Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Korean spaghetti

This meal got its start from Sichuan spaghetti, which came from Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients. I've had some Korean soybean paste and hot pepper paste sitting in my cabinet for a while, but many of the recipes in my main Korean cookbook (Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall) are fairly intricate, with lots of ingredients. I haven't really dived into it yet. So, I decided that the thing to do was to cook a more generic stir-fry with these ingredients, just to get a feel for them.

Sichuan spaghetti turned out to be a good choice to try these new ingredients. Rather than using five tablespoons of Chinese hot bean paste, I used three of the Korean soybean paste and one of the hot pepper paste (not knowing quite how hot it was beforehand). The soybean paste clumped together in the pan, a little too sticky for this treatment (but then, would you stir-fry miso unadulterated with some thinning agent like water? No); I added some ch'ongju to deglaze the pan a bit.

The end result was very similar to Sichuan spaghetti. The main difference was that it wasn't as oily. The Sichuan spaghetti contains not only the oil used to fry the ingredients but also oil from the hot bean paste; there was no additional oil from the combination of Korean soybean paste and hot pepper paste. On the other hand, the soybean paste wasn't the right consistency to stir-fry alone, and mixing two ingredients for the sauce adds an extra step that the hot bean paste makes unnecessary. I suppose one way around the consistency problem would be to mix the soybean paste and hot pepper paste with water or some other fluid; that would improve the consistency of the sauce, in stir-frying terms.

In any case, it was an interesting experiment, and it did give me an idea of what to do with the Korean ingredients. The hot pepper paste will probably become the go-to source of heat for certain stir-fries; not as vinegary as Tabasco sauce, nor as powdery as cayenne or red pepper flakes. It has a wine-dark purplish color that led my fevered imagination to ponder combining it with red wine for a bizarre variant of traditional European sauces. The soybean paste resembles a particularly chunky, earthy version of miso; the misos you tend to find in the store are smoother, without obvious bits of bean in them.

Any meal that takes an "exotic," hitherto unknown ingredient and makes it comprehensible is a winner in my book.

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