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Pantry: My Korean-American Kitchen
My home kitchen is a literal melting pot, a place of multicultural eating that keeps my family connected to our Korean, French, and American roots. This rich diversity is reflected in the contents of my pantry and the ingredients we consider staples. My husband keeps great olive oil and European vinegars in the cupboard for dressing salads; chocolate hidden among the condiments as a bedtime snack (he can't go to sleep without having a little bit); and buttermilk in the fridge for pancakes on the weekends. I keep kimchi in the refrigerator, and while everyone gave me a hard time at first, it's become a household staple; even our daughter, Chloe, whose ideal meal would probably be pasta with a side of white rice, loves kimchi. I also keep fish sauce next to the vinegar, dried anchovies tucked on a shelf next to the rice, and £ds (literally) of gochugaru (red pepper powder) that I haul back from Korea in my suitcase. Our cheese drawer probably says the most about our family--there's Parmigiano-Reggiano for Chloe's spaghetti, immaculate goat cheeses that Jean-Georges brings home from his restaurants, and individually wrapped American cheese slices, which are my Korean family's secret ingredient in many traditional Korean soups (see page 61 for more on that).
One of the most appealing aspects of Korean food is its accessibility Even though it may seem incredibly exotic, requiring lots of unfamiliar ingredients and preparations, at its core it's a flavorful, healthy, approachable cuisine that you can make using many of the ingredients you already have in your pantry. As a matter of fact, there are really only two essential ingredients I find myself using over and over again that might not already be in your kitchen--gochujang (red pepper paste) and gochugaru (red pepper powder). The good news is both are easy to get online and are on the shelves of every Korean grocery store and lots of specialty grocery stores. Since both keep indefinitely, you can stock up whenever you find a good source so you'll never have to scramble at the last minute.
In the following pages, you'll find descriptions of the ingredients used in Korean cooking that might be unfamiliar. I've also given a list of my must- have cooking tools (including scissors!) and a list of resources.
Gochujang (Red Pepper Paste)
This fermented hot pepper paste is the most indispensable, distinctly Korean, and frequently used ingredient in the Korean cook's pantry. It's made primarily of gochugaru (red pepper powder) bound with sweet rice powder (which lends a bit of sweetness) and seasoned with salt. After it's been left to ferment, the flavor and red color become dark and rich. Labor- intensive to make, gochujang is almost always bought packaged rather than prepared at home (sort of like Americans and ketchup). It's used in just about every sauce, marinade, soup, and braise; it goes on poultry, beef, pork, seafood, tofu, and more. In other words, it's the MVP in every Korean kitchen and on every Korean table.
Gochugaru (Red Pepper Powder)
Although gochugaru is now ubiquitous in Korean cooking, it wasn't widely available in Korea until the 1600s. The red chile we've come to associate so strongly with Korean food came originally from Latin America, traveling to Asia through Spanish commerce. I think the best gochugaru comes from the area around Sokcho, where my most of my biological family lives. It comes coarsely ground or finely ground; I always use coarse in my cooking, but you can substitute fine if you'd like. Gochugaru is worth seeking out for your Korean cooking at home since it's much fruitier and milder than most commercially available chile powders (which is why I'm often generous with how much I use). In a pinch, you can substitute red pepper flakes (like those offered to shake on pizza), but use them to taste, as they're much spicier than gochugaru.
Doenjang (Soybean Paste)
Made of fermented soybeans, doenjang, which translates to "thick paste," is essentially Korean miso paste. It's distinguished from Japanese miso by its coarse, unrefined texture and its aggressive flavor--this isn't subtle stuff. It's often fermented outdoors in large stone pots. In Andong, we went to a restaurant, known for its homemade doenjang, that was run by Grandmother Chung, whose family has been making it for 19 generations! It was hard to miss--their driveway is filled with 3,000 clay pots of the stuff. You can substitute Japanese miso paste for doenjang with successful results (especially if you can find a coarse Japanese variety).
A thick, slightly spicy paste, ssamjang is basically a mixture of gochujang and doenjang, but it can also be flavored with sesame oil, garlic, or, sometimes, brown sugar. It's used as a condiment for grilled meats and is essential for bo ssam (page 91).
