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March 12, 2021
Beyond Gochujang: The Bold Flavors of Korea
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Hooni Kim explains many of the foundations of Korean cuisine (including gochujang), how to make perfect rice, what 135-year-old soy sauce tastes like and why he loves making fermented soybean stew. Plus, we hear the curious story behind America’s most prolific fruit inventor; Bianca Bosker combs through her grandma’s recipe cards; and we make one of France’s easiest desserts.
Questions in this Episode
“I have an 11 pound pork loin in my freezer. Any suggestions for how to cook it?”
“My husband and I have enjoyed wine for some time, but have recently wanted to learn more about different grapes and regions. Do you have any insights or recommendations for books to check out?”
“I'm experimenting to find a great creamy coleslaw recipe. I made one with all-natural sour cream and apple cider vinegar (raw with mother). The dressing was full of tiny bubbles! Do you know why this is? And do you have any coleslaw recipes to recommend?”
Chris Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're learning the essentials of Korean cooking from chef Hooni Kim. He breaks down the three mother sauces the flavor Korean cuisine, explains why kimchi is processed on the recipe, and tells us about the restaurants that cater to Korea's big drinking culture.
Hooni Kim: You pick the menu out based on what you want to drink. Meaning if you really want to get plastered that day, you don't want to drink beer, right because that's going to fill you up. You want to drink soju and when you want to drink soju there are specific dishes and restaurants that serve the best food that goes along with soju and that's where you go.
CK: Also coming up Bianca Bosker looks at the history of family recipe cards, and we make a simple French yogurt cake but first is my interview with Rachel Spaeth. She's a garden curator at the Luther Burbank home and gardens in Santa Rosa, California, where she is conducting research on the hybrid plums invented by the plant breeder Luther Burbank. Rachel, welcome to Milk Street.
Rachel Spaeth: Thanks for having me.
CK; Before we get into new plums and old plums, let's start with the main protagonist in the story. Luther Burbank, who was Luther Burbank?
RS: Luther Burbank was one of the world's most famous horticulturalists that was a plant breeder. He was born in 1849, died in 1926. And some of the most popular things that we have today still, that he introduced, are like the Shasta daisy, Santa Rosa plum, and the Burbank russet potato, but he was responsible for introducing over 800 different kinds of plants.
CK: This guy was not accepted as being an expert horticulturist or scientist. Yet he, I don't know if he performed miracles, but he was very prolific, right?
RS: That's correct. So, he was not a classically trained scientist. But that meant he was unbounded by scientific principles. So, he would see two things that he wanted to hybridize and he would just try it. And it was a lot of trial and error. But it does also make my job as a research scientist very difficult, because he didn't leave me very good notes so that I can retrace his steps. And that's why the scientific community didn't really favor him because nobody could reproduce the plant crosses that he was creating.
CK: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe when I read about this, you couldn't patent a cultivar write it back at that time. In other words, he developed something new, he could not protect his work.
RS: That is correct. So, there were no patent protections for anything living during that time. And throughout most of his career, he did try to lobby to Congress to be able to patent life saying, hey, these are my inventions. At the end of every workday, he would make his employees turn out their pockets and their parent cuffs. And if he found anybody that was sequestering seeds, they would immediately be fired. We have this really cool, safe in the greenhouse, that is the place where he used to keep his seeds.
CK: So, let's talk about the tools he used grafting hybridization, crossbreeding. So just for from a layman's point of view, how does that work? How do you come up with new varieties?
RS: You would take pollen from one flower and put it onto the stigma, so that you're choosing what your two parents are that are reproducing. And you cross pollinate that way. This is what Luther did to create the plumcot. He's credited as being the first person to cross a plum with an apricot. And if anybody is tried to plant a fruit tree seed before, you'll know that when you start growing this tree, it's going to take you, I don't know, five to seven years before you're ever going to get flowers and fruit on this tree. But you can drastically reduce that amount of time by grafting.
CK: And you can graft more than one type of fruit onto the host tree, right?
RS: Certainly. So, Luther had a tree that had over 500 different kinds of cherries that he was hybridizing on it. And for that one, he kind of was just trying to see if there is a limit to the number of tax that you can put on one specific tree. And the really fun one that I like to make for people is almonds, peaches, apricots, cherries, pluots, Abraham's plums. Let me call those fruit salad trees.
CK: So, he didn't take notes very well. You mentioned that. And as a researcher, that's hard for you. So, what why didn't he take notes, did he do that on purpose so that people couldn't find out what he was doing or he was just a bad note taker?
