Now That's Tasty!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Always trust a free hot first

I had no initial concerns, then I read the box.

There should be no need to so fervently profess the authenticity of the worlds most infamous mystery meat. Whether 100% beef or 50% 'animal' byproducts, as long as its delicious I could honestly care less. Maybe you think this is the wrong approach for a self-professed foodie. Or, maybe you and your stomach aren't as realistic as mine when it comes to the discrepancy between what's good tasting and good for you. 

As the fates would have it, only a hot dog that comes with such lofty promises of pure meat derived delectability would be so utterly disappointing.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Local's Lunch

Long weekends and local fare—who could ask for more? Spending it on a sub-tropical island formed by a 2 million year old volcanic eruption is a start.

Jeju island is located several hundred kilometers off the southern tip of Korea and boasts lush forests, beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, pooched, but pretty volcanoes, the tallest mountain in the country, even two Natural World Heritage Sites: Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. Situated in the Korea Strait, southwest of Jeollanam-do Province, Jeju-do is Korea's largest island and only special autonomous province.

While wildlife and exotic plant species lurk all over the sprawling peaks of this picturesque island, it's the animals that roam the lowlands and frolic in the azure waters that are worthy of note. Why, you ask? Well, they're the ones that will find their way to my plate.

Operating on a fully orchestrated tour we didn't have the freedom to seek out specific Jeju specialties, however, we were catered to quite nicely. Famous for tangerines, fish, and most especially, black pig, Jeju-do is a pretty decent place to get your eating game on.

Our first encounter with the indigenous cuisine was aptly titled, "The Local's Lunch" on the menu. Mackerel is probably the most common fish around Korea, and it's without a doubt the most budget friendly. Dried, fried, grilled, boiled, stewed, soft, hard, skinned, seasoned...I haven't seen stuffed...mackerel is everywhere and served in every form imaginable. On that day, we were treated to an exceptional feast of fried mackerel, with some boiled octopus and a host of other tasty side dishes. Butterflied and fried whole, what at times can be a dense and meaty fish became light and flaky. Its blue-steel colored skin turned to a golden shimmer, was crisp and popping with salty, delicious flavour. Sided by some chewy but fresh tasting boiled octopus, a jellyfish salad, gosari namul (a type of boiled fern, which I formerly thought to be taro root), seaweed salad, and of course, kimchi.

Some delish fish is all well and good, but when it comes down to it, let's get to the meat! Jeju-do is famous the country over for its breed of local Black Pig (heuk-doe-ji). These small, smooth black-haired bundles of joy came from a unique upbringing with 'bore' their name, aside from just the color of their coif. Until about the 1960s, these pigs were kept almost exclusively as a means to dispose of human waste. Housed in sites built below outdoor lavatories, these are maybe the only animals to ever exclusively eat whatever their owners did--just about 12 hours later. Now fed in a more conventional manner, the richness and unique chewy texture is said to have suffered as a result.

While I am unsure of what our black pigs were served for lunch, they certainly served us well. I was hoping we would indulge in a classic Korean-BBQ style meal for this one so that we could have the untainted, pure grilled experience with this cut of meat, however, what we got wasn't half bad either. Stir-fried and saucy with a sweet gochujang (chili sauce) style marinade, some green onion, fresh garlic, and the late addition of gosari namul (thank god I know what that is now), this swine was pretty divine. I must admit that while the flavour of the meat does deliver a distinctly different depth from most other pork I've eaten the chewiness from the large outer rim of fat wasn't particularly appealing. I'm a man who keeps his fat on his meat at all times. The rich, buttery flavour of most meats is only enhanced through marbling and the melting of all the pervasive juices from the soft fats into the animal as it cooks. This fat, however, made me feel like I was chewing on a rubber band. It unfortunately offered no real flavour and was so unnecessary that I actually began to disassemble fat from meat, part way through the meal. I felt like I was turning my back on a family member.

