Monday, August 27th, 2012

My Doomed Attempt To Make Jjajangmyeon At Home

A series about foods we miss and our quests to recreate them.

When I was little my father used to take me and my brothers into L.A.'s Koreatown after Korean Church. We would often stop by the Joonggook jip (Korean-Chinese restaurant) for a steaming bowl of my favorite lunch, jjajangmyeon, a roasted black soybean sauce served over hand-pulled thick wheat noodles. My father would always tuck a paper napkin under my chin, since the inky sauce was liable to leave flecky dark-brown stains on my white Sunday shirt.

Now I'm grown, and I no longer feel comfortable wearing a makeshift bib in public. To avoid visible stains I [...]


How To Make Sofrito, The DIY Condiment

It’s morning in the American supermarket. As the Sriracha rooster crows, Jemima, a working mother, drops the kids off at Miss Butterworth’s daycare. Liquid-Plumr (call him Joe) dreams of a better life and lower taxes, and it’s all lion dances and bar mitzvahs in the ethnic aisle with Messieurs La Choy and Manischewitz. Corporations are people, too, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that even the most storied and iconic brand sauces and flavor bases started out as somebody’s homemade recipe. So let’s come home to Sofrito, the condiment you can make yourself.

The word “sofrito” derives from the Catalan verb “sofrefir”—to fry lightly. A sofrito is generally understood [...]


Taco Crawls And Crypt Visits! A Topographical Tour Of Oakland

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I like cities with a little grit and texture, with character. And just like with people, it’s the ups and downs that build character, not sunshine and lollipops. Oakland is a city of highs and lows. And it knows it. Lately, some things have been looking up. There’s been some smart growth downtown, and Oakland managed a spot on The New York Times’ list of "places to go in 2012." But unlike some of its more glamorous neighbors, Oakland still feels grounded and inclusive, [...]


Acid Flashback: A Cook’s Playlist Of Vinegars That Rock

Vinegar is the classic rock of condiments. You know it’s in the house, and you know it’s kinda timeless and it’ll keep for years, so you keep it on the pantry shelf behind all those indie-label spices and sauces. You rock it a few times a year when you’re doing some household cleaning, but you don’t think about it when you’re trying to get dinner on the table.

Vinegar is so deeply ingrained in our history and culture, and so formative of our palates, that it’s easy to overlook and underuse. Human beings have been using it for about 10,000 years. Hannibal used it to crumble rocks that blocked [...]


It's Time To Set Your Fish Sauce Free

Sometimes it seems to me that practically everybody in America is a little uptight when it comes to Asian fish sauce. I mean, some folks are closed off to any condiment that might taste or smell “fishy,” while others are intent on dusting off the hand-hammered iron wok and slavishly chasing the dragon on that authentic dining experience in Phuket. To the former group I’d say, the tree of globalism can only grow tall when good men and women eat challenging ethnic food. Also, fish sauce is really not that fishy. To the latter: I respect that purist’s sensibility, but it’s also okay to use authentic Asian things in nontraditional [...]


Pomegranate Molasses: The Sweet-And-Sour Syrup

Pomegranates: beautiful and delicious, but they scare me a little. All those little geometrically arranged blood-red seed pods embedded in fleshy nutritive pulp. If M.C. Escher, H.R Giger and H.P. Lovecraft got together and designed a fruit, it would be the pomegranate. I’m not alone in my ambivalence. Some say it was a pomegranate, not an apple, with which the serpent tempted Eve under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And if in some ancient cultures, the pomegranate was a symbol of fertility and abundance it was also, according to Greek myth, the Fruit of the Dead that trapped Persephone in the underworld. [...]


Veggie Moussaka With Puy Lentils

As we settle into the long, cold, dark days that come with the final slog through winter, we—your pals from The Awl and The Hairpin—will be bringing you some of our favorite casserole recipes (and crockery recommendations). But these won’t be just any old casseroles! No, no, that won't do at all. These are fancy casseroles—or at least, not-gross ones.

Mama didn’t make casseroles. Because I grew up on (more or less) traditional Korean food, I’m not a native speaker when it comes to American culinary classics. Tamale pie and tuna casserole are ethnic foods to me. I was 19 when I first tasted mac ‘n’ [...]


Habanero Salsa: Chase The Dragon

This is a most auspicious time. The Year of the Dragon is upon us, and as we venture boldly into 2012, towards the edge of the Mayan calendar, let’s turn up the heat with Yucatecan habanero salsa. The dragon is the symbol of transformational power, denoting endless possibility. Habanero salsa is, for my money, the most transformative and versatile condiment you can have on your table. It imparts heat and depth into any savory dish, along with a slightly floral and fruity, yet dry and earthy, flavor profile, and just the right acid balance.

First, a little background on the habanero chili pepper. It’s a thin-skinned, heart-shaped pepper about [...]


Gochujang: Korean Go-to, All-In-One Magic Chile Sauce

Our relationships with condiments can become rote: ketchup/fries, mustard/hotdog, salsa/chips—even sriracha/pho. We robotically dip, drizzle and douse without a conscious thought. In this column, we'll be trying to shake up our collective condiment consciousness. Proust wrote, "The only real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes," and with that in mind, I thought I'd take you along in search of lost time—to my first condiment: Gochujang.

As a Korean kid growing up in American Samoa, I was part of a subculture made up of the families of Korean fishermen and sailors that had sprung up around the tuna industry of the South Pacific. [...]