RS: You know, it might be a little bit of both. He would like crossbreed something. And then he’d just rip off a strip of his clothing and tie it to the branch that he just hybridized and somehow he would remember what the parent was because of the strip of clothing that he wore that day. However, he did leave me something that is kind of useful. And what he would do is you take a piece of fruit, cut it in half, put it on a piece of blotter paper upside down and trace the outside of it and then write like a couple of chicken scratch notes. And then anywhere that there's a piece of that fruit tissue left behind on these 100-year-old pieces of paper, we're thinking we can extract a genome from that. So how does that work? They do it the same kind of way that you would do forensic botany. So, like if you were to find a dead body floating down the river, and it happened to have moss underneath its toenails, you could sequence the genome of that moss and link it to the bog where the body was dumped. So right now, we're in the phase of extracting those genomes and seeing if they're usable enough, because we are coming up with the recipe list for what makes a plum pointy bottomed or red on the inside, or even with disease resistance. That's a big one. So, we are coming up with a tool set or recipe that lay readers can use in general, to come up with a very robust and hopefully delicious set of new plums.
CK: I mean, let's take the apricot. I haven't had a good apricot in 20 years. So, all this research you're doing is this going to end up actually producing one hopes much better fruit for the American table?
RS: Yeah, so when I also lived on the East Coast, I had never had a delicious apricot. I thought they were always kind of yucky and hard. But then I moved out here and I have an apricot tree in my driveway that gives me marvelous, just the sweetest, most wonderful apricots that you've ever had, but they're very perishable. So, it's a tradeoff, either you're going to get a tasty fruit, or you're going to get one that actually shows up at your house not rotten. Unfortunately,
CK: This is an industry that's dominated by major types. And there's doesn't seem to be room for the next 20 or 30 hybrids out there right? So, is that is that starting to reverse? There's now a market for some of these lesser grown but tastier harder to ship varieties are we still stuck with? You know, that there's a red apple as a yellow apple and there's a great apple.
RS: So that is a very interesting question. And I have an answer that you might not expect to this. Whenever you go to the grocery store. And you see a green apple there. It looks like a Granny Smith. But it might not be a Granny smith. And the only way to tell that would be to do a genetic sample of that. We call those fake crops. So, you might be at the grocery store one day and you might pick out five apples that look like Granny Smith. And when you eat them, four of them tasted like Granny Smith and one of them tasted a little bit different. And it might just be that the grocer is going to buy an apple that's called Granny Smith. The producer might not know that their tree isn't Granny Smith. And the only way to really figure that out is costly and expensive. So, we just call it Granny Smith.
CK: Well, so in other words, there's diversity, but we just don't know it. So, to go back to Luther Burbank for a second part of your story is this guy was a minor celebrity. Frido Kahlo painted him. Henry Ford wanted to be his friend, Thomas Edison. So, what's the big deal here? I mean, here's a guy who's not a professional, and doesn't follow the rules, because he just uses his powers of observation. And he comes up with 800 different varieties. Why was he a minor celebrity?
RS: He was a very public figure and comfortable with being a public figure. He put out catalogs a lot. He was quoted in a lot of magazines. So, here's kind of the underdog hero, right? Like as a person who wasn't a classically trained scientist, he was a very appealing to the layman who would like to just try plant breeding for themselves. If you were not looking at the rules of what people said you should do, you might think that, hey, I think that this is possible. And it was like if he could see some benefit into trying to hybridize two things, he would take advantage of that. And that's probably one of the ways that he was so prolific.
CK: Rachel, thank you so much for being on Milk Street and you give me hope about apricots. Maybe someday I'll have a good one. Thanks.
RS: Thank you.
CK: That was Rachel Spaeth. She's a PhD student at the University of California Davis. Also, a garden curator at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton it to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101 also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, how are you? (Sara Moulton: I'm good, Chris) You've been sort of locked down for a long time now as we all have. Has your cooking changed in the last, you know, year or so?
SM: Well, I will say like everybody else I’ve been trying all sorts of things I’ve never tried before, although frankly now I can’t think of any of them except ____ you know I got very experimental and then finally I’ve calmed down again but I made an awful lot of bread or baking then usual so I would say more focus on trying new things and so that’s been a real benefit at this time
CK: Not too old to learn just like me yeah. Alright let’s go onto to something else. Welcome to Milk Street who’s calling?
Caller: Linda. I'm in Dallas, Texas.
CK: One of my favorite places. How can we help you?
Caller: I have a pork loin that I want to know how to cook. No bone.
CK: How big is it?
Caller: 11 pounds.
SM: Wow, that’s a lot of pork.
