June 24, 2017

Hobak Bokkeum: Korean Stir-fried Zucchini (Zucchini Banchan)

Those of you who saw last week's post of Korean-Mexican Braised Short Ribs are (hopefully) already looking forward to this recipe, which was the highlight banchan (반찬, side dish) of the meal, and quickly earned itself a repeat performance and a permanent spot on The List. It's very quick to prepare and delicious both hot and cold, so even if you don't have time or space to do it right before serving, you can happily make it in advance. I...may have eaten some straight from the refrigerator at some point during the night. Yeah. So.

Hobak Bokkeum (호박 볶음, Korean Stir-fried Zucchini)

Adapted from Herbivoracious

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 small zucchini (about 300 grams), diced small
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon chipotle gochujang (or regular gochujang)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or very finely minced
1 teaspoon toasted black sesame seeds

Heat the sesame oil in a small skillet over high heat. When it shimmers, add everything but the black sesame seeds. Stir fry until tender-crisp with lightly browned bits, which only takes a minute or two. Scrape into a small bowl and sprinkle liberally with black sesame seeds (you could, of course, substitute well-toasted white sesame seeds). Serve warm or chilled.

The second time I made this dish it was for our follow-up dinner with the braised short rib meat. Still playing with the Korean-Mexican fusion theme, we had tacos.

Verdict? Delicious!

Freshly made corn tortillas (I can't buy them ready-made in this town), shredded short rib meat (mixed with the thinly sliced braised mushrooms), zucchini banchan, sliced fresh jalapeños, and freshly made Yucatecan-style quick pickled red onions. And, of course, a little extra chipotle gochujang to top each taco.

For an all-veggie version of these tacos, you could swap out the braised short rib for braised tofu, or maybe all shiitake (braised without meat stock, of course) and/or Mexican (or Cuban) thick seasoned black beans.

June 17, 2017

Korean-Mexican Braised Short Ribs (and Bibimbap)

My first experience of Korean-Mexican fusion was a Korean Taco Truck in Vancouver a few years back. Almost immediately, curiosity overwhelmed confusion and I decided that this was something I really needed to try. So, I bellied up to the window and got myself an order of mixed tacos - Galbi (short rib) and Bulgogi (shredded beef). On the plate, it's easy to see why these two amazing cuisines can come together so deliciously, despite the huge geographical distance and cultural differences.

Since that first unexpected demonstration of fusion that really works, the combination of Korean and Mexican has shown up again and again, and it seems to get tastier each time. And then I received a package from some friends in Australia, which included a bottle of Chipotle Gochujang sauce from their local restaurant, Hispanic Mechanic.

Gochujang is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine; a spicy, fermented chilli paste that is used either on its own and as a base for other sauces. The spiciness of this condiment predates New World peppers, with the heat in those earlier versions being likely provided by sancho (Zanthoxylum piperitum) and black pepper, although chillies have been used since at least the early 1600s. This particular fusion iteration relied on chipotle, a smoked, dried jalapeño pepper, and is more the texture of a thick Mexican-style hot sauce.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, the first date the sauce had in our house was with some pork neck steaks in a presentation that skewed neither east nor west (but was delicious), but after gawking at the Hispanic Mechanic menu, I was determined to hunt down some beef spare ribs. I wasn't able to find the thin, flanken cut that would be closer to what is used in a traditional Korean Galbi recipe, so I opted for braising rather than grilling - Galbijjim (갈비찜, Galbi Jjim, or Kalbi Jjim), more or less, rather than grilled Galbi. I'm looking forward to trying this sauce with pulled chicken, too.

Korean-Mexican Braised Short Ribs

1 kg Short ribs, browned in 1 Tablespoon peanut oil
5 fresh large shiitake, sliced in half (stems removed)
1/4 cup less sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
2 Tablespoons chipotle gochujang
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
3 scallions
4 cloves garlic
2 cups beef or veal broth
1 inch ginger, chopped
3 red chiles, deseeded

Braise 3 hours in an oven preheated to 170°C (340°F), remove the meat from bone, shred, mix with some braising liquid. There may be some fatty bits, and you don't want to wholly discard those. Chop up some of it and mix it in with the meat and braising liquid. If you have a lot of fat, you won't want to use it all or it will be too rich. Thinly slice the shiitake mushrooms and set aside as a separate item.

And what did we do with this marvellous, meltingly tender and unctuous short rib meat? We made Bibimbap, of course.

Bibimbap (비빔밥) is Korean for "mixed rice" and is generally made by adding various toppings to a base of one of a number of different rice varieties. It is often served in a (very hot) heated stone bowl, but not always. There is a tremendous variation from one bibimbap to the next, as it is infinitely customizable depending on what toppings are available and/or selected, from all vegetarian, to a mixture of meat and vegetables, to raw egg (or egg yolk) added at the last minute (usually in the hot stone bowl versions). There is a wonderful array of different flavours and textures to enjoy.

For our Bibimbap, I went with plain, white, medium-grain rice, the shredded short rib meat and braised shiitake mushrooms, ginger-soy braised cabbage, sesame carrot, and an absolutely fantastic zucchini bokkeum (볶음, stir fry) that is good hot or cold and makes a terrific banchan (반찬, side dish). It will get its own post very soon (I note that banchan are normally served in the middle of the table, for diners to help themselves, but I couldn't resist putting it right in the bowl for the picture). Final garnish was shredded green onion, although if I'd had them at the time, I would have added Mexican pickled red onion. In fact, we made tacos from the remaining short rib meat a couple of days later, for which I whipped up a batch of the pickled onions expressly.

While there are an assortment of different sauces used as the finishing touch on a bowl of bibimbap (including, for example ssamjang, sesame sauce, citrus-soy, and a variety of spicy options, often based on gochujang) we went with more of the chipotle gochujang, which amplified the flavours used in the braising liquid.

June 10, 2017

Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana is a bit of a process, but it doesn't have to be an ordeal to make at home. Moreover, there's one truly excellent reason to do so: leftover chicken parmigiana makes simply amazing sandwiches.

It helps lighten the workload if you have some good homemade basic tomato sauce on hand (I like to keep some in the freezer), but you could use a purchased one. The chicken itself is shallow-fried rather than deep fried (you could also bake them), and the cooking time is actually pretty quick. You might want to have your side dishes already to go when you lay the chicken in the pan, because the cooking time is mostly active and it can be challenging to do tend to two items that are highly active at the same time. Fortunately for me, my chosen side dish of spaghetti aglio e olio wasn't time or labour intensive (and the mise en place was done in advance), which minimized the juggling.

Restaurant versions of chicken parmigiana often are a bit light on the parmesan cheese, and for extra gooey-ness include a lot of mozzarella. Now, I like mozzarella just fine, but I didn't want its rich presence to overshadow the parmesan itself, so I simply went to town with a lot of parmesan before it went into the oven, and a renewed layer of freshly grated parmesan when it came out.

It's always important to maintain good kitchen hygiene when working with raw chicken, so I lay out the breading bowls in a straight line, to ensure I'm not going back and forth.

Chicken Parmigiana

Makes 4 cutlets

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 cups coarse, dry breadcrumbs, such as panko

1 cup basic tomato sauce

1 cup freshly grated/shredded parmesan

canola oil - enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet about a centimetre deep

Before you start with the chicken, get your pan ready with the oil - you'll want it heated to about 180-190°C (350-375°F) if you have the ability to control/set the temperature. Otherwise, set it over medium heat for now. Turn the oven on to preheat to 200°C (400°F) with the rack in the middle of the oven. Place the tomato sauce in a small skillet or saucepan to warm up.

Using a sharp knife, slice each chicken breast horizontally into two thin cutlets. With a mallet or other meat-flattening device, gently pound the cutlets until they are about a quarter bigger than they were, and the meat is as even as you can make it. Move your four cutlets to the start of your breading line (be sure to have a clean plate and the end of the line, to hold the breaded cutlets).

Mix the flour with the salt and pepper (you can add a pinch or two of dried basil or oregano if you like) in a wide, shallow bowl wide enough to fit the flattened cutlet. In the next bowl, place the beaten egg. In the final bowl, the breadcrumbs.
Without hurrying, dip the first cutlet into the flour mixture to thoroughly coat it on all sides, and give it a good shake to remove any excess flour back into the bowl. Then, dip the floured cutlet into the egg, again, coating it thoroughly, and letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Next, lay the cutlet in the breadcrumbs, and press it down firmly so the breadcrumbs really stick to it. Turn it over and press again. Lift gently (no need to shake this time) and lay it on the receiving plate at the end of the line. Repeat until all four cutlets are breaded.

When your oil is ready (it may already be ready - test it by sticking a wooden skewer or raw spaghetti strand in, and if it bubbles immediately it's good to go), lay the first two cutlets side by side in the pan (I use tongs to gently lay them in the pan). While they fry, place a metal baking/cooling rack on a sheet pan and have it standing by to receive the fried cutlets. When the bottom side is golden brown, use the tongs to flip the cutlets over to the other side. It doesn't take longer than a couple of minutes, because the cutlets are so thin, so pay attention to them. When the first two are done, remove them to your rack-on-the-baking sheet, and start frying the remaining two cutlets the same as the first. While they are frying, grate your parmesan.

When the second pair of cutlets have finished frying and have joined the first pair on the rack, spoon a little of the tomato sauce onto each cutlet, spreading it to cover the top surface (you might have some sauce leftover). Next, add a hearty layer of grated parmesan on top of the tomato sauce, and then transfer the whole rack & sheet to the oven for a few minutes until the parmesan is melted and the dish comes together as a glorious whole. Remove the rack from the oven, add a fresh layer of parmesan, and serve immediately.

But wait...I mentioned sandwiches, right?

So, if you planned to have some cutlets leftover, leave them on the rack to cool completely, and then transfer to an airtight container in the fridge. When you are ready to turn them into sandwiches, take them out of the fridge and place them in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, to take the chill off of them. Then, they are ready to slide into a lightly buttered bun (you don't need other condiments, although if a few fresh basil leaves happen to mysteriously fall into the sandwich it wouldn't end the world). Slice each bun in half, and serve - or wrap well in greaseproof paper for a picnic.

You could of course use other bread, but I find a nice, fresh bun has the sturdiness to cope with such an imposing filling. It also means that the cutlet will just slightly overhang the bun, which is an ideal ratio of bread for this kind of sandwich.

June 03, 2017

Jam Buns

Jam buns are such a quick and easy dessert (or lunchbox treat) to make that it almost seems too good to be true.

It's almost more of a serving suggestion than a recipe. You simply press unbaked plain biscuits into muffin tin holes, and dollop a bit of jam into the middle before baking as usual. You can leave them "open" style, or pinch the edges closed over the jam, however you like. Bake as if they were regular biscuits.

But, just in case you don't have a biscuit recipe handy, this is the one my mom used.

Jam Buns

Makes 12

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup jam

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Add raisins, herbs, cheese, or any other additional flavourings at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience) cut in the margarine until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the mixture for up to a week before mixing up the biscuits.

Create a well in the middle of the mixture and pour the milk in all at once. Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly and briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass. Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until the flour is incorporated. You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not. Go cautiously - too much flour makes tough biscuits.

Pat out the dough into a rough rectangle, no more than a centimetre thick (3/4 is better), and slice into squares. Push each biscuit into an ungreased muffin-tin well. Spoon a teaspoon of jam (whichever kind you like) into the middles. Don't over-fill them or the jam will boil over and make a mess when they cook (not the end of the world, but more work to clean up). You can leave them open, or pinch the corners closed, according to your preference. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden. Let them cool for a few minutes, and then use a fork or spatula to lever each one out and onto a rack to cool.

Oh, and one more thing? You don't have to do the whole batch (although they're sure nice to have around). If you're making biscuits anyway, why not make a big batch, and put a few sweet ones in the mix? Perfect for smaller families.