Monday, November 23, 2009

Literal scrap iron chef.

Alton Brown had an episode of Good Eats a while back in which he was challenged by a geriatric cook in a junk yard to produce food using only what they could muster out of the heaps and heaps of refuse at their, uh, disposal. It was a great premise, to challenge a creative mind to force a culinary master piece out of a muffler and a used diaper. Actually, I'm not certain he used a diaper, but if he had it truly would have been a stroke of genius.

I'm the true Scrap Iron Chef. Alton was surrounded by a crew that assured he had what he needed in a pinch. I'm surrounded by Koreans who can't speak a word of English and who probably want me to die because of my mini surround sound system. My utensils are few: a plastic spatula, a metal whisk, and a cutting board shaped like a fish. My only heating source other than the microwave is a grime encrusted, off yellow hot plate that has probably seen the beginning and ending of the Cold War. When I first moved in, I was told that I "probably shouldn't use it because it's dangerous." I suppose he thought I could survive off of sandwiches and cereal.

Not to mention the language barrier in the super market. Coming here, I had no idea what to expect or, for that matter, what I could possibly make. I had Bulgogi once a long time ago, and even tried Korean BBQ out a month or so before coming out, but that's as far as my knowledge took me. It has been a journey of patience and persistence over these last three months that I've made any headway in to this once mysterious cuisine, but I like to think that I've come a long way from when I began.

I've made a few soups and a couple of dishes that have turned out well enough. Once again, my utensils are adequate at best, and my pans are miracle workers considering the environment. Imagine if Kobe Bryant had to dunk in the coldest nebula of outer space every night and you might understand. His very molecular structure would be ripped apart. My pans keep my person together. I also want you to understand that if I can do it, you can do it. It's incredibly simple. Most of these recipes I've made through tasting similar products at restaurants and guessing.

This is a re-introduction to this blog, because I've kind of lost my way writing. It started as a chronicling of my life in Seoul, and is now transforming in to a food blog. I think most of my life revolves around food and I'm alright with that.

Take tonight for instance. I've discovered that from November to March is prime oyster season in Korea, and it's apparent from the oyster samples I've come across in the markets. Yes, samples. I was weary at first to try an oyster that was just sitting there. It looked like it had an hour long reservation in the bathroom written all over it. But after eating it, whatever happened next was forgiven. It truly was an incredible oyster. And so I bought a sleeve of them, or whatever it's called. It was a friggen plastic bag with about twenty inside for around 2,000 Won ($1.75).

What I made tonight is called Gul Jeon. Jeon is something fried, like a pancake or a tempura dish. Korean pancakes aren't anything like what Americans call pancakes. They're more akin to the Chinese style chive pancake that you might have come across in a restaurant. They're crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, kind of like Kurt Russell.

Gul Jeon (Korean oyster pancakes)

Ingredients: About 20 oysters, 3 TBS flour, 1 egg, 3 TBS chives or onion greens, 1 finely diced red pepper, salt, pepper, olive oil.

- Drain the oysters and then pat them dry. Add the flour to a plastic bag and then add the oysters. Give it a shake until all of them are coated. Preheat the skillet.

- Finely chop the chives/onion greens and the red pepper. I made a mitstake by slicing the red pepper, and let me tell you, taking a bite out with two or three of them together was like Montezuma's Revenge. Or will be.

- Beat the egg with the salt and pepper, and then add the oysters and vegetables. It's going to look like cat vomit. There's no getting around that.

- Add a little olive oil to the pan and then spoon oysters individually in to the skillet. Fry until brown on both sides.

I served these to myself alongside cod that I poached in butter and cucumbers marinated in brown rice vinegar. I also had some vinegar on the side to dip the pancakes in. Who says you can't eat fancy off of fifty cent plates? Who gives a damn? I'm living on the edge, two opposites attracted and compressed in a 15x15 box in the middle of Seoul. I'm going to add some class to this place one plate at a time.

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