Caller: It was a deal at Costco.
CK: That was a 400-pound pig I tell you. First of all, pork loin is famous for being dry, because it has no fat in it and 11 pounds, I would cut it in half and just use half of it. Okay, you can open it up like an envelope, and butterfly it and stuff it and then tie it back up and then cook it. There's a lot of recipes for that the Tom Bray is one of them tom bray. You just butterfly it and then like it's an inch thick, and then you put an herb paste and you can put cooked eggs, whatever you want in there and then roll it up and cook it. I think what you probably want to do with this though, I'm not a big fan of brining turkeys anymore, but this is the one cut I might consider brining because it's so dry and then you want to cook this fairly low and slow or braise it that is cooked with a little bit of liquid. I would keep it in a 300 oven, maybe 325 with some liquid and brine it first, I think you have a best chance of getting something you want to eat because if you cook it in a 400 degree oven, or just grill it, it's going to be too dry to eat, right Sara?
SM: Yeah, no, absolutely, it can really dry out. I have a question. Do you care whether you cook at whole?
Caller: No, I don't care.
SM: So, you could cut it into chops, boneless chops, you know, like one and a half inch thick. And then you don't have to cook it all at once you can freeze some of them, you'll have more control, because it's that much smaller a piece of meat and you can cook it with any kind of sauce you would do with you know, pork chops. You know, Chris mentioned brining. When I cook pork chops from the loin, I actually salt even the chops, you know, like about a half an hour or even 45 minutes ahead of time, lightly on both sides and then pat it dry and then cook it and that will really help them to stay moist. Cook them off and then serve them with you know, any sauce that you normally would put on a pork chop or if you just brine them then you could eat them straight up and maybe put a spice rub on it and then sauté it or grill it and they'd be yummy.
CK: The other thing you could do is brine it and then smoke it. Ah, because that's going to be at a fairly low temperature, and that's going to taste pretty good.
SM: And there you are. You're in Dallas so, you must have a smoker somewhere, right?
Caller: Yes, I do.
CK: Well there you go.
SM: Everybody does I know that
CK: Brine it and smoke it. That’s the best and cut it nice and thin and taste good.
Caller: All right. I thank you very much for your help.
CK: Thanks, Linda.
SM: Thanks for speaking with you.
CK; Yeah, same here.
Caller: Bye bye.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Morgan B___.
SM: 13:47 Hi, Morgan. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Morristown, Tennessee.
SM: Okay, how can we help you?
Caller: I actually had a question about wine. My husband and I have enjoyed wine for a while. But we recently gotten into wanting to learn more about like what regions we should look for certain lines when we buy. So, I was hoping to find out more resources or ways to learn more about where we should focus on areas when we buy certain wines
SM: You might want to start with a few classic books. And one that comes to mind is the World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson. A second one is by Karen McNeil, and it's called The Wine Bible. And that's another one that will really help you with some background information. You know, another thing you might want to do is sign up for some online wine classes.
CK: You know, the idiots guide to wine or whatever it's called.
SM; Oh, Wine for Dummies?
CK: Yeah, Wine for Dummies yeah, I've actually read that book. It was extremely helpful. I find when people do these world atlases and guides it's just like too much. I forget everything I read last week. So, I think a more simplified version is really helpful. The other thing I'd like to do do is like with cooking, get hold of like in your mind six to ten wines, you know and stick with those and get to know them a little bit. I think the problem is there too many choices and vintages and areas etc. Yeah, for example, I keep it so simple. I essentially drink Sicilian wines because they're cheap and they're delicious. Or I drink Austrian wines because my mother in laws from Austria, I just pick a couple areas and get to know the wines. And I don't worry about everything else. And then once I get comfortable, I can start being a little more creative. But you know, there's 13 different common grape varieties, but 1000s more and I don't have enough years left to figure this out. So, keep it simple. One last thing I'll end with is, I've been in wine tastings a lot and I've noticed that experts totally disagree. There's that famous case of they had a tasting of white wines, but they colored some red, and everyone thought it was a red wine. Yeah, that's a famous story. So, keep it simple. Don't listen to all the experts. And focus on half a dozen types and go from there.
SM: I was going to say what I would also do I like Chris's idea while you're tasting them, is take a few notes about what you like about him, but also what you like to eat it with. Because it's so interesting. A wine that's fantastic with one thing might not be so great with something else. And then there are also some wines that are very, very food friendly and go with almost everything. There's no better way to learn than to do. Yes. Plus, what you'll be having all these yummy wines. Yeah.
Caller: Right you'll be drinking. Yeah. Well, I appreciate you all. Thank you so much. This is very helpful. Thank you.
