Cook Korean food like a pro

Korean food is having a moment. And it’s not just about kimchi or fried chicken.

You can see it in new cookbooks that celebrate both traditional and contemporary expressions of the cuisine. And in the growing interest among chefs and home cooks, who are loving the sweet, spicy, pungent flavors of Korean gochujang (red chili paste), gochugaru (red chili flakes) and doenjang (soybean paste).

Researching their guidebook-like “Koreatown: A Cookbook” (Potter, $30), chef Deuki Hong of Kang Ho Dong Baekjong in Manhattan and Brooklyn-based food writer Matt Rodbard spent two years eating at Korean-American restaurants across the United States. Along the way, they visited communities from Los Angeles to Minneapolis and New York to Atlanta.

“I hate to use the word trend because that goes against what we write about in ‘Koreatown,’ ” Rodbard says. “This food has been here since the ’70s. That said, there is more media coverage and new restaurants opening.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is that Korean-American chefs of various backgrounds have left the fine-dining world and decided to go home. They are cooking the food they grew up eating using their fine-dining chops.”

Among those chefs, Jiyeon Lee and her husband Cody Taylor, the owners of Atlanta’s Heirloom Market BBQ, are a former Korean pop star from Seoul and a barbecue pit master from Texas. The couple met while working at an upscale bistro. Now they make Korean-American barbecue like gochujang-rubbed pork loin.

“My goal is to introduce Korean food to America,” Lee says. “But I want it to be a fusion of flavors, not a confusion. And I think we do that.”

A good example from “Koreatown” is Lee and Taylor’s Korean Sloppy Joe. It’s a recipe that subs pork for beef and adds a marinade of garlic, ginger, gochujang, sesame oil and soy sauce to spice up the iconic American “loose-meat” sandwich, served at Heirloom with okra kimchi.

But Lee sees Americans being attracted to more traditional Korean dishes and dining experiences, too.

When I take friends, especially chefs, to Korean restaurants, they are fascinated by the style of eating,” Lee says. “We don’t eat course by course. It’s everything at once at one table. And it’s all about balance. We have all the banchan side dishes, with different temperatures, textures, and flavors from sweet, spicy, salty and acid.”

On the more obscure side of the exploration, “Koreatown” features a recipe for Sweet Soy-Braised Chicken from Yet Tuh Korean Restaurant in the North Atlanta suburb of Doraville. The roots of the fragrant, multi-ingredient dish, prized as Andong Jjimdak, are said to go back to a city in east-central Korea.

Possibly the most accessible and entertaining take on the current state of Korean food adventures is “Cook Korean!” by Robin Ha (Ten Speed Press, $19.99). Ha moved from Korea to the United States when she was 14. Later, as a cartoonist and illustrator who wanted to learn to cook the dishes her single mom made for her, she started a blog, Banchan in 2 Pages, that became a comic book with recipes.

“Basically, I taught myself how to make this food I grew up with,” Ha says. “So the book is geared toward people like me who absolutely have no idea how to cook anything. And if I can make this food, you can definitely make it.”

At the recent AJC Decatur Book Festival, Ha demonstrated her recipe for Soy Garlic Beef Over Rice (Bulgogi Dupbap) and talked about Korean marinades.

Though most of the recipes in the book are equally basic and traditional, Ha has a chapter on Korean fusion that includes fun recipes for chicken tacos and beef burgers.

“When I moved here in 1995, I thought Korean food would never be popular, because it was so spicy and so pungent,” she says. “But look at it now. You see Korean taco trucks everywhere. Our food has become an ambassador for our culture.”


These recipes illustrate both traditional and contemporary expressions of increasingly popular Korean cooking. Shop for the essential ingredients, including gochujang (red chili paste), gochugaru (red chili flakes) and doenjang (soybean paste), as well as soy sauce, fish sauce, toasted sesame seeds and toasted sesame oil, at Korean grocery stores and Asian markets.

Soy Garlic Beef Over Rice (Bulgogi Dupbap) from Robin Ha

Bulgogi means fire meat. Thinly sliced beef chuck steak is most often used in this dish, but you can also use chicken or pork. Traditionally, Asian pear is used in the marinade to make the meat tender and sweet. Ha substitutes kiwi, which is easier to find at most grocery stores and tenderizes the meat more quickly than Asian pear. You can find thinly sliced, frozen beef for bulgogi at Korean grocery stores.

1 ½ pounds round eye beef chuck, bulgogi cut and blotted dry

1 medium yellow onion

8 cloves garlic

1 (1/2 inch) piece fresh ginger

½ small kiwi

5 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons soju (Korean rice liquor)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 ½ tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 green onions, white and green parts, plus thinly sliced green onions, for garnish

5 shitake mushroom caps

4 cups freshly cooked rice

Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

To make the marinade

Peel the yellow onion, garlic, ginger and kiwi. Chop the kiwi and half of the onion into chunky pieces. Blend the chopped onion and kiwi with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and the pepper.

