Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Korean Style Fajitas de Bulgogi

You won’t find these at an artisanal food truck. I re-shot some photos for the ePUB cookbook. These Mexican-Korean fusion meals get better each time. Dak bulgogi fajitas (Korean BBQ chicken) on hand-rolled corn tortillas and little huaraches de niñas are delicate yet substantial, filled with chicken and kkadugi (fermented Korean radish) ceviche. I used fresh red Korean peppers instead of jalapeños and passed over the cilantro for julliened leek salad and bib lettuce for a more Asian flavor. Of course you have to use good queso de cotija if you can find it.

The Blizzard of Odd

Winter storm Juno came and went with not much to write home about; I took some pretty pictures in my neighborhood before, during and after. What a way to start 2015, huh? The worst damage was the thick salty slush that followed and a messed up work week for NYC. Of course it inspired some pretty tasty cooking, I made a corn, potato and spinach frittata and we played the cats til they were sick of us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Recipe: Korean Sweet Soy Candied Potatoes

Gluten-free vegans, rejoice! This is banchan (side dish) is for you— heatgamja jorim, better known as candied Korean potatoes made with sweet soy sauce. It’s best made with smaller new potatoes, or as we do on Guam, the smaller Asian sweet potatoes. Larger potatoes tend to get mealy with type of dish. You can buy sweet soy sauce, but it’s always much better if you make your own especially if you are eating gluten-free. We made this at ICE in the Essentials of Korean Cooking class (Sandy Murzun, instructor).

There are actually many types of soy sauce, of which we normally use two; dark soy sauce is not as robust in flavor as its lighter counterpart. Generally it’s fermented with soy beans alone, where as light soy sauce is blended and brewed with wheat, sugar, rice wine and other ingredients. Asian chefs prefer the pure flavor of dark soy for cooking, and light soy as a condiment at the table.

Every Asian culture has its own version of a sweet soy sauce for marinating meats or for making dipping sauces. Mine harkens back to the post-WW2 era of American occupation using a little whiskey and soda. This is a two-part recipe. Let’s make some sweet soy sauce first.

Sweet Soy Suace (Post-WW2 Version)

(Makes 2 cups)

  • 1 cup dark soy sauce (celiac people, read the label for GF statement)
  • 1/2 can Pepsi or Dr. Pepper (6 oz)
    or substitute with 1/2 cup water, 3 tbsp dark corn syrup and 1/2 tsp crushed cloves
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/ tsp black pepper
  • 3 tbsp whiskey
  • 1/4 cup water
Prepare ginger and garlic, add a little salt and set aside. Pour soda into a deep sauce pan; allow it to go flat for 10 minutes. Set flame to medium, add ginger, garlic and black pepper. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by 1/3 stirring constantly. Add dark soy sauce, brown sugar (or corn syrup) and whiskey. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes more stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, set aside to cool. For immediate use, set bowl into an ice bath to shock it cold. Store refrigerated in a closed container; sweet soy sauce will keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.

Heatgamja Jorim (Candied Korean Potatoes)
  • 1 1/2 lbs new potatoes, halved
  • 3 tbsp peanut or canola oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tbsp cup rice or white wine, or soju
  • 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce (see recipe above)
  • 1 tsp roasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tsp black coffee (optional)
Prepare garlic and ginger, peel and mince. Toast sesame seeds in a pan and set aside. Wash new potatoes, dry well, remove any blemishes and cut into halves. Boil potatoes until they are fork-soft, rinse under cold water and drain well. Set aside to cool or shock in an ice bath.

Heat peanut oil to smoke point in a large non-stick pan. Lightly salt potatoes and pan-fry for 4 to 5 minutes until the skins are slightly crisp. Remove from pan and set aside. Add all remaining ingredients to pan except for toasted sesame seeds, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add potatoes to pan and simmer until the liquid has thickened and potatoes are evenly coated. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Set aside to cool. This dish is best served cold... like revenge.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Cast Iron Reboot

Oh sad skillet, the tales you would tell—the cautionary moral of this story is “Don’t loan out the good stuff.”
I’ve had this 11" wide Wagner Ware cast iron pan since the early ‘90s— a stoop sale find in Park Slope. I try to collect them when I can find them, especially the older ones with the original logo. It worked great until I lent it to a friend for a long camping trip. Three months later it came back scratched, unevenly blackened and sticky. From then on all food just stuck to it no matter how well I greased the pan and eventually the grease turned into tar.