CP: Thanks for calling.
SM: Bye .
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to take your calls. Just give us a ring anytime that number is 855-469- 8431. More time 855-469-8431 or simply email us at questions at Milkstreet radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street.
CK: Who's calling?
Caller: This is Mary in West Virginia. (CK: How are you?) I'm good. Great to talk with you guys.
CK: A pleasure to talk to you. How can we help you?
Caller: I'm trying to come up with a good creamy coleslaw dressing. And I was experimenting with sour cream on natural sour cream, some raw apple cider vinegar so it had the mother in it and a little bit of sugar to cut the acid and then seasonings and when I added the shredded cabbage and mixed it up and I tasted it it was full of tiny little bubbles. And the taste you know wasn't bad, but those tiny bubbles were very unpleasing. I'm wondering what caused all those bubbles? Was it the fact that the vinegar was raw? The sour cream is a fermented thing the cabbage you know cabbage creates bubbles when you make sauerkraut so all those bubbles, I didn't like
CK: Well Sara you know the answer to this right?
SM: Heck no. I completely baffled
CK: I want to get rid of this one because I have no idea! I’ve got to believe it’s the sour cream in the vinegar. There's something's happening. Yeah, our reaction what it is, but that's clearly what it is. If you're looking for a great coleslaw recipe, slightly changing the topic. We did a Thai coleslaw recipe with the mint and cilantro and they use a little coconut milk is in the base. So, it has a slight amount of creaminess but it's not overpowering, and the flavors are terrific. It's got a little sugar it's got a little serrano chilies, got some lime juice. That's my favorite go to coleslaw recipe right now.
SM: My go to which is pretty traditional, but with a flight twist. I take mayonnaise and ketchup and a tiny bit of brown sugar and some chipotles in adobo. And then I cut it with some homemade vinaigrette, which has sherry vinegar in it. You know if you want the balance of creamy and sour but balanced by sugar and then this little bit of spice in there it's it's a really nice dressings good coleslaw. Yeah,
Caller: Does the vinaigrette have oil in it, or is it just vinegar? It has oil in it too.
SM: It has oil in it too. I know it sounds weird. Why would you add more oil when you've already got mayonnaise and it's got mustard and sherry vinegar and a fair amount of salt and pepper and really nice olive oil. So, I just add some of that to cut it. And maybe some water just so it's not so thick. Yeah, and that's yummy.
CK: The other thing you might do is mix some of the sour cream with Greek yogurt.
SM: Yeah, cut it with that.
Caller: Ah ha. Ok.
SM: Well, we have no answer to your actual question, Mary but
Caller: But yeah, you've given me some good ideas. Thanks. Take care. All right, bye.
SM: Take care. Bye bye
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next I'm chatting with Chef Hooni Kim. That's right up after the break.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Hooni Kim he’s the chef at the restaurants Danji and Hanjan in New York City. He's also author of the cookbook, My Korea. Hooni welcome to Milk Street. Thank you for having me. You were born in Seoul, Korea in 1972. But your father was born on a tiny island off Korea. And you used to go back there once you move to London. Could you just talk about that trip? Because it's quite an amazing is like trains, planes and automobiles. It’s a long hard, hard journey to get there.
Hooni Kim: Yes, and buses and taxis in between too. So yes, my father died when I was two. So, it was important that my mother took me to see my paternal grandmother, because my father was her only son and me being my father's only son I was the only person that could remind my grandmother of my deceased father. So, my mother sent me to Korea took me when I was young every summer, and later on, I would go by myself, but yeah, to, to that island from let's say, London where I lived from after four, we would take a plane. That would have to in the middle of the flight stop at Anchorage, because those days in the 70s you couldn't fly over the Soviet Union. So, what would be a 12-hour plane ride was more like an 18-hour plane ride. So, there weren't planes that could go all the way without a refueling stop. So we would stop at Anchorage, and then continue to Seoul. And from Seoul, we would have to transfer to another domestic flight to a city called Ponzu, which is only about a 45-minute flight. But from there, we would have to take a bus that would take about two and a half hours to this southern tip city called Jando. And from there, we would have to take a ferry for about two and a half hours. And the ferry was large enough where we couldn't dock on the small island. So, a boat from the island, a small motorboat would have to come and meet the ferry in the middle of the ocean, and you will have to transfer and for me, I couldn't swim. And I still because of transferring in the middle of the ocean I'm still afraid of the water. So, we would transfer and will take about 45 minutes to get to this small Korean island called Sando, which is where my father was born and grew up. And which is the island that my grandmother was living in.
