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French Food Roadtrip 4 - Roussillon and the Sea

French Food Roadtrip 4 – Roussillon and the Sea

[by Rowena Koh]

To be welcomed into someone’s home in France is to be taken on a journey. After a long and arduous flight, this kind of journey is most welcome, as it is experienced not by getting on yet another bus or car or train, but by sharing stories – stories told through words, to be sure, but mostly, through food.

The De Graves led me on an expedition through personal histories consisting of flavours that ranged from the soft sweetness of muscat wines to the intense saltiness of brined anchovies, and tastes that brought me from the earth to the sea and back again.

French Food Roadtrip 4 – Roussillon and the Sea

French Food Roadtrip 4 - Roussillon and the Sea

Oysters from Leucate

This epic voyage took place in and around Fitou, a small town near the Mediterranean Sea, known for its endless number of vineyards and caves (it has its own appellation d’origine contrôlée, a French certification granted to certain regions that produce wines and other agricultural products) and neighbouring oyster farms.  The wines are mostly of the Carignan variety, which must constitute 40% of any blend that come from this region, and are blended with Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The variety of sweet muscat known as Rivesaltes, also come from around these parts. The velvety, rich liquid of literally every single bottle we tasted fell effortlessly, tenderly down my throat, telling their own stories of where they came from through their subtle aromas of fruitiness and woodiness. The only infuriating part of the whole experience is knowing that the most aged and expensive of these bottles cost less than the cheapest, most harshly acidic bottle found in a Canadian liquor store. Sigh.

For me, the smoothness of these wines was eclipsed by the silky softness of the oysters grown in the adjacent Étang de Leucate. The water here is rich in plankton and other elements that make it an ideal spot for erecting poles upon which are draped ropes of growing oysters. Like an old sailor hardened by the harshness of the sea, these creatures are rather severe looking initially, its rough surface not exactly inviting you in, but once you manage to open them up, they become their own pretty little iridescent dishes, happily presenting you with a luxurious morsel that upon consumption, immediately transports you to the middle of the sun-drenched Mediterranean, moving slowly, calmly, in time with the rhythm of the sea.

It is the homecooked meal, though, that transports us from the present to the past. We were treated to the Pomme de terres farcies, a comforting stuffed potato dish brought to Fitou from the north, where Mme De Grave spent her childhood, and Sauce tomates aux anchoives, a delicious, salty but surprising subtle, traditional Italian dish that our host recently learned to make as a way to reconnect with her Italian heritage. Like much homecooking, both dishes are simple, but take time, where choosing the freshest ingredients is as important as the time it takes for them to stew – long enough for them to mingle and merge, until their individually discordant flavours of salt, fat, acidity, and sweetness unify and relent to perfect harmony.

These homecooked meals are always created with local ingredients, of course, from the neighbouring sea, from nearby farms, from our neighbour’s backyards. This keeps us grounded in the present and helps us create new stories without ever losing sight of where we came from.

—-

Pomme de terres farcies (stuffed potatoes)
Ingredients

  • 6 potatoes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • about 250g chair à saucisse (a kind of seasoned ground pork sausage)
  • parsley, chopped
  • about ¼ cup water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Method

Prepare the filling by mixing the sausage, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Peel the potatoes and cut the tomatoes in half. Using a spoon, scoop out a chapeau on the side of each potato and remove the seeds from the inside of the tomatoes. Fill the holes with the meat mixture and replace the chapeau on the potatoes. Add a bit of oil to the bottom of a cast iron pot and arrange the stuffed potatoes and tomatoes on top. Add water and let cook on low heat until potatoes are tender, about an hour.

Sauce tomates aux anchois (anchovy tomato sauce)
Ingredients

  • 1 jar brined anchovies (about 12 anchovies)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Sprig fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • water
  • pepper
  • oil

Method

Clean anchovies under running water until the salt is removed, but not entirely. Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add garlic, parsley and anchovies and briefly sauté. Add the tomato paste and water, and stir. Let simmer on low heat for at least two hours. Add pepper to taste. Serve with pasta. Pommes de terre et tomates farcies, ready to be eaten.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 3 - Small House in the Pyrénées

French Food Roadtrip 3 – Small House in the Pyrénées

See, there is this place in the world I call home. It is a small village lying in the mountains in the French Pyrénées, at the foot of Mount Canigou. Wherever I may roam (yes yes, I know I know) I always long for this place and always end up there at some point or another. I grew up there even if only for the holidays (Easter and summer as a kid and then whenever I felt like going as my parents felt I was responsible enough to have my own set of keys, fools…) So now, as my life is pretty much quasi-nomadic I sort of consider this village my headquarters. Suffice it to say, the food around there is part of the deal.