Kimchi and Kimchi Liquid
While making kimchi at home is fun and completely doable (page 37), most Koreans buy prepared kimchi at markets and grocery stores. I keep both my own homemade kimchi and my favorite store-bought varieties in my refrigerator at all times. The liquid that covers the kimchi is a terrific seasoning on its own and I use it often in dishes like bindaetteok (page 67) and kimchi butter (page 81). Many of my recipes call for "sour kimchi," which essentially means old kimchi. Just like the distinction between a sour pickle and a half-sour pickle, older kimchi takes on a stronger, more acidic flavor that I find very welcome in dishes like kimchi jjigae (page 58). If you don't like the developed flavor of sour kimchi, feel free to substitute lighter tasting fresh kimchi.
Like most Asian cooks, Koreans use soy sauce (made from soybeans fermented with water and salt) as a key seasoning. A dash of soy sauce transforms any dish just the way salt does, but with an added backbone. This depth of flavor is referred to by the Japanese as umami. I often call for "high- quality" soy sauce in my recipes, by which I mean a reliable brand that doesn't list MSG as an ingredient.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil, derived from toasted and crushed sesame seeds, is distinguished by its nutty, rich flavor. It's often used as a seasoning rather than an oil for cooking, but I like to cook with it since all the dishes I make that start with it take on a great depth of flavor.
Made from fermented fish, fish sauce has a smell that can be off-putting to most first-timers, but its salty, funky, distinctive taste borders on addictive. It's got the same umami thing going on as soy sauce.
Acidity is nearly as important as salt in Korean (and most all) cooking. A splash of vinegar elevates flavors and perks everything up. Koreans often use mild apple vinegar, not to be confused with apple cider vinegar. Rice vinegar is equally common and I use both in my kitchen; for the recipes in this book, however, I have called for rice vinegar as it's more readily available. Feel free to substitute apple vinegar if you do come across it.
Korean Hot Mustard
A vital condiment to be served with naengmyeon (page 200), a cold noodle soup with brisket, Korean hot mustard is very similar to hot French mustard as well as the Chinese version. If you can't find it, I find that powdered Colman's mustard mixed with water, vinegar, and salt makes an excellent substitute.
Roasted Sesame Seeds
Roasted sesame seeds are vital to Korean cooking, adding toasty flavor and crunchy texture in a variety of dishes. They're sometimes cooked into soups and stews, ground into marinades, and often sprinkled over dishes not merely for aesthetic purposes but also for a great taste. While I always buy them already roasted (they come in jars), you can purchase raw sesame seeds and toast them in a dry skillet or in the oven if you prefer.
A granulated instant beef stock powder, dashida (also known as jomiryo) is often used as a seasoning, almost like salt with more depth. Since many commercial brands contain MSG, be careful about which you choose. If you do not eat meat but do eat fish, I find that an equal amount of fish sauce can stand in for dashida to add that salty, savory quality.
Dried Anchovy and Kelp Packets
Dried anchovies are used often in Korean cooking; in fact, small ones are often eaten whole as a snack. Large dried anchovies are the base for anchovy stock, which typically also includes dried seaweed. One of my favorite discoveries in the Korean supermarket I frequent in New Jersey was the packets of dried anchovies and kelp that I have come to think of as savory tea bags. You can pop a few into a pot of boiling water and have flavorful stock in no time. The best part is the packet makes it so easy-- there's no need to measure the amounts and no need to strain the stock. Just fish the packet out and discard.
Seaweed, one of the healthiest foods you can consume because it's full of minerals, is used a lot in Korean cooking. Gim is dried laver seaweed that gets sprinkled on top of noodle soups and wrapped around rice to make gimbap (page 181). (Japanese nori, also a laver, is a widely used substitute.) Dried miyeok is my go-to for soups like Birthday Seaweed Soup (page 57), but you can substitute many types of dried seaweed, such as wakame, available in health food stores or Asian markets. Dried kelp-- dasima in Korean or kombu in Japanese--is great for stocks.
Known as saeujeot in Korean, salted shrimp are a common ingredient in kimchi and are also used in bo ssam (page 91), a grand dish of pork belly wrapped in lettuce with other seasonings. Unlike dried, salted shrimp used in other Asian cuisines, Korean salted shrimp come in a jar packed in liquid that you drain before using.
I use coarse, kosher salt in all of my cooking.
Dried Dates (Daechu)
Also known as jujubes, these are dark red and wrinkled. They are often used medicinally (they're said to help relax you) as well as in many popular dishes like samgyetang (page 141) and Braised Short Ribs with Pumpkin (page 123). Dried cherries make a reasonable substitute.