Put a layer of beef in a rectangular container and cover it with a generous amount of marinade. Repeat until there’s no more beef and marinade left. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.

To make the bulgogi

Cut the remaining half of the onion into thin slices and cut the green onions into 3-inch pieces. Cut the shitake mushroom caps into thin slices.

Heat a pan over high heat with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and sauté the beef for a minute, then add the yellow onions, green onions, and shitake mushrooms and sauté for a few more minutes, until all the ingredients are cooked.

Serve over freshly cooked rice and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions on top for garnish.

Serves: 4

Per serving: 759 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 41 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 32 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 104 milligrams cholesterol, 1,379 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Cook Korean!” by Robin Ha (Ten Speed Press, $19.99).

Korean Sloppy Joe from Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta, GA

While the classic recipe calls for ground beef to be cooked with onions and a sweet homemade barbecue sauce, this Korean version is all about the pork. The simple and delicious marinade consists of some classic Koreatown flavors: garlic, ginger, gochujang, sesame oil and soy sauce. When used in a loose-meat-sandwich format, it really can be a surprising curveball to get you out of a weeknight cooking rut. It’s best served with a pickle and okra kimchi, which is how they do it at Heirloom Market BBQ.

1 pound ground pork

1-inch knob of ginger, grated

6 garlic cloves, chopped

5 tablespoons gochugang

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 hamburger buns

1 cup diced onion

Pickles, for serving (optional)

Okra Kimchi (recipe follows), for serving (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the pork, ginger, garlic, gochujang, sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce and black pepper. Marinate 2 hours, or preferably overnight, in the refrigerator.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat with the vegetable oil. When shimmering-hot, sauté the diced onions for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly, or until soft. Add marinated pork and sauté, stirring, just until fully cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain any residual fat, if needed.

While the pork cooks, toast the buns.

Divide the meat and place it onto the buns. Serve with pickles and a side of okra kimchi.

Serves: 4

Per serving: 531 calories (percent of calories from fat, 57), 25 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 33 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 82 milligrams cholesterol, 1,850 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Koreatown” by Matt Rodbard and Deuki Hong (Clarkson Potter, $30).

<<Click here for Heirloom's kimchi slaw recipe

Okra Kimchi

1 pound okra

8 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

½ cup sugar

1 cup coarse gochugaru

1 tablespoon onion powder

½ tablespoon black pepper

¼ cup kosher salt

Cut off the stems of the okra and cut the pods lengthwise.

Place the garlic and ¼ cup of water in a blender and blend until finely chopped. Add the vinegar, sugar, gochugaru, onion powder, black pepper, salt and 1½ cups of water. Blend until the sugar is completely dissolved.

In a large bowl, mix the okra with the sauce. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Okra kimchi lasts up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Makes: 1 quart, including brine

Per 1/4-cup serving: 73 calories (percent of calories from fat, 16), 2 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 1 gram fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 919 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Koreatown” by Matt Rodbard and Deuki Hong (Clarkson Potter, $30).

Sweet Soy-Braised Chicken (Andong Jjimdak) From Yet Tuh Korean Restaurant, Doraville

Andong Jjimdak is based around the union of soy sauce, sugar, rice syrup, sake and oyster sauce. A handful of dried red chili peppers gives the sweetness a distinct kick. Andong is a city in east-central Korea, and some have traced the roots of this dish to a section of Andong Gu Market called Chicken Alley. It is there, they say, the dish was conceived in the 1980s as a way of competing with (or possibly joining) the growing Korean fried chicken craze.

2 pounds chicken thighs or legs

Kosher salt and black pepper

¹⁄³ cup soy sauce, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons mirin

¼ cup sugar, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon Korean rice or corn syrup

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1½ tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice

1 medium carrot, cut into large dice

1 medium onion, cut into large dice

4 scallions, trimmed

8 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup roughly chopped cabbage

8 dried Korean or Anaheim chili peppers

1½ cups chicken stock

1 cup dried sweet potato noodles, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained

Sesame seeds, for garnish

Lightly season chicken thighs all over with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, rice syrup, oyster sauce, sake, sesame oil and 1 teaspoon black pepper.

Set a large, high-sided saute pan or Dutch oven on high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is lightly smoking, add the chicken, skin side down, and sear for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Flip and sear the other side for another 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Add the potatoes, carrot, onion, scallion, garlic, cabbage and dried chilis, along with the soy sauce mixture and 1 cup of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and lower heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through. Stir in sweet potato noodles. Add more stock if needed to keep the dish saucy. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, soy sauce and sugar; you’re looking for a balance of sweet, salty and spicy. Serve with sesame seeds.

Serves: 4-6

Per serving, based on 4: 730 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 41 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 41 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 151 milligrams cholesterol, 1,581 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from “Koreatown” by Matt Rodbard and Deuki Hong (Clarkson Potter, $30).

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