After a little exploration with a chisel I found that the pan had a layer of melted plastic over rust and grease; it looked like someone tried to heat up a vac-sealed bag of food directly in the pan instead of boiling it. Until then this was the best skillet I had for frying chicken or fish and making Korean BBQ beef; it has a thick base that heats evenly and it keeps a constant temperature on the range. Cast iron cookware is part of healthy cooking— a reliable source of dietary iron, especially when meals are made with acidified foods such as sauerkraut or kimchee.

Not brand new but this gun-metal monster is back on the range. Take a look at my old cast iron skillet now!

Good quality cast iron cookware is hard to come by at a decent price. As long as it’s not cracked or rusted straight through it’s always worth saving an old pan, griddle or Dutch oven. Over the years I’ve soaked this heavily tarnished pan with lye, taken steel wool and scouring powder to it and even put it into a hardwood fire for hours, yet all the usual recommendations for refurbishing cast iron didn’t work with this much crud. Going against the more gentle, conventional advise I decided to give matters a heavier hand. It took a few rounds of gel oven cleaner and lots of elbow grease but was worth all the toil. After this reboot I have my non-stick cast iron pan back— a handsome gun-metal skillet that’s worthy of seasoning. If you find yourself going down this road get these items together. Refinishing the outside of the pan is optional unless it’s rusted.
  • gel-based oven cleaner (not the foaming type)
  • a disposable dust mask
  • 3/4" or 1" wide chisel (for wood)
  • butter knife (stainless steel)
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • steel wool pads
  • roll of paper towels
  • stack of old newspapers
  • pot holder
  • kitchen gloves
  • a sink and the stove range in well ventilated kitchen
More elbow grease than grease— a lye-based gel cleaner prepares the tarnished areas for scraping and sanding.

Step 1: Spread out a layer of newspaper over your work area, this is gonna get messy. Coat the pan with gel-based oven cleaner and let it sit overnight (12-16 hours); this helps loosen the top layer of crud. Next day in a well ventilated kitchen, take the pan to the range and heat the skillet on low for five minutes. Wear a dust mask and avoid standing over the pan; turn on the exhaust fan if you have one.

Step 2: Place the pan on a folded stack of newspaper, cooking side up. Hold the panhandle firmly (use a pot holder); with even pressure scrape the bottom of the pan with a chisel held at about 30° to the surface. Start by cross hatching the tarnish, work on the toughest areas then scrape following the pan’s circular shape; avoid gauging the metal. The goal is to loosen up the hardened layer— not to scrape it shiny clean. Stand the pan on its side and scrape the sides and the spout. Put on rubber kitchen gloves; Rinse well with hot water and scour with a steel wool pad then towel dry.

A wood chisel and steel wool are equally as hard as cast iron. With pressure, softer carbonized matter easily scrapes away.

Repeat Step 2 (maybe three times) until you see the metal come through the tarnished layer. You’ll find that the tarnish will crumble easily with repetition. Use a butter knife for tight areas where the chisel will not reach. Change newspaper as often as needed.

Step 3: Coat pan with gel cleaner and allow to sit for at least two hours. Rinse well with hot water scouring with a steel wool pan and towel dry. The pan will still be mostly pitted and blackened but you’ll start seeing the dull gun-metal color coming through.

Sand in small circular motion focusing on though areas. Don’t be afraid to lean into it, 80-grit is softer than cast iron
Step 4: Place the pan on a folded stack of newspaper. With 80-grit sandpaper scour the cooking surface using a small circular motion; wipe pan clean with a paper towel and discard the dust. Repeat sanding until the pan is a fairly even gun-metal color and use new sandpaper as needed. Rinse with hot water and scour with a steel wool pad. If you still have more blackened areas repeat Step 3 and Step 4 as needed. Rinse well and towel dry. Your pan will never look band new, it will have random black spots and some mars; this is due to carbon that has bonded with the metal.

Look what I found under all that tarnished, petrified gunk— the original grain from the casting and burnishing.
Step 5: After rinsing, heat pan on high and lower flame. Melt about a two table spoons of a high-heat oil and smear all over the pan, inside and out. You can use peanut oil, canola oil, vegetable shortening, coconut oil, bee’s wax or even rendered lard— all these unsaturated fats work well. NEVER use olive oil for seasoning a pan, only for cooking; Olive oil has many resins and particulates that over time will create a sticky surface and will cause food to burn. With a paper towel coat all surfaces evenly and discard any excess and wipe clean. 