Honey Citron Marmalade
Koreans often drink a delicious tea made of hot water combined with a jellylike ingredient called yujacha, which is a honey-sweetened marmalade made of citron. Not only does it make a great drink, it's also a terrific ingredient for dressings and marinades, such as the dipping sauce for Crunchy Fried Squid (page 168) and the Barbecued Chicken with Sweet Barbecue Sauce (page 94). A good-quality orange marmalade makes a perfect substitute.
Perilla seeds come from the perilla plant, which is often labeled "sesame plant." It is a member of the mint family and is not at all related to the plant that bears sesame seeds. It's its own wonderful thing, and the seeds have a flavor reminiscent of sesame, but also with the tang of coriander seeds. Perilla seeds are a terrific ingredient to experiment with, but if you can't find them and want to make a recipe like the Pork Neck Stew with Potatoes and Perilla (page 135), you can substitute a combination of sesame and coriander seeds.
One of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea, soju has a flavor similar to vodka but is a bit sweeter and quite a bit lower in alcohol. It's traditionally distilled from rice, but nowadays companies often make it from potatoes, wheat, sweet potatoes, or even tapioca. Sake and vodka are both ideal substitutes.
Also spelled makguli, this alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice brewed with yeast has a milky appearance and is lightly carbonated; it tastes like a cross between unfiltered sake and a light wheat beer. It's often served in bowls, not unlike cafe au lait. You can substitute sake or white wine in recipes.
The standard at every Korean meal, short-grain, Korean-grown white rice is available in every Korean grocery store.
Sweet Rice (Chapssal)
Another type of short-grain rice, sweet rice (also known as glutinous rice) gets especially sticky when cooked, which is why it's referred to as glutinous although it does not actually contain gluten. It's my secret ingredient in the crunchy mung bean pancakes called bindaetteok (page 67).
Korean cuisine features all sorts of noodles. The most common types include japchae, which are thin cellophane noodles made of sweet potato starch; jajangmyeon, which, much like Chinese egg noodles, are fresh and have a great chew; and buckwheat noodles, which are used often (and some varieties have added potato starch to give the noodles a bit of elasticity). Finally, there are kalguksu, which translates to "hand-cut," a reference to their thick, rough texture; they're made of wheat and if you can't find them, dry or fresh udon noodles make a perfect substitute.
Dried Mung Beans and Mung Bean Powder
Dried mung beans get soaked and pulverized for bindaetteok (page 67), which are crunchy and slightly addictive pancakes. Mung bean powder gets mixed with water and allowed to gel to form noodles for tangpyeongchae (page 72). Essential ingredients, both the dried beans and powder are readily available online and at Korean grocery stores.
Regular rice flour is made of ground white rice, and seems to make everything it touches crisp. I can't make Seafood and Scallion Pajeon (page 151) without it.
Sweet Rice Powder
Sweet rice powder (also called sweet rice flour) is made from ground sweet rice and is a great thickener. I use it often and can't make my Ultimate Cabbage Kimchi (page 37) without it. Regular rice flour makes a good substitute.
Rice cakes, or tteok (pronounced "duck"), are made from ground glutinous rice. They take all sorts of shapes, from long, 1-inch-thick cylinders to small, flat, coinlike discs. They are used in savory preparations like soups and stir-fries, or are served as sweets (in all sorts of shapes) that are stuffed with red bean paste, nuts, and even jujubes. The sweet variety is often eaten at celebratory events like birthdays and weddings and is a traditional New Year's Day meal throughout Korea.
Napa cabbage is probably the most widely used vegetable in all of Korean cuisine. It is the essential ingredient in cabbage kimchi. Be sure to buy heads that are firm and not cracked at the stem end.
Moo (White Radish)
Moo (sometimes known as mu) is the Korean variety of daikon radish. Larger and wider than Japanese daikon, it's got a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It's used both raw and cooked. Be sure to pick out moo that are smooth and have bright green tops.
Scallions and Garlic
Found in every grocery store in America, scallions and garlic inform nearly every Korean recipe.
Korean pears, also known as Asian pears and Asian pear apples, are consumed widely in Korea. They're eaten on their own as a snack, are sliced into kimchi, and even ground to use as a sweetener and tenderizer in marinades.