CK: So, I guess I can't complain about an eight-hour plane ride to Rome from Boston. I've been on some long trips of man you but as a little kid. I mean, that just seemed like weeks to get there. Right, that’s a huge trip
HK: It was hell. Yeah, it was hell. But afterwards, I realized how it was a little escape to this adventure land for me. And later on, I realized all the food that my grandmother cooked for me. And that's what gave me direction to what kind of chef that I was going to become.
CK: You had a great description of your food. You said my food is what you might get from a Korean grandmother if she went to culinary school interned at a high-end Michelin restaurant, settle in New York City and perhaps had an addition to White Castle sliders. That's pretty that's a pretty full description, an odd description, but a pretty full description.
HK: Yes. And I chose specifically White Castle sliders not only because it's true, and I still love White Castle sliders, but it is that sort of comforting food that I think I have fun developing and making it a little bit more complex and healthy even. And that's how I introduce the traditional Korean bulgogi beef. I just thought that if I put it in a slider, because the word bulgogi is very exotic. And if people didn't know what it was, I didn't know if they would order it. But if you put it in a slider, everybody loves a slider. And to me making something that's very not healthy, and delicious, to something that's more delicious, and actually healthy to me that that's fun. And that's what my first restaurant, the concept was, because I was cooking Korean food. And we opened in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan where there weren't any Koreans and there weren't any Korean restaurants. So, I couldn't be as Korean as I wanted to be. And I needed people to come into the restaurant, not thinking that it was so exotic. So, you know, my first restaurant, it was my entire life savings, money borrowed from the bank. I had no investor so I couldn't fail. Failure was not an option.
CK: Gochujang’s obviously, it's, you know, become world famous lately. But there are lots of other fermented pastes or sauces other chung's. Could you just you mentioned in your book? Could you just go through a few of them?
HK: Yeah, I consider them the mother sauces of Korean cuisine. There are three primary chungs, chungs are fermented sauces. It takes know, years and years to actually naturally ferment. The three are chungjung, which is soy sauce, which is fermented soybean sauce. And then when you make chungjung, you get tengchung, which is a solid, it's like a paste. And that is fermented soybean paste, similar to a miso. So, in the same container that you make tengchung, the fermented soybean paste in the bottom, the chungjung, the soy sauce forms. So, you get both products with one process. And the other one is the famous quote gochujang, which is a spicy red pepper paste, that's fermented as well. For Koreans it's not just for flavor, I think most of us season with those three ingredients. Because when it's naturally fermented, you have to use salt to make sure that it doesn't rot, I guess. And that salt makes it very flavorful. And we use it instead of salt many of the times.
CK: I've had really good I think gochujang I've had bad supermarket gochujang. Could you talk about the difference between good and bad? Because I think like I think a lot of people could tell the difference between good olive oil or bad olive oil right, or maybe even good soy sauce and bad soy sauce. But this is not an ingredient people are really experts on here. So, what's the difference between good and bad?
HK: So, the main difference is let's even talk before the process. The main difference is natural chungs are full of probiotics, you know, and probiotics is what keeps our gut biome healthy, which boosts our immune system. It's just a very, very healthy ingredient. Whereas when it's supermarket, chung it has no real, you know, medicinal or health benefits. No, no probiotics in there. The process in itself, it takes about two days to make a supermarket chung, because what they do is instead of the fermentation happening naturally or the or nature causing fermentation, they add, you know, bacteria in it that causes this fermentation and the funky flavor forms, and it takes two days. Whereas for a really good natural chung 3-4-5 years, I've had chungs that were 1015 years. I've had soy sauce that was 135 years. You know,
CK: Why how was it?
HK: A drop would make a soup, standout. The complexity, the smoothness, the saltiness without being uncomfortable. When something's very salty, it makes your palate uncomfortable. But 135-year-old soy sauce, it's salty as hell but he gives it puts a smile on your face.
CK: Let's talk about rice. What is perfect rice and how do you make it?
HK: Well perfect rice, you're looking for a texture that's not overly sticky. And each kernel of rice is, is its own. And it's soft enough where it's comforting but has enough bite. It's almost like somebody describing a perfectly done pasta, I think. You know, there, there are many different techniques of cooking rice because there's even wood right rice, there are many different kinds of white rice. There's the very small grain rice that's expensive, that only real fine dining, Korean Japanese restaurants use. The medium grain is what most people use the long grain that's usually used in Chinese or Thai, Vietnamese cuisine. And the textures are all different, the recipes are all different. The technique of cooking those rice are all different. So, it's it's difficult to sort of teach one technique and to have it apply to every cuisine. But I think for me, just like what I learned, making sandwiches from a chef one day was the most important part of a sandwich is the bread because it's the first thing the mouth gets in contact with. And I think that's how it is with Korean cuisine and rice. The bonchons can always change but the rice is always going to be the same and every bite of a Korean meal, you will have rice in your mouth.