Taking a pre-cook look
So, that got to me a bit, but overall the meal was delicious. The marinade was punchy and the contrast of the sweet pork and the somewhat spicy sauce was excellent. The best pieces began to caramelize slightly on the bottom of the pan and in the end, our table was left sitting around wondering if we could get more meat, while the rest of the baby-bellied group left to the lavatories. Maybe they were just trying to give back to the restaurants personal pig farm?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

My heart goes out to you

Cupid was right on target when he speared these chicken hearts, and he's seemed to strike his arrow through mine, too.

Chicken hearts at Mercados Brazilian BBQ...oh, how I love you!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cooking with the kinder

It's thanksgiving time in South Korea, which means layers of elaborate silk clothing called Hanbok, small pilgrimages to ancestral origins and songpyeon.

Small, crescent shaped rice cakes made from glutenous rice dough, stuffed with sweet and semi sweet filling, generally consisting of ground sesame seeds, brown sugar, honey, red bean or chestnut paste, and steamed over pine needles; songpyeon are traditionally made with the participation of the whole family and exchanged between neighbors during the autumn harvest festival, Chuseok. 

Incredibly simple to make and tastier than a fervent dessert denier such as myself might expect. My Hambok-clad munchkins and I partook in the tradition of constructing songpyeon just prior to the start of the holiday season. My children might have the dexterity of a paw-less doberman, but with some help, and my early engagement in the act of sharing with one's neighbor, we (the proverbial 'we') managed to crank out a pretty decent batch of goodies. 

Pink and white glutenous rice dough and filling of ground sesame seeds and brown sugar


I'll be the next special guest on the Ajjima (grandmother) Cooking Network 
Had to include a couple shots of my kids and I...mainly, the always entertaining, energetic and totally bat-shit-crazy, Jon!

Describing that look as mischievous would only downgrade the meaning of the word.

Living the life of a dinosaur, in the body of a 5-year-old boy, in the suit of a sexually ambiguous emperor

The happy family

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

There are still good people in this world

So it is true. Amidst the derelicts and the scoundrels, and those who care to care about nothing at all; there are still good people in this world. If for nothing else, I like to imagine that we all snake through life striving to make connections, and find meaning in them. Whether a minor encounter or a major relationship, who we meet, what we read, where we go, is always a product of why we've done it. Knowing why we do the things we do is not always such a simple task. "Because", just doesn't always cut it. Dissecting the truth from the tall tale requires us to establish an understanding of ourselves, as much as it begs us to extrapolate what we think we've learned from experiences in the past. It can prove difficult to clearly see ourselves through our own eyes, but, there are rare moments, minor fractions of time, where such clarity is achieved via the lens of another. At best, or for the worse, it's the people around us that reveal the real as well as the wrong. It's others that help us to identify where we've fallen short and when we have executed. For the unbiased observer, there is no picking sides, only picking through details. Insecurities can be ironed out with a warm remark. Comfort can come in the form of a friend. The overarching knowledge that there are still good people in the world makes doing good things worthwhile. Hold steadfast to your laurels, but don't let arrogance's intrigue get the better of you. "Be good for goodness' sake". The rest will fall into place. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

K-BBQ, I Heart You

Meat. Meat. Meat.

I hope I don't sound repetitive given my frequent oratories regarding the subject, but, there is so much to be said. The noble and neverending quest for the choicest of carnivorous cuts. To even attempt to overshadow such a simple yet profoundly important mission would be erronious. In constant pursuit for the purposes of personal passion, hunger, satisfaction; if I can lead but one more individual to their perfect bite—for the good of humankind.

If it's a simple carnal necessity to want meat, and more of it, it simply boggles my mind to think that too few know where to accrue it en masse. Sure, meat is everywhere. Your local grocer, the pub down the street, you've probably got a stack of steaks catching freezer burn in your very own home. But, where do the limits of your meat meals lie? Probably, before the limits of your appetite.