You only need a very thinly smeared layer of oil, not a dripping wet coat. A well seasoned cast iron pan is carbonized; carbon atoms bond to iron which help prevent rust and also harden the metal. Repeated heating and treating with high-heat oil creates a non-stick surface and over time. In about four months to a year (depending how often you use it) you will have a deep black, well seasoned non-stick pan that needs little maintenance. The pan’s color will change from dark grey, to deep amber then to pitch black.

The Skinny on Unsaturated Fats and Seasoning Your Cast Iron Cookware
A little science is involved. When a high-heat unsaturated fat is exposed to 350-400°F temperatures the molecules break down easily and bond with available carbon atoms to form a water resistant polymer surface. It adheres to microscopic pores in the iron as a well as visible pits and scratches. Water soluble proteins are the usual culprit that cause food to stick to the pan when cooking, such as when you’re browning meat or frying an egg. This hydrophobic polymer surface allows cooking oil to spread evenly while preventing food from sticking. Most “pre-seasoned” cookware is treated with a wax coat for shipping purposes only, this prevents rust while in storage. They are not necessarily sold as “non-stick.” Some brands recommend coating with oil and then baking at 450°F as a quick method. A reconditioned pan will take less time to season than a new one.

For the first two or three month avoid making acid-based foods such as tomato or lemon sauces, wine or balsamic vinegar reductions and sauerkraut or kimchee dishes. To clean, DO NOT use detergent, just rinse well with a scouring pad and hot water. Repeat Step 5 and store in a clean dry place... oh, and never lend out the good cast iron cookware to anyone going on a camping trip.

Black is beautiful indeed— over time your cast iron cookware will become non-stick and will need less care.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Essentially Korean in New York

Bulgogi, sokalbi gui, dak gangjeong, haemul pajeon, bibimbap, pork mandu and so much more...

What a delicious way to spend a Sunday afternoon! On the menu: Korean BBQ sliced beef and short ribs, sweet hot wings, seafood pancakes, seasoned Korean paella, pork dumplings, candied potatoes and a variety of traditional Korean side dishes (aka banchan). This was my Christmas gift from my sweetie... not lunch, but the Essentials of Korean Cooking class at Institute of Culinary Education with Sandy Murzin. At the crossroads of Guam, I grew up experiencing many Asian foods, Korean being one of favorites. But as with most of us islanders, I learned from cooks who never measured. That’s supposed to be a sign of a great cook, but it makes for spotty learning.

Chef Sandy Murzin walks us through the kitchen essential before approaching the Korean essentials of cooking.

The class was very hands-on and Sandy is a knowledgeable and thorough instructor. I can’t imagine teaching 15 people with sharp knives how to cook. She reviewed all the recipes in detail— entrees and side dishes. We had an overview of cutting tools and techniques. The French mandoline slicer in particular always intimidates me; I call it “the finger taker.” I own a dinky Japanese Benriner slicer and it still intimidates me; it spends a lot of time in its box on a high shelf. It was refreshing yet challenging stepping away from the food processor.

The wok is an Asian kitchen essential. Its rounded shapes serves a purpose; the sides are less hot but will keep food warm while cooking, while the bottom will reach frying temperatures in about a minute. One can make multiple meals in one pan. Here in Park Slope you’ll find many left out on the stoop for one reason: Most homes have switched to induction burners or electric ranges. A wok must sit directly over a open flame to reach a proper cooking temperature. The range at ICE is ideal; it has a an interior burner grate that allows for setting a wok lower into the range directly into the flame. Also the oven is large enough to fit a suckling pig.

Three stations, 15 cooks, 12 dishes and three hours... can we do it?

After reviewing ingredients and cooking techniques we split into three teams, put on our aprons, gathered at out stations and set 911 on speed dial. Luckily for we New Yorkers ingredients such as anchovy sauce and toasted sesame oil are easily found at most Asian markets. Each table took on entrees and side dishes. I have an allergy to some brands of fish sauce so I thought ahead and took a Benadril... y’never know. Korean fish sauce (aekjeot) is usually fermented and aged from one type of yellow anchovy, but some brands are consolidated with shrimp— to which I'm allergic. Aekjeot is a key flavor for many Asian dishes.