French Food Roadtrip 3 – Small House in the Pyrénées

The (mostly) French Food Roadtrip 3 - Small House in the Pyrénées

Before the grill…

There is nothing in the village in term of stores, not even the über-ubiquitous bakery. One has to hike one’s way to find food in the nearby villages, in adjacent valleys. And in one of these villages there is… the Butcher, capital b. The man is a character, e un personaggio superiore! His shop is famous all over the area and increasingly farther away as tourists come to know about it, year after year. Around the end of the summer holidays, the line to bring some goods home can become quite impressive. What’s even more impressive is the slowness with which, no matter the length of said line, the man asks, “And what about your grandson, madam Bronchu? How is he doing? Has got himself a nice job, I hear… good good… A little more of sausage maybe? Some liver for the cat?” And if anyone in the line-up manifests any sign of restlessness (usually Parisians, ahah) he smirks and winks at a local while slowly cutting a nice piece of meat and detailing how, in his humble opinion, this particular one should be cooked… A delight. It took us about three quarters of an hour of something closer to street theatre than to trading, to buy our share of charcuterie. It could have taken longer, but I don’t care. I enjoy watching the man and there was no way I wasn’t going to leave with some of his saucisse anyhow.  For this is what he is really famous for: the Catalan sausage, to be grilled on a bundle of sarments (dried vines) with a side of roustes (or ventrèches, sort of grilled lard). Of course we also stocked up on some fouet  (literally the whip, a very dry and very thin sausage, pork of course… almost everything is made out of pork), boutifare (blood pudding, white and red, can be enjoyed cooked, grilled or as cold cuts) and various pâtés (it ranges from rabbit flavoured with Banyuls sweet wine to traditional no-thrill pork or pork with some Armagnac thrown in for good measure).

As it was too late to then return home and cook all that immediately (I’d have to chop some wood to feed the fireplace…) we decided to go to a bistro de village and enjoy some local stuff. There are a number of places all around Rousillon which provide cheap accommodation and food, only from local suppliers. We failed to call in advance so got a bit chastized but the cook still had some estofat on the stove. Saved! Estofat is a special way of cooking a stew very slowly. This one was made precisely with the same sausage and blood pudding from the Butcher. Well, I did tell you it was the place to go. We even managed to taste locally-brewed beers (though we failed to actually visit the brewery as the owner was away delivering his beer to a famous photo festival, it is a one-man operation). The cook also made a starter especially for us: a salad with goat cheese melted on some toasts accompanied with local honey. Fresh and delicious. The estofat was tasty and good-looking, presented with sweet potatoes and purple ones as well. We finished the meal with homemade sorbet, apple and blackberry. All that with a view on Mount Canigou.  A treat.

Of course three days in the village cannot go without having one of the neighbour’s mandatory apéritif that you never know when is going to end and what you are going to eat and/or drink… We showed up with a selection of boutifare, pâté on toasts, local cheeses and Cotes du Roussillon wine (close to Perpignan, roughly) to a nearby house and were welcomed with some southwest wines (close to Toulouse, roughly) and a savoury cake with olives and cheeses (comté and parmeggiano) amongst other things… The evening ended quite a few hours later with a tasting of Bas-Armagnac (also from around Toulouse) and we almost had to crawl back home even if it was served in des verres à goutte. This literally means “glasses for drops” as they are very small and the urban legend goes that if you put a drop of liquor outside of your glass while serving yourself you are too drunk and have to go home. A regular occurrence.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 2 - Figueres - Txot Sidreria

French Food Roadtrip 2 – Figueres – Txot Sidreria

French Food Roadtrip 2 - Figueres - Txot Sidreria

Cider self service

So the next stop was on the way to the South of France for some rest… But the ride there caught us in Figueras (or Figueres in Catalan…) and I happened to know a place where it is absolutely necessary to stop. It might not be the most traditional but hey, we’re coming from about 16.000 Km so, seen from there, it’s all the same right? Actually no, it’s not, but amazing food is amazing food and creativity is good, at least in my book.