CK: Well, almost all cultures rinse their rice many multiple times and then also let them sit in the water a bit. That's not a tradition we have here. I can never figure that out. Why do you think that's it's so different?
HK: I can tell you why we soak the rice, especially in this area where we're using rice cookers where you can cook rice in 20 minutes with the pressure and everything. That's not enough time for the water to really penetrate the center of the rice, meaning if you don't rinse the rice, and if you don't let it rest a little bit. The core of each kernel is going to be a little al dente. And the worst, worst result is having undercooked rice If it's under cooked, it's horrible so, what happens when we rinse it and let it sit for a while usually 10 to 20 minutes, it's enough time for the water to slowly seep in. So, it gets a little head start. And that's the difference between liquid being able to penetrate to the core of the rice and it not having the time to.
CK: I've been asking this question for 10 years. And you finally answered. That makes perfect sense to me. Now I know why I soak rice. Great. So, talk to me about alcohol you said unlike a French wine pairing with the wines chosen to suit the food, I love this. The food is chosen to suit the specific alcohol. The alcohol comes first. Yes. And then you figure out what to eat with it. Right? Could you talk about that thing, I think that's great.
HK: Korea’s a big drinking culture and Koreans like to separate eating and drinking. Meaning it's it stinks for Korean restaurants because many, many Koreans when they have dinner right after work 5-6-7 o'clock, they don't drink that much. They drink afterwards. And when when I mean afterwards, they don't go to bars, they go to other restaurants. And they go to restaurants that are specifically the food is for drinking. You pick the menu out based on what you want to drink. Meaning if you really want to get plastered that day, you don't want to drink beer, right because that's going to fill you up. You want to drink soju and when you want to drink soju there are specific dishes and restaurants that serve the best food that goes along with soju and that's where you go.
CK: Everyone has been talking about kimchi. My wife loves kimchi, and my refrigerator has yogurt and kimchi. I think we have the probiotic refrigerator. Is there's something about kimchi that most people don't know. You know, everyone kind of knows a little bit about it, but you obviously know a lot about it. So, is there something you want to share with us about?
HK: Yes, it's tough to make kimchi with a recipe. You have to really understand the process of fermentation and kimchi isn’t a dish. It's a process. It's the process of fermentation when it comes to, you know, Korean cabbage. And there isn't a perfect country there is there's always the best for you sort of you know, you know even my wife likes kimchi that's several weeks more fermented than I do. And that's why there's always less stuff for her to eat because I actually eat less lightly fermented or an earlier fermented kimchi. I don't know, it's, it's something that the more you learn about it, the more you make it, the more you eat it, the more specific you're going to like your kimchi. The one generic sort of philosophy that I would like to share is any kind of fermentation you want to avoid as many much chemicals as possible, because manmade chemicals hinders natural fermentation. It makes the fermentation shorter. I've had kimchi in Korea that was more than 10 years old. And the texture of that kimchi was just like I had made it yesterday, which means the bite was as crispy, sharp and you could hear the kimchi, but that's when everything is organic. That's when you know the fermentation hasn't peaked, and, and is coming down.
CK: If you had to pick one. This is kind of a silly question. But if you had to pick one dish that might get at the heart and soul of Korean cooking is the combinations of flavors and textures techniques. Is there a dish, let's say out of your book that you would recommend or a couple this sort of to introduce people to the philosophy of Korean cooking?
HK: Yes, I have. But it shouldn't be the first dish that you cook when you are not familiar with Korean cuisine. But it should be the dish you cook when you feel like you really want to understand Korean culture through the food. Now it's the doenjang jjigae, which is the fermented soybean stew. And this is a dish that every Korean who's ever lived in Korea, a family member has cooked for them at their home. It's the dish that when I'm invited to somebody's family that they always serve because that doenjang jjigae represents them as as who they are. Every family who is a foodie family has tremendous pride in the doenjang jjigae that they have in their fridge. It's the one dish that I serve at my restaurant that can emotionally move old grown Korean men, because sometimes it reminds them of their home, their mother, their grandmother. And that to me is powerful. We don't really consider ourselves chefs’ artists. Really, you know, we're more of craftsman. But when we're able to emotionally move old, old grown men because it reminds them of their childhood. That's pretty powerful.