Too often I find myself trying to scrape the paint off my own plate for another forkful of food. Longingly eye-fucking the half-eaten tenderloin on the dish across from from me, waiting for my dining partner to throw in the towel so I can scour the remains. While my comportment may appear unbecoming in the minds of those reading this, understand that such seemingly ravenous behavior is carried out with great respect for those who dine with me. Along with such respect comes a great curiosity for what's keeping them from doing and thinking the same way as I do. I'm but a man, with a large appetite that is seldom satisfied until I'm overly satisfied. I do not only eat with the intention of stuffing myself. I eat because it tastes good...hopefully, really, really good. Furthermore, why should I stop if I've not broken through the seal of my belly button? Especially if there's still food in front of me. I am not a large man either, yet, I do not possess a very parsimonious disposition when the chow bell chimes. Sit me alongside your burliest mate and I'll likely eat him under the table.

Back home, believe me, I know where to patronize should I want to indulge in a nearly-never-ending assortment of gastronomical delights. Exercising in mild forms of gluttony is how we all treat ourselves once in a while, however you choose to do it. But, here in Korea, it is all too easy to get carried away. I'm hardly being careless, yet, it's impossible to decline an invite to a good old fashioned Korean BBQ restaurant when it comes your way. It also takes little convincing to corral my crew into accompanying me whenever my cravings kick in.

A tame table by K-BBQ standards & samgyeopsal and pig skin on the grill
There is no prerequisite for a restaurant to claim "All You Can Eat" status when you can fill up your tank with mountains of meat for anywhere from W8,000-20,000 (including beers). Yet, once you toss out the classic, one meat per grill, per order (which is strictly enforced and far different from my K-BBQ experiences back home) and replace it with the glory of an "All You Can Eat" price tag and a fully loaded locker of meat, you know we 'bout to be gettin' after it! Samgyeopsal, and samgyeopsal, and samgyeopsal, and samgyeopsal (translated: bacon strips, and bacon strips, and bacon strips, and bacon strips...)

Samgyeopsal (pork belly: literally translated "three (sam) layered (gyeop) flesh (sal)" for the three visible layers of meat and fat), dweji bulgogi (spicy marinated pork bulgogi), galbi (beef ribs), chadol baki (thin sliced brisket), deungshim gui (beef sirloin), anshim gui (beef tenderloin), dahk galbi (barbeque chicken), intestines of cow, ox, pig, chicken, pig skin, sausages, sausage patties, sauce on, sauce off, grill your own hand and gnaw on it for all I care; when it comes to eating meat 'round these parts, we don't take kindly to those who ain't down for the feast. Once you've grown accustomed to the process and the various intricacies that go along with grilling each cut, there are no limits to what one can accomplish at the dinner table. The grills come in various shapes and sizes, the sides may differ and cooking techniques conflict, but we're really all here for one thing.

Bottom line, if you're feeling like you're life is even marginally incomplete--maybe it's time you got on the meat.

Who needs a hostess when you're greeted with THAT! 

A look inside the mind of a meatatarian 
Just some appies
A beautiful grill of  high quality samgyeopsal, button, oyster and king oyster mushrooms, kimchi, onions and marinated mung bean sprouts

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Fish don't cry

Not much time for words, so simply gaze at the glory of an animal that was living but moments ago, that now rests on my plate.

If you've been previously uninformed as to my unrelenting lust, constant cravings, and deeply rooted adoration of raw fish; let it be known, if I could make sashimi my bitch and take it to bed every night, I would! Barring the coastal regions, in which I do not inhabit, all good natured sushi fiends who think they know anything about anything find themselves quibbling constantly with their counterparts as to who's got the freshest fish in town. We've all got our favourites, however, in the end, if you're living in land-lock your sea-fare is never as fresh as it could be.

Korea (Seoul or otherwise), on the other hand, does an exemplary job at ignoring the idea of freeze packing or fast-shipping their fish from the sea to the supermarket. With gargantuan fish markets located all over the country and countless restaurants displaying full tanks of still-breathing-swimming-living fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and holothurians (sea cucumbers, sea urchin, ect.), if you want fresh fish, there's no doubt when you know you've found it.

