This isn’t your halmoni’s yuk gae jang.
I’ve been in love with Korean cooking for years, ever since I dated a Korean cowboy-type from Tulsa during my days of indentured servitude in grad school. He came from a family of amazing cooks and it really showed. Being me, I learned everything I could from him and then some, with the help of a basic, but now out-of-print cookbook.
The dishes that probably spring to mind when you think of Korean food are kimchi, savory-sweet bulgogi or my entry in the grilled-meats-that-can-make-you-weep contest galbee, but my favorite has always been yuk gae jang. It’s a beef soup so spicy with hot pepper paste it’ll turn your tongue inside-out. And I’m a fire eater, so you know, be careful if you order this in a restaurant.
Traditional versions of this soup still crop up in my kitchen from time to time, but over the years I’ve bastardized the recipe to make it more veg friendly. It’s meat-free, not vegetarian, but it’d be easy enough to substitute a mushroomy vegetable broth if you want to avoid animal products entirely.
Can you handle the heat?
I tweaked the basic recipe I last posted by making the stock with roasted meaty marrow bones to deepen the beef flavor. To increase the umami even more, I sautÃ©ed porcini mushrooms until they’d caramelized, then added them to the pot along with thinly sliced portobellos. It was just what I wanted that evening to warm my bones after the long greyhound hike, but was even better two days later when I stirred a couple of beaten eggs into the leftovers as they were reheating.
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But I’m always on the lookout for something new, as my overfilled bookmarks folder and Google docs will confirm. One of the more recent entries was a truly vegetarian option from 101 Cookbooks, Giant Chipotle White Beans. It was a last-minute decision, so I didn’t have time to soak any of my Rancho Gordo selections; instead, I cracked open the two cans of beans we had in the pantry — cannellinis and garbanzos. It wasn’t as weird as you’d think when all was said and done, but I’d probably stick to just cannellinis in the future.
But I’m here to testify about the sauce, which was the star of the show — beautifully balanced, smoky and deceptively rich, and dead simple to make. (I doubled the sauce recipe so I could use the other half on pizza later in the week and think that was one of my better food decisions in a while. Truly spectacular.) The beans were topped with some Bulgarian feta I’ve had marinating downstairs for a couple of months, and even with the canned bean melange, the dish was a home run. We nearly ate it all in one sitting, but just managed to save enough for me to bring to work as leftovers. Yes, leftovers. Holy schmoley, this was good stuff.
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Real Kitchens 101: Your weekend lagniappe.