CK: Hooni, it's been my honor and pleasure having you on Milk Street I have really enjoyed the time we spent together. Thank you.
HK: Thank you for having me. It's been great.
CK: That was Hooni Kim. His book is My Korea Traditional Flavors Modern Recipes. Gochujang has been around at least since the ninth century when it was referred to as Korean pepper paste. Back then it was probably made with black peppers. Chili peppers, a key ingredient in gochujang did not show up in East Asia until the 16th century. Today, just like the Scoville scale for chilies there was now a GHU a gochujang hot taste unit, which ranges from mild hot to extreme hot. So maybe it's just a matter of time before gochujang will be sold here in America with labels such as Mad Dog meet your maker Black Mamba and Death Sauce, or simply put Mo hatta mo better. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Yogurt loaf cake with coriander and orange. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.
CK: You know you say French desserts. I think of -___ and laminated pastries and tarts. You know, it's sophisticated stuff that you're not going to make at home. That's why you go out and buy it right. But there is also this recipe we just heard about. It's been around for a long time. It's yogurt cake. And the magic of this recipe was they actually use the container of the yogurt it comes in in the store as a measuring device, which means that you know the average nine-year-old can throw this thing together on a Wednesday afternoon. So seemed like a great idea, right? I mean, why not?
LC: That's right as charming as it sounds to use the little glass yogurt cup. Where are you going to use measuring cups here, but it doesn't mean that this cake is any less easy to put together. It's a really simple cake but really versatile. You can have it for dessert. You could have it for breakfast, you could have it for a snack, and you can change up the flavor profile. So, the mixing method is super simple. We whisk together dry ingredients and wet ingredients and combine the two there's no mixer necessary. It comes together in about 40 minutes.
CK: And what kind of flavorings did we opt for here?
LC: So, the cake is simple with you know flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, oil, obviously the yogurt which is adding some flavor but it's also making the cake really nice and moist. To that we added a little bit of orange zest. Again, this is a versatile cake, you could add any kind of citrus zest that you wanted. And we also added some ground coriander, which is a little bit unusual in sweets, I think we think of that as more of a savory spice that they use it a lot in Middle Eastern deserts. We toast it a little bit to really bring out its aroma and adds almost like a little bit of a citrusy flavor. So combined with the orange, it's almost like if you've ever had orange flower water, it kind of adds that sort of flavor. Something that you can't quite put your finger on but it's really delicious and complex.
CK: Well orange and coriander with the yogurt loaf cake is actually a great combination and it's a really, really simple one bowl cake. Lynn thank you so much.
LC: You're welcome Chris. You can get this recipe for yogurt loaf cake with coriander and orange at Milk Street radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio next up Bianca Bhaskar deciphers family recipes. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
DH: Hi, this is Doug Holman calling from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And here's my cooking tip. Whenever I'm making a homemade, creamy like ranch dressing, or sprinkling for popcorn, I've been grabbing the cream of tartar along with a variety of other spices for a nice sour hit. I know folks just usually use cream of tartar for egg whites. But it's really an interesting asset that I'm finding a great use for in the kitchen. And that's my tip.
CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary tip, I'm most street radio please go to 177 Milk Street dot com slash radio tips. Next up its regular contributor Bianca, Bosker. Bianca, how are you?
Bianca Bosker: I'm doing well, Chris, how are you?
CK: I'm pretty good. What's new with you?
BB: So, I was cleaning my closet out a couple of months ago. And I came across a dusty, faded old box of my grandmother's recipes. Since then, I've been attempting a few of her signature dishes with admittedly very mixed results. And that process has made me think a bit about the evolution of the recipe. And in particular, the recipe card. Were recipe cards, something that played a role in your kitchen or your family's kitchen?
CK; Well yeah, they did. In fact, I still have recipe cards from a Vermont Baker who taught me how to bake. I got her cards after she passed and so, I still have them. But deciphering them is something else again, because there are a lot of things she didn't quite explain fully. But anyway, I do have them, and I treasure them.
BB: Well, that's what I've discovered as well. You know, my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago. But one thing that struck me as I've been going through her own recipes is just how much they revealed besides how to make a meal. I mean in some ways, they're as intimate as old love letters, they reveal friendships. There's this Imperial chicken recipe I found that's labeled from Luba Borla, Urbana, Illinois. They tell you which recipes were used a lot. There's this recipe for a ____which is, you know, brittle. There's unknowable brown stuff plucked all over it. They track the passage of time, there's these, you know, misspellings like garlic with a ck that sort of allude to my grandmother's Slavic past her attempt to wrestle with this new language in a new place. They hint at family drama. And yeah, as I also discovered, when I attempted to make these dishes, they're often frustratingly incomplete.