Here is what Rowena K. has to say about it, while I am enjoying some cider…
“It’s worth it. No doubt. I’d go out of my way even, to track down the saccharine, soggy mess of a teriyaki chicken bowl at the airport food court, force down unidentified airplane mush and overcooked pasta, endure the worst of watery coffee and travel indigestion, to prepare myself for that first meal. The one you know you’re going to have when the 25-hour congested, seemingly endless, anxiety-laden ordeal is over. This time, that first meal would be satisfied by the curative powers of Catalan-style tapas.”

French Food Roadtrip 2 – Figueres – Txot Sidreria

Figueres is both the birthplace of Salvador Dali and home of Txot Sidreria, a cider bar that serves tapas dishes designed to accompany traditional Basque cider. The cider was delicious, drier than the traditional English brew and poured always with a flourish, but make no mistake, I arrived there, bleary-eyed and puffy from too much air travel, to eat.

The cold tapas could sense this, I’m sure. They cheerfully greeted us as we entered the empty restaurant around 8pm, a little too early for the locals, from the artfully lit buffet at the bar. From there, we chose our handsome little bundles of bread topped with layers of soft cheeses, cured meats, pickled anchovies and grilled vegetables.

We followed the cold dishes with moltes cosetes, which included both stewed (in cider, of course) and cured txorico (chorizo), patates braves (fried potatoes in a traditional spicy sauce), and peixet fregit “sonso”, a kind of miniature Mediterranean sand eel lightly floured and fried until they’re golden and crispy and addictive as potato chips.

The stars of the night, though, the remedies that fully woke me from my listless, weary state, were:

(1) Bacalla a la brasa amb ‘pebrotets de Padron’: Codfish braised until pearly white, luxurious and moist, served with the local…

(2) Padron pepper: Eaten in one bite to the stem. Normally quite mild except for, so the tradition goes, the one pepper on the plate that causes an unsuspecting diner to reach, panicking, for a glass of water.

(3) Sipia a la planxa: Cuttlefish grilled so slowly and lightly and perfectly until it strikes that often elusive culinary balance between smokiness and sweetness.  The large-headed beast, despite being toughened up by fire, feels soft and gentle and soothing in your mouth.

Soothing. Comforting. Curative.  I slept soundly and contentedly for the rest of the car ride to our beds that night.  Hours of air travel erased, just like that.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

Washoku Fusion

Washoku Fusion

Washoku Fusion

Tofu in Tokyo

Washoku Fusion

Traditional Japanese cuisine is based on rice, various manifestations of soybeans (miso, tofu, natto), vegetables and fish. This is one of the oldest and healthiest diets in the world, but no diet is an island. Every manner of cuisine has come in contact with local variations and ebbs and flows toward the popular tastes of the time. While a more traditional diet served the population of Japan for centuries, that diet is changing, for good or ill. The people of Okinawa have long supplemented pork in their daily diet, alongside a healthy dose of Aomori, that strong island distillation, which has given them some of the longest lived people in the world. But wait, pork and liquor? Sounds like a recipe for cardiac arrest. True enough, if not taken in moderation and coupled with a sedentary lifestyle that the modern world has produced.

What about the proliferation of all things fried? The Japanese are no newcomers to the love of the deep-fry. Tempura has existed in Japan for hundreds of years and while they’re likely not frying hell out of twinkies and ice cream, they’ve taken a traditional icon of a foodstuff and given it a classy new look. But how new exactly are we talking?

Washoku Fusion

Agedashi Dofu (Fried Tofu)

Agedashi Dofu – Fried Tofu

Think tofu is boring? Agedashi Dofu – Fried Tofu – is a traditional Japanese way to serve hot tofu. Silken (kinugoshi) firm tofu, cut into cubes, is lightly dusted with cornstarch and then deep fried until golden brown. It is then served in a hot tentsuyu broth made of dashi, mirin, and shō-yu, and topped with finely chopped scallion, grated ginger and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Included in the 1782 Japanese tofu cookbook, "Tofu Hyakuchin" it’s a well-known izakaya dish.

