November 14, 2009

Kimchi day

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My friend Lambda had always talked about having a kimchi day at her home, where her Korean mother-in-law would teach us how kimchi is made in a traditional Korean household.  That day finally came when she made an emergency announcement that the family had run out of kimchi (quelle horreur!), and that they would be making a new batch today.

A small group of us were privileged to be invited to watch as grandma took us step-by-step through the process.  They bought 10 heads of Napa cabbage (大白菜), which honestly looked really impressive when sitting in a large pan.  Other ingredients such as Japanese daikon (大根), watercress, mustard green, carrots, squid, cutlassfish (帶魚), anchovies...etc were thrown in a bowl along with - what else - chili powder, anchovy sauce and makgeolli (막걸리, a Korean rice wine).

Once the "sauce" has been done, it's time to get our hands dirty and rub it on all the available surfaces on the cabbage, and also to stuff it in between the leaves to make sure that the flavors can really get into the cabbage.  I must admit that I had a little more trouble than expected with folding the cabbage into the right shape.  We placed the finished product into various jars and containers, and moved on to marinate the daikon, which has now been cut into cubes.

The next task was to make gochuchang, the ubiquitous chili paste essential in Korean cuisine.  We start with cooked sweet rice flour, then mixed in wheat germ, finely ground chili powder, salt...  The key here is to keep stirring until evenly mixed and the consistency becomes uniform.  It's then scooped into a ceramic pot, covered with a layer of sea salt on top, then sealed with cloth for the fermentation process.  It's amazing that in today's society, the women of some Korean households still spend the effort to make their own sauces and pastes, when it has become so easy to buy them off the shelf.  I'm glad to have been a part of this process, even if only as a witness.

Pretty soon it was dinner time, and we gathered around the table for our highly anticipated Korean feast. The first item on the menu was ogyeopsal (오겹살), or five-layered pork. Fatty pork always gets me going, and this was bacon that came from Jeju's famous ddong dweji (똥돼지) - pigs that used to feed on feces (but no longer, I hope...). The bacon slices were expertly fried at the table, then wrapped in cabbage leaves with a healthy clump of kimchi and marinated minced shrimp. The fat was caramelized and a bit chewy thanks to being marinated in salt. Absolutely wonderful stuff. The usual sounds of "mmmm...", "ooooh..." and other unintelligible grunts were once again heard around the table.

There was also a plate of large raw oysters, which we had been marinating in kimchi for the last couple of hours.  That was pretty nice, too.

To go along with our kimchi-dominated feast, it was appropriate that we would be drinking Korean wine. Bottles of makgeolli (막걸리) were served in little bowls. This fermented rice wine came from the bottom of the barrels, hence the large amount of sediment giving the wine its milky color. The wine was low in alcohol (6%), slightly effervescent with a light, sweet taste. This is a pretty good wine to drink with the spicy kimchi, as the cold, sweet wine helps put out the flames that are now dancing on my tongue.

I was already pretty full by this point, but the best was yet to come.  We would finish our meal with budae jjigae (부대 찌개) - the dish that developed with the use of leftover supplies from American GIs.  This is a dish that Lambda introduced to me, and my friends and I have come to love it.  It is sooo far from anything that would normally be considered gourmet, yet to me it's a bunch of comfort food ingredients thrown together.

First the diced pieces of smoked sausage (or hot dog) and SPAM are fried up in the pan.  Then kimchi juice is added, along with tofu, spinach and rice cakes.  Next we break open a pack of kimchi-flavored Shin Ramyun, and add water and the powder pack into the pot.  We cover the pot with the glass lid, allowing the instant noodles to soften via steaming.  Finally some udon is added for more carbo.  No baked beans today, though... I looove this stuff, and would have had a second bowl if I wasn't already so stuffed.

We sat around after dinner, trying to not to slip into the inevitable food coma.  To help with the digestion, I opened up the bottles of wine I had brought along.  The 2006 Grosset Piccadilly was a pretty typical Aussie Chardonnay - heavy oak, with lemon, minerals, flint and a ripe and honeyed nose.

The 2007 De Villaine Bouzeron was another lovely wine.  I opened a bottle of the 2006 vintage earlier this year and was very pleasantly surprised.  This humble Aligoté is made by the same winemaker who crafts the sought-after wines of DRC, and showed a nice nose of lemon, pear and honey, with a slightly acidic finish.

I am very grateful for Lambda's family for their hospitality, and for giving us a look into a Korean household tradition.  Now I just have to wait for my kimchi to age a little, and I'll be ready to pop the lid on the jar!


Sher.eats said...

ah the aerial shot!

sorry about your shirt =P


Lambda said...

Let's have ddukboggi next time.


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