Tilting pork fat

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I’m in Korea again.  This time, it’s not primarily for cookbook research, but more for family reasons.  It’s such a short trip, a few days in Seoul, then Guam (don’t ask), then Lunar New Year back in Seoul and a flight back to JFK the next day.  Of course, I am taking advantage of the unique opportunities Seoul presents.

Like eating pork belly on a tilted grill.

I can’t even remember the name, it’s just a new place in the alleys near the Gangnam subway station, that my cousin and I went to last night.  The samgyupssal or pork belly is served with your usual accompaniments—perilla leaves, red leaf lettuce, scallion salad—but also with thin slices of sticky rice cake that you use to wrap around your grilled bit of pork.  It wasn’t so good that I would urge you to rush there, but pork is pork, always enjoyable, and I really liked the chewy, tactile layer around the crisp belly.

I also love that the grill is tilted, not only to drain the fat off the pork, but to direct the fat towards the kimchi and mushrooms.  The edges of the kimchi got crispy, and the thick cabbage almost invisibly absorbed so much clear, golden fat, you could almost pretend you didn’t know why this kimchi had a particularly delicious flavor.

The night before, after sleeping all day, I had gone with my parents to our favorite kalguksu place where the noodles are handmade and the jokbal, or boiled pig’s foot, glistens like caramel.  They pile the plate high with bones, trotters, and thick, quivering slices skin, layered on top of fat, layered on top of meat.  It does almost taste like caramel, with a slick, rich feel in your mouth.  (No wonder it tastes like caramel – it’s cooked with black taffy, as well as soybean paste and ginger.)

You eat it the same way you eat so many Korean meats — wrapped up with lettuce, ssamjang or bean paste, and maybe a slice or two of raw garlic and hot pepper, though you might start with a swipe through salted shrimp sauce.  Koreans really love the briny flavors of seafood with the melting flavors of pork.

I asked my mom how to make jokbal, and she had this look in her eyes like, “Oh God, she’s going to want to include it in her cookbook.”  She quickly said, “You boil it, but you can’t do it at home!”  Don’t worry, dear mother, I won’t be experimenting with pig’s feet at home, at least not for this cookbook.

I am embarrassed to admit that I tried to gnaw on a trotter, but I couldn’t really follow through.  Looking at the cleaned bones, I felt a little bit like a beast.  A wolf, maybe.

My cousin has invited me to have dinner with her again tonight — more pork.  She says this place has neck meat to die for.

My mother’s friend told me that if you dream about pigs, that means good luck.  Having eaten so much pork, I would think pigs would be flying through my dreams by now.

Sandong Son Kalguksu or (Sandong Handmade Knife-Cut Noodles), 3473-7972, Seocho-gu, Seocho-2-dong 1365.

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7 Responses to “Tilting pork fat”

  1. James Says:

    I love jokbal and it is my Mother in laws favorite dish. Once when she came to visit I cooked it for her. Lets just say she was shocked that her white son cooked her jokbal. But I don’t think she belived it until the UPS truck showed up with some nice shanks with trotters attached.

    She lives in LA Korea Town but said mine were great. I know she liked them cause she keep eatting them. My father in law also liked them and he is not a big fan. So yes you can cook them at home. So include the recipe in the cook book.

    BTW: have a nice trip! And I don’t know the name of the place but we were staying at the Intercontinental hotel coex, under ground close to the subway station we found a hallway with restaurants one was a country style type place. The food was worth the trip.

  2. Grace Says:

    Do you have a recipe you can recommend? Diane and I have been trying to focus on dishes that are traditionally cooked at home (though “traditionally” is pretty loose, depending on what decade you’re looking at), as well as foods for which the ingredients are relatively easy to source outside of Korea, but a significant portion of the recipes we’re considering are ones for dishes that people really miss when they’re not in Korea. I keep adding recipes, and I have to stop!

  3. Don Cuevas Says:

    Is that a…a…slice of American cheese under the pork in the second picture down from the top?

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

  4. James Says:

    Grace, my wife found a lot of tips from this site. http://missyusa.com/mainpage/content/index.asp
    Here is what I did. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK-Kwu0UGbQ But when I made them for the Mother In Law I used the lower part of the leg and foot. Here is a pic of them. http://www.flickr.com/photos/40726522@N02/3825183725/

    If I lived in an area whre I could buy them for the most part I would. It is kind of like making tamales making a big batch is a good idea. But a small batch is not worth the effort.

  5. Grace Says:

    Ha ha, for once, no. It’s the thinly sliced tteok or rice cake I was telling you about. They’ve colored it yellow, probably with food coloring, though using natural food coloring is also common. It’s similar to the consistency of Japanese mochi, if you’ve ever had that, with a kind of tacky feel. Koreans do love their American cheese, though.

    I’ve realized I say “Koreans this” and “Koreans that” all the time, which is probably not totally right. A friend of mine once told me it reminded him of the way Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh likes to say, “Tiggers don’t like this!” and “Tiggers like that!”

  6. Grace Says:

    That is so impressive! It looks absolutely delicious. Must have been pretty exciting to eat it when you can’t buy it easily!

  7. James Says:

    From my house the closest jokbal is 4 1/2 hours away. I don’t crave it very often so usually its not a problem but some times I just have to have it and Bosam just won’t do.

    “Tiggers don’t like this!” and “Tiggers like that!” ROFL

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