Let’s get busy—butterfly slicing kalbi (short ribs) and gathering all the ingredients for banchan (side dishes)

“Can you make the rice?” Why is this a question? I actually hadn’t steamed a pot of rice since childhood— until about three years ago. It’s not difficult but I’m the only rice eater in this house. I was assigned to steam Asian short grain rice for bibimpbap (Korean paella) and for eating. Asians prefer the short grain polished rice over long grain— slightly sweet with a soft but very firm texture. Whether in a steamer or on the stove, polished white rice should be rinsed until the water runs clear, then rest for 10 to 15 minutes with a pinch of salt before cooking. Arguments persists about the lack of nutrients in plain white rice, but I argue that it is a prebiotic that aids fermented food... and brown rice is just really gross. Also on my task list bulgogi (Korean BBQ beef) and pa muchin, a seasoned leek side dish. Banchan (side dishes) are ubiquitous to the Korean table, at least five of them accompany every meal.

Bibimbap is served in a hot cast iron pot to crisp the steamed rice; it’s always crowned with a fried or raw egg.

One key ingredient for bulgogi and sokalbi gui (BBQ shot ribs) is sweet soy sauce, which is simmered with ginger, garlic, brown sugar and a little rice wine. After it’s reduced, it’s shocked in an ice bath before marinating thinly-sliced beef with a little sesame oil and more garlic. We set these aside for about an hour or so before taking them to the grill room. Cuts of meat for these dishes should have a nicely marbled fat to get a texture that suits the tooth. Leaner cuts tend to turn into shoe leather. We used rib eye for both meat dishes.

Bulgogi (left) and sokalbi gui (right) are both made with a sweet soy base, ideally these cuts of meat marinate over night.

New potatoes (haetgamja jorim) are boiled and simmered in a sweet-savory sauce.
Candied, savory delights are a unique to the Asian flavor profile. Heatgamja (potato) jorim (simmered) is cooked low and slow in brown sugar, soy sauce and crushed roasted sesame seeds. Here’s the other KFC, dak gangjeong, Korean fried chicken wings in a spicy sweet chili sauce. Dak is Korean for chicken (which confuses a lot of people), ganjeong is a sauce made from brown sugar, chili paste, soy sauce and fresh sliced chili. The chicken wings are dredged and twice-fried to give the skin a crisp, light texture. Both of these dishes are simmered until most of the sauce is thick and sticky. It’s usually cooked with walnuts, pine nuts or peanuts.

Korean fried chicken wings (dak ganjeong) in a sweet-hot sauce with candied walnuts—they taste as good as they look.

Pancakes aren’t just for breakfast anymore. Haemul Pajeon is a Korean seafood crepe made with a combination of rice and other flours, shrimp, squid and scallops. You need a smoking-hot well-oiled pan to make these and as we found in class, new pans tend to stick. It takes about a month to properly season a new pan with regular use. Much like any pancake you have to watch for the edges to cook before flipping over, otherwise it’s a hot mess. We burnt a few in class, but personally I like well-done bits and bites more than the pancake. There are many pajeon, my favorite is made with Asian chive greens and bacon.

Of all the side banchan on the table, two are indispensable: Napa cabbage kimchee and mandu gui (pork dumplings). We made a quick mak kimchee which was macerated, not fermented, but tart, spicy and full of flavor. Mandu is made with ground pork, tofu, beef, mung beans sprouts and seasoned with oyster sauce, garlic, shaved ginger and dark sesame oil; they can be steamed or pan fried. I like them deep fried and crisp and served with soup. You can make and freeze mandu ahead of time for larger meals. My mother always kept a bag of shumai in the freezer just in case guests dropped by.

Mak kimchee and mandu gui are made fresh deliver quick one-two punch between bites.
Three hours flew by, and much like the cooking shows someone is always just plating food in in the last two minutes. A hungry crew sat to enjoy hours of hard work. I almost forgot to mention the cucumber flavored soju, a sweet potato vodka with a kick. These recipes were adapted from The Korean Table by Taekyung Chung and Debra Samuels. Also check out Eating Korean by Cecilia Hea Jin lee. For classes and more check go to

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year’s Dinner 2015

Cash coin and gold are a traditional New Year’s dinner in this home.
In our Southern United States we celebrate the New Year with cash, coin and gold—long-braised collards, stewed black eyed peas (hoppin' John) and pork chop medallions. My friend’s mother (Mississippi born Mama Jean Hogan), taught me how to make collards. Home-made stock, smocked hocks, a pinch of baking soda, pepper vinegar and a lot of patience. I saved the bones and vegetable scraps to make rich stock for the collards. But I added a few things to the menu this year: kimchee roasted Brussels sprouts and turnips and kimchee collards. New Year’s forecast: 21015 will be spicy, rich and delicious.

New additions to our New Year’s dinner table: kimchee roasted winter vegetables and kimchee stewed collards