Take your pick, A Korean Kitchen, by Joan Namkoong, is memoir, or it’s a cookbook, or it’s an historical document.
You could make the case that all of Namkoong’s books are memoirs. She was born and raised in Hawaii, and is deeply involved in the foodways of the islands – as a writer and author, as an advocate for Hawaii’s farmers and ranchers, and a supporter of culinary education.
And it must be said that any book written about any cuisine in Hawaii is the story of a cuisine that has adapted itself to a dozen local cultures, all clambering for a place on the plate. With time they have all become adapted to one another – retaining their original character to be sure – but ultimately, unique to Hawaii.
So even though Namkoong takes these recipes back to her immigrant grandparents – and sometimes even further back to their origins on the Korean peninsula – time and circumstance have pulled them toward the local wok, or local Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, or native Hawaiian ingredients and sensibilities.
So, it’s memoir, and it’s history.
But let’s eat.
A Korean Kitchen is about Korean home cooking – the techniques, equipment and ingredients are well within the reach of any home cook who loves Korean food. If there’s a trick to getting it right, a special cut of meat, or a Hawaiian habit that distinguishes it, she lets you know.
Go nuts with kimchi, the book has four different recipes, but as Namkoong says, “hundreds of varieties of kimchi are made in Korea, with almost any kind of vegetable,” and there’s nothing to stop you, either.
And once you made “Basic Korean Sauce” you’re down with all kinds of Korean-style braised short ribs and other meat dishes. Pibimpap (bibimbap), the rice bowl dish now wildly popular in California, is in there with all of its components, as well as sauces, noodles and lots of things you’ve never heard of on the Mainland.
If you’re a transplanted Islander, this book will touch your heart – there’s no place like Hawaii, and A Korean Kitchen is Hawaii all-the-way. If you’re a lonely tourist, it’s a vacation on a plate. And if you simply love Korean food, it’s an accessible entry to the Korean table.
Order A Korean Kitchen from Mutual Publishing (mutualpublishing.com), or Amazon.com; unless you live in Hawaii, you probably won’t find it in your local bookstore.
BRAISED SHORT RIBS
Reprinted with permission from A Korean Kitchen: Traditional Recipes with an Island Twist by Joan Namkoong, Mutual Publishing.
Basic Korean Sauce
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/3 cup sugar (or honey)
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
- ¼ cup finely chopped green onions
Measure all ingredients in a bowl, and whisk together. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more honey or sugar if desired.
For the Short Ribs….
Among Namkoong’s notes on the dish, she suggests braising the short ribs a day ahead and refrigerating the dish overnight, which makes it easier to skim some of the fat off the dish before serving.
- 3 pounds thick cut short ribs
- 2 tablespoons oil
- ½ cup Basic Korean Sauce (see above)
- 3 cups beef stock (or water)
- 1 small white radish (daikon)
- 1 carrot
- Chopped green onion for garnish
Use a saucepan that is deep and wide and will hold the short rib pieces in one layer. Heat over medium-high setting; add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the short ribs and cook about 3 to 5 minutes. When they are nicely browned and crusty, turn them over and cook the other side. Transfer the short ribs to a plate and drain the oil from the pan.
Place the saucepan back on the burner and add the Basic Korean Sauce and the stock. Bring to a boil, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the short ribs to the pan. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
Peel the radish and carrot and cut into bite-size chunks. Add the short ribs and cook, uncovered. Continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and the meat is fork tender. Leaving the cover off will reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor a little.
When the meat and vegetables are cooked, serve at once over hot rice, garnishing with green onions. If you want the sauce to be thicker, make a slurry of 2 tablespoons each cornstarch and water. Remove the short ribs and vegetables with a slotted spoon. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the cornstarch slurry; cook for 1 minute. Return the short ribs and vegetables to the pan and cook together for another minute. Serve at once.