CK: Well, I famously cooked the 12-course meal out of Fanny farmer years ago. And what I found was, it's all about what's missing, I mean, a pie pastry, the instruction or three words make a paste, right? That was it exactly. There was no, you know, no ingredients, no technique, no butter, the size of peas, just make a paste. And then you come across just mind-blowing things like whisking, ate egg whites for 30 minutes, because they used these broom-like straws to whisk it, or they cook a fish for two hours, you know, they boil it, you just like, you'd love to time travel and go back into the kitchen and find out why they did it.
BB: Right. And what I find so interesting is, you know, the story of the recipe is sort of this story of moving towards greater and greater specificity. You know, to your point, like the early recipes, we're talking 1730 BC, were extremely vague. There are clay tablets from Mesopotamia, that record the first three steps for a lamb stew, as meat is used, you prepare water, you add fat. And it wasn't, as you probably know, until you know, the late 19th century, early 20th century where we even got standardized measurements. And, you know, gradually, science started to arrive in the kitchen. Recipe cards, which were apparently sort of an invention of magazines that they would send out to subscribers help to bring that precision into people's kitchens. But fast forward to today and not only can we reference in theory, our Betty Crocker recipe card box, but we can if you're like me cross index very easily 17 different so called perfect chocolate chip cookie recipes, each of which have probably been tested, you know, with 47, different cooking temperatures and 12 different chocolate chip brands, and get these you know, step by step illustrated directions on how to make them. And I just I found that in this process of going back to my grandmother's recipes has made me realize what we lose when we gain greater specificity in the kitchen.
CK: Well, first of all, I'd say that people actually did spend six or seven hours a day cooking, so specificity was not necessarily you know, butter, the size of a walnut, you know, was perfectly fine for most people at the time. And they could tell the difference between a low moderate and hot oven just by putting their hand in for five seconds. I so I, I'm not a fan of specificity if you do cook a lot, because at some point in time, like being a musician, you you'll learn the ropes. I think there is also something about recipe cards, though, that is telling, you know, you had a box of maybe 50 cards or 100 cards, you didn't have 1000 cards probably, which meant that people cooked a much smaller number of recipes over and over again, right? You weren't cooking 18 different cuisines over the course of a month. As a result, you got really good at those recipes. As a result, you didn't need specificity, right it was a very limited repertoire. And I think that's what people lose today is, you know, you and I might cook something from Lebanon one night, and something from Taipei another night. That wasn't happening back in the 1800s.
BB: Totally, you know, I've been trying just as an example, to recreate my grandmother's Cream of Wheat dumplings, which you know, is a recipe that she knew so well that she barely had to write it down. And, you know, she mentioned that you need butter, but didn't specify how much and I've made it now over and over and over again, trying to figure out how much butter what temperature is the butter? When do you mix it in? And I do think that that process of trial and error has made me think about and understand this recipe in a totally new more intimate way. But it's also been this incredible experiment in family history and bonding and trying to reconstruct what it was like to be there in the kitchen or what exactly was that flavor When my grandmother would put down the soup with the dumplings. So, you know, in this case, admission has been in a weird way part of the gift of these recipes, you know, it's yeah taught me not so much how to follow a recipe but how to cook and I feel grateful for that. Well,
CK: Well, they had a lot of experience, but they had a feel for it. And today, I don't think people have a feel for it the way they used to. So, there are lots of ways of getting to the end result you can talk about the science and cooking you can have very specific recipes, which is great. But other people got there through a very different way and and and there is some charm, as you say, to the inexact science of putting out good food.
BB: Well, it's made me very grateful to my grandmother for leaving her recipes but also for leaving things out of her recipes,
CK: Recipe cards are love letters from the past.
BB: Absolutely. Well put.
CK: Bianca Thank you so much. Pleasure.
BB: Thank you.
CK: That was journalist Bianca Bosker. You know there are lots of types of recipes and recipes for success recipes for disaster even recipes of course for love. Some are written down some are word of mouth others are just common sense. recipes for life are pretty common to heaping cups of patience and a dash of generosity. But the very best recipe I know is for cooking, and here it is. Follow the recipe. If you tune in too late just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast Spotify wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk street visit us at 177 Milk Street dot com there you can download each week's recipe watch the latest season of our television show or order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimbell’s Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Executive Producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production held by Debby Paddock. Additional editing Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme Music by Toubab Krewe additional music by Georg Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX.