The Big, Bold World of Korean Cuisine
“Korean food is my all-time favorite, and it’s ready for its bright, shiny moment,” says TV food personality Andrew Zimmern in Koreatown: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2016), by Matt Rodbard and Deuki Hong. The book highlights authentic dishes, Korean-inflenced recipes from star chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert and interviews with Korean-obsessed celebrities, from writers to rockers.
The book is timely, as modern Korean restaurants are appearing on “must” lists nationwide, and ingredients like gochujang (a chili paste) and housemade kimchi are being utilized by restaurants of all stripes. And with certain key ingredients—widely available at Asian markets and online—most dishes are easy to make at home.
“Korea is a peninsula that has gone through a lot of war and famine, with a short growing season not unlike Minnesota, but with 1,500 miles of coastline,” says Rodbard. “Preserved food—dried fish, fermented vegetables and soybeans, chili pastes—form the basis of the cuisine. It’s not seasonal cooking.”
At Sujeo in Madison, Wisconsin, Chef Tory Miller puts Korean flavors at the center of the pan-Asian menu, but also employs them at his non-Korean restaurants, Graze, Estrellon and L’Etoile.
“I love Korean food because it incorporates such a wide profile of spices, and the heat is counteracted by sweet flavors,” says the Korean-born Miller. “I think that’s why it influences chefs across the country. It’s a great gateway cuisine into spicy food, [as] you can add spice and not scare off people’s palates because it’s balanced by this complex sweetness.”
Korean cuisine is traditionally served with beer and soju, a distilled beverage usually made with rice, barley or wheat. Robard says it’s “literally cheaper than water” in Korea. But the cuisine’s complexity allows for a wide range of wines.
At New York City’s Hanjan and Danji, Owner/Chef Hooni Kim has been known to pair his food with aged Barolo and big California Cabs.
“Because we’re serving very bold flavors, I think bold wines pair well,” he says. “With gochujang-based dishes, I like spicy, higher-alcohol Argentinian Malbec and Australian Shiraz. Though, since Koreans pair foods with an icy-clean glass of soju, I also like to serve whites that are clean, crisp and minerally, like a Sancerre.”
The bright, shiny moment is now. Grab the gochujang and get cooking.
—Photos by Penny de los Santos
Courtesy Tory Miller, co-owner/executive chef, Sujeo, Madison, Wisconsin
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 ounces foie gras, cut into ½-inch cubes(or substitute 6 ounces slab bacon or other protein)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 delicata squash (or acorn squash), washed, halved, seeded and sliced into ¼-inch slices
- 1 cup chopped kimchi
- 4 cups cold cooked white rice
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce or gochujang, or to taste
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 eggs, fried, sunny side up
- Scallions, for garnish
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- Ssamjang (Korean barbecue sauce), for garnish (optional)
Heat wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat. Lightly coat with oil. Add foie gras. Sear about 30 seconds, and remove from pan. Set aside. Lower heat to medium. Add sesame oil, ginger, garlic and squash. Stir-fry 2 minutes, or until squash is tender. Mix in kimchi, followed by rice. Fry 1–2 minutes, or until rice starts to color. Mix in oyster sauce and reserved foie gras. Place into two bowls. Top each with fried egg. Garnish with scallions, sesame seeds and ssamjang. Serves 2.
“The 2014 Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier from Chile has excellent brightness, peachy notes and a tendency to cut through the richness of a bokkeumbap,” says Jeff Spear, general manager of Sujeo. “The peach and apricot notes play off of the delicata squash and the bright finish plays off of—and cuts through—the slight spice of the fried and fresh kimchi.”
Red Knot 2014 Signature Shiraz (McLaren Vale)
- 2 pounds pork belly, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 1 cup gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons minced garlic
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons saké
- 2 tablespoons mirin
In nonreactive bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover mixture and refrigerate at least 8 hours, or overnight. Grill pork belly (or use grill pan over medium heat), turning occasionally, until cooked through and caramelized, about 15–20 minutes. Cut into rough 2-inch pieces with scissors. Serve over rice or in lettuce cups with grilled garlic and/or grilled scallions. Serves 4.
“I love a good Australian Shiraz with this dish,” says Kim. “It’s bold and spicy, with enough structure and tannins to stand up to the funky, spicy and fatty flavors of the dish.” Bottlings from South Australia, like St Hallett’s 2012 Blackwell Shiraz from Barossa or Red Knot’s 2014 Signature Shiraz from McLaren Vale, will offer the intense fruit, spice and firm structure desired for this hearty dish.
Courtesy Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor, owners/chefs, Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta and South Korea
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 5 tablespoons gochujang
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 4 hamburger buns
In large bowl, mix first 8 ingredients. Refrigerate 2 hours or, preferably, overnight. In large, heavy skillet over high heat, add vegetable oil. When very hot, add onion. Cook 4 minutes, or until soft. Add pork mixture. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until fully cooked, about 5–7 minutes. While pork cooks, toast buns. Divide meat among buns. Serve topped with pickles and a side of kimchi. Serves 4.
Primarily made from Merlot, with 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Château Peymouton’s 2013 Saint-Émilion offers ripe black-fruit character and herbal tones that complement the rich barbecue sauce. The wine’s tannins will be softened by the fattiness of the pork, while cassis and pepper accents will lift the dish’s sweeter flavors.
Reprinted from Koreatown: A Cookbook, by Matt Rodbard and Deuki Hong (Clarkson Potter, 2016)
For optimal flavor, use long-fermented kimchi, called mukeunji, in this simple dish. To eat traditionally, pack a spoon with rice and dip into the steaming, communal pot.
- 2 cups roughly chopped kimchi
- ½ cup kimchi juice (from jar)
- ¼ pound pork belly or leg, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 tablespoon doenjang (Korean soybean paste)
- 1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cups pork stock
- 7 ounces silken tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced, for garnish
- Steamed white rice, for serving
In large saucepan over high heat, combine first 8 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until contents are dark red and pungent. Add stock and tofu and bring to boil. Lower heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Garnish with scallions. Serve from pot at table with steamed white rice. Serves 2–4.
A complex wine with developed characteristics as well as ample fruity richness will prove an ideal match for such a multidimensional dish. An oak-aged white Rioja, like Marqués de Murrieta’s 2010 Capellanía, offers aromas of wood, vanilla, butter and fino Sherry coupled with creamy flavors of oak, apricot and peach, providing nutty, oxidative notes and ample fruit to balance the stew’s heat.
- 1Foie Gras Bokkeumbap (Fried Rice)
- 2Gochujang-Marinated Grilled Pork Belly
- 3Korean Sloppy Joe
- 4Kimchi Jjigae (stew)