Washoku Fusion

Chāshū Pork Bowl

Chāshū Pork Bowl

Chāshū is a traditional barbeque pork dish from China known as Char siu, but like most great things Chinese, the Japanese culture has adapted char siu and in many ways, improved on it, by including it as an ingredient in rāmen. The variety seen here (slow-cooked pork belly) comes atop its own rice bowl with a special sweet-shoyu reduction and scallions. Add it to any noodle bowls makes soup more of a meal. But don’t forget the sake. A favorite is the high quality Hakutsuru Haiku Sake Infused with handpicked wild Salmonberries. Best served chilled.

French Food Roadtrip 1 - Barcelona

French Food Roadtrip 1 – Barcelona

So… long story short, I will bring my friend Rowena K. from Barcelona, Spain to Leuven, Belgium by car. We could drive it in one go, it’s only about 16 hours but that would be a waste of good food and drink opportunities, would it not? Come on! Barcelona, the South of France, the (roughly) centre of France with Lyon, Grenoble, Clermont-Ferrand then Alsace and Lorraine along the way and more… Nothing to say about drinks as we would go through at least half a dozen wine regions. And then Belgium with the highest density of beer breweries per square kilometre and food to go with it. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. I need an aperitif, like, right now!

Writing and tasting duties will be shared by yours truly and Rowena K. Pictures will be taken by yours truly, all digital unfortunately as time and regularity in posting are key. We will try to keep you updated on where we are and more importantly what we had in our plates and glasses very often but it all depends on Internet availability of course. We will be adventuring in remote areas in search of traditional food experience…

Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me! Click To Tweet

French Food Roadtrip 1 – Barcelona

French Food Roadtrip 1 - Barcelona

Breakfast in Barceloneta, with a beach view.

So let’s start with our first stop: Barcelona, while I was waiting for the other half of the team to show up, plane tickets and reservation being what it is I had some airport time in front of me. Fortunately Estrella is available in all convenient stores at airports and train station. I still had time to go spend the night in town and drink some and eat some as well… nothing fancy. Notably the breakfast included a very very creamy croissant, I’d actually call it cream with croissant much more than croissant with cream. The official cortado (half espresso, half whole milk) accompanied it nicely.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave

Driving through Europe this past summer, north to south, from Copenhagen, Denmark to Casteil, France (basically Spain) is a long, beautiful trip which takes around ten days. Granted, I made a few stops along the way. One of the stops was at my grandma’s, in Lorraine, France. Grandma is about eighty-nine and still lives alone in her apartment and, oh my, can she cook!

She is Italian by birth and came to France when she was two years old, her parents fleeing the rise of fascism spreading throughout Italy. Long story short, living through World War II and the rest of the 20th century, she became a maestra in cooking, both Italian and French styles alike. She can make a stew that would leave your mouth watering for days, using only a bit of this and that left in some corner of the fridge–stuff that one would think twice before giving to the dog. Or the hog for that matter.

And that one day when I slept at her place on my journey south, she made gnocchi. Is that plural for gnoccho? It does not actually matter at all as one usually doesn’t eat only one, let alone make only one. Like spaghetti I guess.

We had a nice morning together preparing the gnocchi. Actually, she did the preparing. I was sipping coffee, taking pictures, asking silly questions and learning about her youth and all during World War II and such. Eventually we had an equally nice lunch with some family who arrived later.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

But enough of my blathering and on to the recipe:

  • 500 Grams Potatoes (“the good kind” said she, although what the good kind is wasn’t very clear to me, although you would notice when it is not the good kind…)
  • One egg
  • Flour
  • Wooden Cutting Board

That’s it. When she told me the ingredients I thought, “There must be a trick.” And there is. Apparently the tricky part is to use the correct amount of flour. And she says, the best way to make homemade pasta, gnocchi and such is on a wooden board, not on a plate or plastic or anything like that. And above all you must use your hands!

Now get down to it.

Boil the potatoes whole with the skin, as it does help to keep the potatoes from taking too much water inside them. Anyway it is not too hard to peel them afterward, but do use a fork as they are hot potatoes when they come out of the water (breaking news, huh?) and you need them luke warm to perform the rest of the recipe.

