Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jangjorim (장조림)

It has been a completely nutty week so far. Work is ... chaotic. This always happens right when filming ends, and filming just ended. So now is when things change and adjust and go crazy before everything settles back down.

I cannot wait for things to settle down.

Plus, there is this person at work ... oy gevalt! I touched on this briefly before, but it's getting worse. I can't even look at this particular co-worker anymore, it's making me that crazy. When faced with incompetence and someone with an inability to even realize that they are incompetent, I just stop talking to that person. They're not doing their job anyway, what do I have to discuss with them? All they want to talk about is their personal life or their plans for this weekend or whatever. I have no time for that nonsense, I have business to attend to.

Mean, yes. But very, very true, especially in a business where time is (literally) money. I don't tolerate fools or laziness well.

Sorry, tangent- I needed to vent. Onward!

A couple weeks ago, I was craving jangjorim (장조림), which I would consider a braise. "Jang (장)" is, I think, representative of "ganjang" 간장)," which is the Korean word for soy sauce. And "jorim (조림)" means braise or simmer or whatever. So it's a method of cooking, not really this specific dish.

I've seen jangjorim with peppers (small green Korean chilies, usually), without eggs, without meat, in an endless variety. Some people make their jangjorim quite sweet, while others make theirs quite salty, and yet others make theirs very mild.

I'm of the "salty" and "strong" persuasion. My mother's jangjorim is not quite as strongly salty, and she usually adds chilies. I cannot find Korean chilies here, so my compromise was to add lotus root (연근), which is traditionally made in a slightly sweeter version than this.

Jangjorim generally refers to a side dish (banchan, 반찬) of meat and eggs, simmered until the connective tissues of the meat (usually a tough cut) melt into mush, and the meat falls apart in slivers, like pot roast. I usually add garlic, but didn't this time because I was lazy. This is a very forgiving dish, it doesn't mind a little push and pull.

Soak the meat (in this case, 1 pound of lean stew meat purchased at Keller's, my local family-owned butcher shop and grocery store) in cold water. I do this in the pot that I will be cooking the dish in, and I change the water after ten minutes. I leave for another ten minutes, then pour out the water, refill with fresh water, and bring to a simmer.

Soaking the meat will cause the blood to come out of the meat and ... I don't know, soften it? Those "ten minute" estimates are just estimates. I am generally doing other things- cleaning, working, watching TV, something- and I change the water when I remember to. I don't use a timer or anything.
Boil the eggs. My method to boiling eggs is simple: eggs into pot, cover with cold water (as you can see, I didn't cover the eggs all the way, because if I did, they would float), bring to boil over medium-high heat (not high heat!). As soon as the eggs come to a boil, I put the lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Leaving the eggs for about 4 - 8 minutes would yield soft yolks. I leave mine for 10 - 15 minutes, or until I remember them.

I like boiling eggs this way because the yolks don't get that gray band around them, they stay nice and yellow. Much more appetizing that way.

Run the eggs under cold water to cool them, then peel off their little shells. I had issues getting the peels off cleanly, which my dad says is because I didn't completely cool the eggs. I'll try getting them totally cooled before I peel next time; hopefully, that will help.

I peeled the eggs, then added them to the pot with the beef and water.
I saw packs of lotus roots at the Korean market the last time I went, and I couldn't resist them. Because I never see Korean food here, I have odd cravings. I've taken Korean food for granted all my life, and I can't do that here. These seemed so very Korean, I had to get them, even though I've never cooked with them before.

Lotus roots are generally cooked in jorims in Korean cooking, but a little sweeter than jangjorim. I was fully prepared to make them the traditional way, but when I started making jangjorim, the lotus roots peered at me from the refrigerator. I decided to just throw 'em in (well, half the package, anyway).
Rinse the lotus roots. I leave them to drain a bit, but extra water doesn't hurt this dish, so it doesn't really matter. Add to the pot.
Once the beef, eggs, lotus roots, and water are at a simmer, I added soy sauce (maybe around 1/3 cup?), a little dash of fish sauce, and a shot of vinegar (I used apple vinegar, for fun). A word about the vinegar- I add it because I like tang and kick. If you wanted very dark eggs and lotus roots, opt away from the vinegar, as it tends to inhibit color bleeding. (This is a good trick for black clothing, which I own a lot of- a soak in water with a bit of white distilled vinegar will keep clothes blacker for longer).

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Doing this over high heat makes everything too volatile- the eggs crack, the beef and lotus roots break apart- so a lower heat is better, I think.

Even with the lean beef, there will be scum (see it, above?). I skim off the scum, trying not to take away too much of the water.
Skimmed. See how sad my eggs are? I am a bad hard-boiled egg peeler, I guess. I simmer the heck out of this pot. I'll put a lid on it, but slightly askew, so that there's a way for the steam to escape, then simmer simmer simmer.

I think I simmered this particular batch for about three hours at quite low heat. Yes, I am not kidding about the simmering. I taste as I go, because the beef and lotus roots will flavor the liquid. Once the liquid's nice and beefy and rooty, I'm done simmering. This time, it took three hours. If the liquid level drops too much, add more water (I probably added a little bit of water twice).

I like to cook jangjorim to death because I want that soy sauce flavor to go all through the eggs and meat. Japanese soy sauce eggs have very white whites because they are simmered for a very short time. That's all well and fine, but I want the whites of my eggs to be quite brown, then blend slowly into white.

I really like packing jangjorim for lunch, when I take my lunch to work, and that means that I don't take any of the liquid along- I just put an egg, some beef, and a few slices of lotus root on top of my rice. If everything's not very well flavored, I'll end up eating a very bland lunch, and who wants that?
There's still quite a lot of grease in the post, as you can see from the pretty shiny circles on the surface of the liquid. From experience, I have to say that this isn't the type of grease that will congeal when it cools. It just stays. I don't have one of those fat separator things, so I tried something I never tried before.

First, I fished out the beef, eggs, and lotus roots and put them into a smaller pot. Then I whipped out some crazy replacements for cheesecloth.
This blue and white thing is my coffee dripper contraption. My mother's youngest brother, who is an artist in Korea, made it. I kidnapped it when I was there earlier this year, and it is my best friend when I am in caffeine withdrawal mode. Obviously, it has a rather small base, so I propped it up on chopsticks to hold it in place.

I poured the liquid through the coffee filter, and it worked pretty well! Some scummy stuff and some of the oil stayed stuck to the filter, and the liquid that made it into the pot was pretty much clear. (See my sad broken eggs?)

I like this trick, as it's easy to clean up (washing cheesecloth is horrible). I heated up this smaller pot, just for safety's sake, and then let it cool before throwing everything into containers and refrigerating.
I rather love jangjorim. I always have, ever since I was a kid. The beef becomes string-cheese-y, falling into strips, and I love that texture. I eat string cheese one string at a time (yes, I am totally that person), and jangjorim is just the same.

The lotus roots were surprisingly good like this. When braised like this, they have a texture somewhere between a radish and a potato, with a nice briny flavor. I found that my ratios were not quite right- I needed one or two more eggs and probably the entire package of lotus roots- but that's always a tough thing to estimate.

I especially love jangjorim cold. It's one of those things that can be eaten in the summer, refreshingly cold, with a little rice, some kimchi, and some mook (or muk, 묵), which is dipped into the chilly, salty liquid of the jangjorim. That's been my dinner for the past few nights, and it makes me nostalgic for my family, for Koreatown, and for having Koreans around me.

I'll be making jangjorim again soon, I'm sure. With less mutilated eggs from now on!