gyelan.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Kimcheelicious Cover

What a week. As I explore cover designs for my Kimcheelicious ePUB cookbook, I’m also exploring the possibilities of expanding product by forming a fermentation company. This is literally my eighth cover design but it seems to be getting closer to what I feel the book should be. Meanwhile I have to re-tool my PowerUp business submission before April 19. As a one-man team I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Kimcheelicious: Korean Tapas for the American Table will launch (soon...) as an interactive PDF. I have over 60 true-tested recipes but I think 50 should work better for an ePUB format. I still have literally over a thousand photos to edit and process. There’s always time for a second book, but I’m eager to launch this first one. eBook, iBook, app... as I explore other technologies, I see their limits in terms of how they work with photography and charts graphics. I plan a text-only eBook soon after I launch this first book.

Meanwhile, Kimcheelicious Foods is a green company that manufactures vegan fermented goods for the American market. Korean food is here to stay and kimchee is becoming a regular part of a health conscious American diet. Currently I’m selling to restaurants and food manufacturers with good success, but there’s a limit to what I can make in the walk in fridge at Freddy’s Bar. How do I go retail an what will it take? I’ve had some great discussions with my friend Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing Company and some of his colleagues. It’s feasible... but it sure takes a lot of money to get it going. This Thursday I have an appointment with a business counselor at Pace University to discuss corporate entities and New York incorporation.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My First Batch of Kombucha!

My first batch of komucha is ready… almost. In just under three weeks It’s ready for its second fermentation. I strained the scoby and the liquid, then replaced the scoby into a solution of strong black tea and sugar to start a new batch. A little taste reveals that it’s just tart enough, put it into a new clean jar with grated fresh ginger root and little sugar; this second fermentation should only take two or three days. This is going be one very healthy tonic.

Bacteria and fungus synergize to create a fibrous rubbery float called a scoby. As they consume sugar and tea they create amino acids and make micro nutrients more available. The scoby is very resilient and sturdy but is susceptible to the influence of other non-beneficial fungus. When handling it be sure to wash your hands well, and use soft plastic tools.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A “Food Porn” Star Is Born

This is food porn. I had a funny experience on Tumblr in which that tag put my postings into a category that one might call “adult foods.” It brought my hit count higher but... I admit I was shocked and blushed like a jar of chili paste when I looked at some of the other image in this category. The tags yum and yummy were worse. These are the stars at my Brooklyn table: Napa cabbage kimchee (baechu), nonspicy beet and radish (bunhong dongchimi), spicy fermented radish (kakkdugi).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Korean Fried Chicken and Waffles

Korean fried chicken on waffles or rice? Trendy or traditional? I like them both ways, but I do have to say my kimchee waffles rock the house! Served with fermented beet and radish relish (buhong dongchimi) and steamed beet greens you can’t ask for a tastier lunch break. The fried chicken is maritaned overnight in grated onion, Korean chili paste and blond miso. The tangy fermented relish complements the fried flavor well. EAT UP! Lunch doesn’t stay around here that long. 

A Kimchee Cocoon

Eight heads of Napa cabbage have been quartered to make 32 cocoons of kimchee. With the base of the cabbage left intact, each section is treated with salt, stuffed with ginger and garlic, smothered in Korean chili paste and then carefully wrapped to make “pogi kimchee.” This might sound like a weighty task,  but the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) does most of the work.

This fermentation process relies primarily on salt. After soaking thoroughly in water each leaf is rubber with salt and left to drain for about four to six hours, then brined for another ten to twelve hours, rinsed and drained again. The cabbage sections will be supple, pliable and noticeably smaller. With most of the cell walls broken, it’s now conditioned for osmosis.

Each section is generously rubbed with Korean chili paste (gochuchang) and stuffed with garlic, ginger and chive greens. You can buy Korean chili paste, but it’s best if you make your own if you have issues with shellfish to MSG. You can manage how much salt you use in your own chili paste. The cabbage sections are carefully wrapped and pressed to remove most of the air between the leaves, then packed into air tight containers.

LAB is very salt tolerant, where as most pathogens are not. As long as the contents of the container(s) is submerged is liquid, LAB will also combat pathogens. Left at room temperature for three to five days, LAB establish and colonize creating a sour, tangy flavor. Cold fermentation slows the process down to create a complex savory flavor and pungent aroma. After three to four weeks of refrigeration, these heads of cabbage are magically transformed into kimchee. Although it’s known to restore health by replenishing beneficial flora and fauna to our bodies, I jut think it’s delicious.

Learn how to make a vegan Korean chili paste and casual-style kimchee click here.