Mash the potatoes with some modern instrument which is more advanced than just a fork (I know, I also make my mashed potatoes with a fork because I like to have a few lumps in them…), but for gnocchi you need them as smooth as possible. Have a look at the pictures to see what I mean.

On the wooden board make a volcano of potatoes and break the egg into the center of it, add a bit of flower and start mixing everything with your hands, yeps, with the hands! I already said that.

Now is the tricky part: progressively add more flower while you mix, as if you were making bread, but do not use too much! Grandma’s typical advice: “Put some of it in, but not too much, just enough.”

When satisfied take some of the dough (can you call that a dough?) and shape it as a long, er, thing with the diameter of your choice, like say your thumb. Then cut this thumb-sized dough in small bits. Put a bit of flour on top to avoid it sticking everywhere.

And now for grandma’s secret: to have the gnocchi shaped and textured properly (the right texture being important for them to keep the sauce on top of them) you need to use a cheese grating device. Who would have thought?! By rolling them inside the cheese grater you’ll create the slug-like shape and the intricate surface features that will capture small amounts of sauce. Of course it requires a bit of training to achieve a suitable size, shape and texture but, hey, you have all morning right? Anyhow if you do things properly your sauce must have been cooking for four to five to six hours, plenty of time to play with the little slugs of dough…

Cooking them is easy, in a very big pot of boiling water (salted) they are ready when they start floating. You can use a “passoire” to get them.

Now serve in a big plate with grated parmesiano, and a healthy glass of Italian or French red wine. Buon appetito!

Kimchi - The Hot Magic of True Fermentation (HESO Magazine)

How to Make Real Korean Style Kimchi

Just like movies, cars and hourglass figures, they don’t make pickles like they used to.

Found in just about every national cuisine, fermentation was probably discovered accidentally thousands of years ago, when something sugary was left to rot and ended up as a delightfully sour, mildly alcoholic treat. The fact that it additionally preserved both plant and animal matter and promoted health was likely enough to convince cavemen to begin intentionally fermenting things, and thus began mankind’s long-lived affair with the pickle.

Unfortunately, the advent of refrigeration, mass production and other detrimental conveniences gave manufacturers a wonderful idea: why bother going through the bothersome and occasionally unpredictable stages of fermentation when you can just fake the tang with a vinegar and sugar solution? Why indeed! Soon consumers, unbeknownst to themselves, were sucking up all things faux-fermented, and now the vast majority of sauerkraut, gherkins and piccalilli gracing the supermarket shelves are sad and insipid versions of the real thing.

It happened in Japan, too: once abhorred for its strong smell, kimchi is now the most popular pickle in the country. Yet the Japanese version–known as kimuchi–is often made without even being fermented, with citric acid added for the characteristic tang. This sacrilege might have caused less stinky-breath shame for the Japanese and the countries they exported it to, but it brought about a different kind of embarrassment when it caused a trade spat with Korea, whose reaction was much like Italy’s would be if the U.S. put spreadable parmigiano in aerosol cans and flouted it to the rest of the world as the best thing since sliced Velveeta.

How To Make Real Fermented Korean KImchiHaving already suffered the indignity of the derisive putdown “kimchi-eaters” and “garlic breath”, the Koreans bit back at the Japanese, claiming that Japan would forever soil the international reputation of their beloved dish.

So friends (family, countrymen), I implore you! Do the right thing and make your own–taste it before the fake Japanese kind graces your table. Proper pickles are natural probiotics, bursting with lactobacilli, meaning that you don’t have to shell out for pricey tablets or sugar-filled yogurts, and the Koreans even swear that it can prevent cancer.

Plus, there’s an added pleasure in starting up a collection of stinky jars that bubble menacingly in your pantry. It’s not as hard as making bread–just chop, salt, mix, wait–and yet you will swell with pride like a freshly yeasted loaf when your cabbage baby is born. Your family members might be scared at first that this monster, which seems to be actually breathing, might swell to monstrous proportions and tear out of its glass encasement, engulfing them in their sleep like a spicy version of The Blob, but allay their fears by fighting the inflated mass back into its liquid with a metal spoon.