Having indulged in many of the aforementioned species out here in Korea, for a twisted-minded sushi addict like me, there's nothing quite like watching the slice of a knife through a fishes head, followed by a speedy, yet, supremely precise: clean - gut - fillet - skin - sashimi maneuver. Turning live animal into delicate and delicious slices of sashimi within minutes is an experience I'd always dreamed about, but never realized, until my first trip to the Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market in Seoul in late May; feasting on a whole flounder for a mere W20,000 (under $20), that comfortably fed three, along with some sannakji (live octopus). I recently returned to Busan, Korea's second largest city, on the southern coast of Korea, and had the pleasure of dining on out-the-tank red snapper (W30,000/1.5kg whole fish) at the famed Jagalchi Fish Market.

I'd go into lengthy descriptions of the untainted freshness, the exquisite texture and the altogether alluring appearance, but, if you're one of those "good natured sushi fiends who think they know anything about anything" about raw fish; you know this is as good as it gets!

Freshly beheaded flounder @ Noryangjin Fish Market, Seoul

Flounder sashimi

He may not look so happy, but we said a prayer just before the execution of this tasty red snapper

Fresh red snapper sashimi @ Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The things no one wants to hear and no one cares to know

I'm not sure why I keep thinking that tomorrow is Friday. One always wants the week to end, but this one needs to.

I apologize to all of the hungry readers out there for serving up a skint portion of literature over the past week or so. Fear not, for my appetite has not dwindled. More like the Sous-Chef has burned down the kitchen. A bit of re-plastering and some tidying up and the doors to Chez Finestone should be pumping out the goods once again. More apologies for the flurry of vagueness and overly-cryptic idioms that may flow onto the page momentarily. This is what some guy with bifocals, a notepad and a PHD sitting on the couch across from you might call an 'exercise'.

There are two possible outcomes that might occur if a Chef attempts to prepare their "dream menu"--overwhelming success, or cataclysmic failure. There is no in-between in such a scenario. One has a vision of greatness and perfection, aspirations of pure genius and unfathomable reverence. Any insecurities must be thrown into the slop bucket and confidence in ones calculation, execution and the desired outcome can be the only drivers.

Success happens when all of the aforementioned elements fall into place as imagined and attempted. Failure, on the other hand is not always the result of a collapse on the line; overcooking the tenderloin, botching your ratios in the reduction or scorching your sear may not, in fact, be the cause of your demise; maybe your patrons just don't like what you've served them. "It's not bad." or "I would have done that differently." are as unacceptable, if not more detrimental to ones idea of achievement as having to call the fire department because of a grease fire in the middle of service. When you know that you have performed beyond your best, made it all happen from start to finish, yet still fallen short of your goal is when the psyche takes a true hit.

One now has to think of what could have been done differently; immediately, one laments that nothing could have been altered. How can you change perfection?! The more analysis, the more deconstruction, the more excuses one begins to make. All that eventually remains is a mess of dirty dishes, and your soap has run out.

As mentally depleting as such an instance may be, as much as failure comes in many forms, one has the ability to move past it in many ways, as well. Sure, the option to throw in the apron is always available, but, so is the prospect of growth and change, an increase of perspective and personal expectations, or, maybe you were in fact doing it right all along.

Ferran Adria, generally regarded as the greatest chef to ever live, spent most of the first decade of his career as Head Chef at his, now Michelin 3-Star rated restaurant, El Bulli, with a near-empty dining room. At times, waiting weeks on end for a single customer to visit his remote establishment on the Spanish coast of Catalonia, Adria was busy concocting some of the most unique, inventive and incredibly delicious gastronomical creations to ever be ingested. Recently, El Bulli permanently closed its doors to begin a new chapter in what has turned out to be an award winning career for Adria and accolades such as Restaurant Magazine's "Best Restaurant in the World" a record 5-times.

While it's never convenient, and undoubtedly unwelcome, perhaps there is some resonance in admitting that some of the greatest success that one might enjoy in life, only fail at the outset as a result of when rather than how. 

If one is stubborn, or more importantly, confident enough to keep on pursuing what could be nothing but the right thing, the perfect pairing, then it's only a matter of time before one is able to admire the product of ones persistence. Those who never fall short will never truly know what it is to attain. Those who will not accept failure will always know that they have strived to realize their passion. As for me, I'd rather go down in a hellstorm of fire then flicker out like a feeble flame.