It makes sense to make kimchi the first station on your fermentation journey because it goes with everything, like ketchup. Yet unlike that Malaysian-British concoction, it’s good for you. As a staple of the Korean diet, it’s provided freely at restaurants throughout the country (except during times of cabbage shortages). When it’s fully fermented you can slather it on meat or fish, stick it in sandwiches or stir it through omelettes…or simply eat it with rice, topped with a fried egg. And don’t be too scared that the prodigious amounts of chili, garlic and fish sauce will play havoc with your breath and lose you friends: consider your exhalations adverts rather than warnings, and the world will smile upon you.

How to Make Real Korean Style Kimchi

How to Make Real Korean Style Kimchi

Garlic Mush & Onion Chop - the base of real Kimchi © Isobel Wiles

How to Make Real Korean Style Kimchi

Mixing together the final ingredients for real Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 2 large Chinese or Napa cabbages (whatever you call them, preferably the crisp, white, veiny oblong ones–rather than your average round Western cabbage)
  • Salt
  • 1 large white radish- you may know it as either daikon or mooli.
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • Variations include adding peeled pears and cucumbers.

Porridge:

  • 1/3 cup rice flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups Korean chili pepper
  • 1 cup garlic, pureed (or paste)
  • 1-2 tbsps ginger, pureed (or paste)
  • 1 cup fish sauce

Instructions

1. Firstly, set aside some time. Remember, most of the time when you’re cooking, you’re dealing with something that’s dead, and you make it even deader by cooking it. With kimchi, you’re making the culinary equivalent of Frankenstein–e.g. creating life out of something dead–therefore it takes a few hours. Four hours in the middle is just waiting but you’ll need about an hour of prep and then about 20 minutes after that.

2. Chop the cabbage into tiny bite size pieces and put in a bowl (with as much as you have, you might need several bowls). Soak it in water for about two minutes, then drain thoroughly and sprinkle liberally with salt, making sure it is consistently covered. Set aside for three to four hours, occasionally lifting up the bowl and tipping out the water that will have accumulated at the bottom- being careful not to let all the cabbage fall out by holding it in place with a spatula or other utensil.

3. Make the porridge: put the rice flour and water into a pan on a low heat and stir vigorously so it becomes a thin paste with no lumps. As it heats up you will need to keep stirring, until it reaches the consistency of wallpaper paste. Then add the sugar, stir to melt, and leave to cool.

4. Put the cooled porridge in a blender, and add the chili, garlic, ginger and fish sauce. Blend until smooth and set aside.

5. Peel the carrots and the white radish and julienne. If you want to save a lot of time you can splash out and buy the Kiwi Pro Slice Peeler, which will do the job in no time, and can also be used to make elaborate and useless little carved Thai vegetables. Sweet!

6. Slice the leeks and scallions into rounds. Put them in a large tupperware container along with the carrots and white radish. Now wait with another fermented product. A beer perhaps?

7. After three or four hours is up, rinse the cabbage to get rid of the salt, and drain well. Begin by adding a little of the spicy porridge to the carrot/leek/scallion/radish mixture, making sure it is well coated. Then gradually stir in the cabbage, adding a dollop of spicy porridge each time as you go.

8. After it is all incorporated, simply snap on the lid and put it somewhere relatively warm. I’ve heard the best kimchi is made at 5 degrees celsius for two weeks, but I’ve also had success at a blazing 28 degrees for four days. The water content of the vegetables should start to seep out, making the porridge watery. You need to keep the vegetables under the water line as much as possible, or mold might develop. When it’s ready the “soup” should be piquant and the vegetables should be soft, after which you can put it in the fridge. However, if you don’t want it to go too sour, or you want the vegetables to be crunchy, you can arrest its development early. Kimchi-making season is coming up, and Korean families typically gather together in late October or early November, before winter sets in. Why not try your hand at fermenting yourself into the new old-school healthy?

About the Author

Sophie Knight is a writer based in Tokyo

  • Sophie Knight is a writer based in Tokyo, Japan, who contributes regularly to HESO on a variety of subjects.

Copyright

Unless otherwise stated All images © HESO Magazine, 2011.

This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you wish to use reproduce any of this context in a commercial context, explicit permission is required. Please contact me directly.

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Pizza oscura

Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies

I rarely make pizza these days, what with all the beautiful fish in my life, and one needs the proper atmosphere. A well-lit kitchen full of people and wine and loose flour floating through the air to give the scene the quality of a movie flashback. It needs to be kneaded, watched, risen, kneaded again, prepped, refrigerated, taken out, and prepped again. All of which makes the pie taste better, with someone handing you a glass off wine or a good Belgian Tripel, rather than you standing alone eating the pie over your sad ghetto oven until it’s gone. With the proper atmosphere, the pies are never gone.

The reason the pizza I make is so time-consuming (but not a chore) is due to the fact that it’s all handmade. Well, ok, within reason. I don’t harvest and mill the grains with which I make my own dough, nor do I grow the tomatoes I make the sauce with (but I do grow the basil and other herbs) neither, alas, do I culture my own Buffalo Mozzarella, but damn, we all gotta set boundaries somewhere. I mean I got time since breaking up with my girlfriend, lots of it, but we’re talking, “How ’bout I roast the Jalapeños!” kinda time and not, “Betta’ git to threshin’ the wheat ‘afore the Snows done set in, Pa!” kinda time. Ok, I’ll admit to charging up my extra virgin olive oil with roasted garlic, rosemary and chilis, but dammit! ain’t be like I sit around waiting for my corn to age so I can pestle and mortar it into fine yellow meal so my dough doesn’t stick to the foil I use to keep it separated from the fish-juice magma that makes up the juicy black bubbly bottom of my crappy oven (May the Lord God Bless its Little Oven Heart!). Yep.

Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies

So there I was, Friday night, nothing to do, no one to play with, all by my lonesome self. I decided it was high time to get back into white wine, specifically a beautifully demi-sec Rioja from Valencia, chilled to an icy perfection and decanted one glass at a time, into my nice, big hand-sized ceramic mug (I completely prefer ceramic to glass when it comes to vino). Plus, knocking a few back while cooking is what cooking’s all about, that and good speakers pumping something nice and funky to get your hips moving in time with that swishing knife flying through veggies, the wooden spoon stirring your bubbling sauce and, lest we forget, whatever already finished bottle of red you have to substitute for a rolling pin, because, well, they just work better than your hands on that badass dough you just hand made. I said Ye-ah!!

Homemade Pizza - The Before Picture

Homemade Pizza – The Before Picture

Living in Japan is occasionally inconvenient, often a pain in the ass, and most of the time just incomprehensible – where things like cooking in ovens is concerned. The Japanese don’t really consider dishwashers, dryers, insulation and whatnot to be household fixtures, so why should an oven be any different? The fact that “Obun” usually refers to a Microwave which happens to have an “oven” function (I don’t trust it) and “sutobu” (stove) refers to a kerosene floor heater may paint you a general picture of the frustration I would likely face when wanting to bake anything, let alone the magnificence that is my homemade pizza. Luckily I am ghetto. Growing up poor allowed me inroads into substituting my creativity where technology was missing. In short, it made me come up with inventive ways of engineering broken down old gadgets, knicknacs and junk into something useful, and more than that – something I needed at the time.

Enter me into Japan: 1st World Country on the outside (in Tokyo), 3rd World Country on the inside (everywhere else). Excuse my ethnocentrism here, but I grew up relatively poor, but we’re talking American poor here which by African standards just doesn’t even equate. I mean I had a floor and water and no diseases, so here’s me thanking the arbitrary luck of being born in Southern California. Regardless, enter me into the world of small town Japan, my 60-year-old concrete teachers’ apartment building, my showerless/hot waterless bathroom, and (not even close to) finally, my cooking apparatus-less (except for a toaster) kitchen. Ya-ay! Welcome our Country Beauty of Nippon important Ambassador Foreign of the Teaching of English! Here is traditional wheat chaff pillow for comfort head, don’t mind!

Yeah, after 2 years of trying to get under the skin of the Japanese lifestyle in the solitude of Nagano, I’ve learned a few tricks: 1) Every 6 months (in most prefectures) there is a “big trash” day where the government will pick up anything. Of course, in keeping with the Post WWII mentality of “We are rich, so forgive and accept us world!” the Japanese apparently have little or no trouble throwing away objects of considerable valuable. It is not unusual to find year-old snowboards and skis, last year’s TVs, DVDs and VCRs, newish furniture, pornographic paraphernalia, and much to my culinary pleasure a veritable cornucopia of appliances, all tossed uselessly away as soon as this year’s model comes out. A complete turn around from the efficiently frugal image Japan once truly portrayed to the world, though interesting -and profitable – to live in the midst of.

As honor and shame are strongly rooted in the fabric of Japan, one could easily see how dishonorable and embarrassing it would be to get caught skulking about at night with the neighbor’s grocery cart, let alone even consider the idea in and of itself. I know. Because it was during the first night of one of these sorai-gomi (which really is the best time to cash in on the choicest items) that I “found” an oven and various other useful contraptions (a microscope, a french press, a kerosene heater, some porn…). While dragging these things home I got “caught” by a neighbor who shaded her young child’s eyes from watching the pale skinned barbarian “stealing” the trash. Truthfully the figure I cut must have scared the crap out of her: 6 foot plus paleface clad all in black laughing ominously to no one in particular whilst hauling a pretty beat up old oven back to mine. I’m pretty sure I pranced or possibly even skipped at one point.

Homemade Pizza - The After Picture

Homemade Pizza – The After Picture

Ok, back to the point. I got an oven! While not some Amana 2010 version of Hal the wonder-baking machine (“Open the Oven Door, Hal.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Manny…you did get me off the street, you do realize that, don’t you Manny.”), the 40CM Hitachi TO-A12E “Famiry Oven”, despite its pull-out tray floor covered in flash heated fish bits congealed with god knows what kind of sauces, gets the job done. Thankfully, since taking a chisel and the torch I generally reserve for flambe-ing sushi to it, I’ve gotten the oyster stink out and all my pies and cakes emerge smelling as they should.

Alright, all this is just the wine talking, so let’s get to the recipe, already. First the dough:

Dissolve 1 Packet of Yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp) with

1 tbsp Sugar in

1 1/4 cup (250ml) Water (110°F/43°C) until bubbly (10 minutes or so)

While the yeast is frothing, put 4 cups flour (2/3 bread or all-purpose to 1/3 wheat) in a mixing bowl and add

1 tsp salt plus whatever herbs you dig

Rosemary, dill, basil, coriander are all great

Mix wet with dry, kneading into a roundish shape for 5 minutes, then let rise for 5-10 minutes while you contemplate which bottle of wine to open next. Punch down dough, knead for another 5 minutes, and finally place in an oiled bowl covered by a dishcloth and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour (1-2 is optimal).

While the dough is doing its thing, get your sauce ready. There are a million different sauces one can make, so I won’t deign to suggest what is best for you, but suffice it to say, I dig tomatoes and you should too. Fresh ripe tomatoes will make anything better, even breakups, especially breast-shaped tomatoes with nice, firm points…mmmm. I digress. I score my tomatoes before immersing them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then slip them into a nice cold ice bath to get their skins to peel right off. After which I dice them up and throw them into a saute pan with a bit of already sizzling olive oil (you’ve had onions and garlic browning for 5 minutes or so on a low-medium flame, of course), salt and pepper. After reducing for 10-15 minutes add the juice of half a lemon, a spoonful of the homemade pesto you’ve just thawed out and some of your garden’s better medium heat chilis, finely diced. Let simmer for 5-10 more over a low flame.

For toppings, I generally endorse and and all vegetables, especially artichoke hearts, jalapeños, red onions, tomatoes and or tomatillos, zucchini, eggplant, roasted garlic, ad infinitum. As for cheeses I dig chevre, feta or anything from a sheep/goat, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, asiago, gouda, or as a general rule, anything from Europe, even a funky finger-stinky picante gorgonzola would yield a great pie. The key, for me at least, is not piling it on (especially if you are planning on using a strong French or Italian cheese) so much so that it overpowers the other toppings, the sauce and the herbs.

The dough ball could be cut into 2-3 pizzas depending on your girth, so do what feels natural. Spread the crust thin, and remember that perfectly round is not always pretty, so get Mickey Mouse if you want to and have another glass of that good Malaga red. Throw on plenty of sauce and layer your toppings accordingly. Throw into your ghetto oven at 350°F (I go to 250°C due to my element disfunction) for 10-20 minutes. Don’t forget to leave some for the morning. There’s nothing like cold pizza for breakfast.

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