All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012
It has been more than two weeks since I posted anything but that doesn’t mean I am not cooking up a storm out here. After my Orlando trip – my Asian food obsession continued. I have been trying all kinds of new ideas out but, while most of them tasted pretty good, few LOOKED very pretty. And none really blew my socks off flavor-wise, either, so I held back posting the recipes. One dish that I liked very much was a seared shiitake mushroom & grilled tofu dish. I am not a big fan of shiitake mushrooms as I think they have a gummy, fishy texture that is icky. But I pan-fried the beJesus out of the ones I had used (and reserved) to make the stock for my Hot & Sour Soup recipe and they became chewy & more pleasant. Here are some pics:
The final dish looked like this:
The primary reason I didn’t post THIS dish was that it was dependent entirely on this sweet & hot BBQ-y kinda sauce I found at the Korean market:
Sweet & hot as promised – this stuff is delicious but I have no idea what it is or how to send folks out to find some. And – for all I know, it is made of giant water bugs like the paste I accidentally got at another Asian market a while back. This Korean stuff is sorta similar to this stuff from my childhood:
which I still ADORE – despite the fact that it has about 3000 calories in a tablespoon but the Korean version is not as thick & smokey. At any rate – the Korean stuff was critical to the dish – so I didn’t post the recipe.
Additionally – I made a garlic eggplant dish which was delicious but looked like melted tar due to the dark soy sauce (think Texas tea) I used.
I made a green bean dish & a lemongrass shrimp thing:
This is the marinade for the shrimp. At least IT looks pretty.
I tried this can of vegetarian “meat” in the green beans:
It looked like ground pork but smelled sweet & disgusting. I pan-fried the shit out of it & saturated it with spicy sauces (a black pepper sauce & hoisin & sriracha etc) until it was chewy an unrecognizable. I made a faux pork & garlic green beans – Asian style:
But i wouldn’t recommend this dish at all.
I made an orange chicken using seitan:
Also underwhelming. I made two kinds of tofu satays – both failures. Here is some pressed tofu in a satay marinade:
It fell apart on the grill.
I photographed everything – hoping I’d come up with at least one keeper – but no.
Delivered Chinese would top all those dishes & be cheaper & WAY easier. The learning curve on this Asian stuff is brutal. So disappointing because the Asian markets are such wonderlands of opportunity. Speaking of which – if you ever see keffir lime leaves – BUY THEM & then go home & Google a recipe using them. This little packet BURST with the aroma of a Thai restaurant the second I opened it.
These Thai chilis are fun, too.
Now – researching recipes for inspiration – I kept coming across a Korean hot paste that intrigued me. It is called “gochujang” and none of my Thai stores had it – or even knew what it was. So – last week – I hauled my ass to Korea Town in search of a Korean market. I found one.
Once again – these Asian markets do not disappoint! This one was a wonderland of crazy, fucked up looking shit & then products we all know but with entirely Korean labeling. The only English I could find – at first – was the aisle markers. I saw one that said “sauces & spices” or something so I went there. They seemed to have even more options here than at my Thai market but I could not find GOCHUJANG. Lost, I spotted a woman in the aisle with me. I Googled gochujang & brought up images & approached the woman.
“Excuse me,” I said.
She looked at me in surprise & with supreme distaste – as if I’d just walked up to her & cut a loud, wet fart.
“I’m sorry, but do you know where I can find this?” I asked & held my iphone out to her. She literally recoiled from my gesture, maintaining her offense at my approach.
Undeterred – I pushed the phone closer to her face. She started to say no – as if she thought I was giving her my phone & then she saw the images. “Oh, over here,” she said & led me to a HUGE aisle-end stand stacked with tubs of gochujang – but the word “gochujang” appeared NOWHERE.
She waved her arm over the display.
“Very spicy!” she warned.
“OK, thank you,” I said and looked at the mountain of product, confused and scanning for the word gochujang.
“VERY SPICY,” she insisted.
“Yeah, OK. Thank you,” I said & she walked away from me – her disgust with me only partially abated.
I picked up a tub of it & finally found the word gochujang in teeny tiny print on the front. I put it in my cart & decided to tour the rest of the market – hunting for inspiration.
Now – I don’t know how familiar you are with Korean food – but it is like those folks are from a different planet – with an entire planet’s worth of bizarre & exotic culinary options. I have been to Korean BBQ restaurants – which are lame for me because they are really all about meat – but wtf? What ARE those marinating meats? And more bizarre – what are those unidentifiable non-meat things they have on the raw bar for grilling? I can’t identify a single item up there except for shrimp. All kinds of seaweedy looking things & grasses & sprouty things. Everything vegetarian looks grey & gelatinous and all the meat looks shredded intentionally to render them as unidentifiable as the vegetarian fare. Hmmm….I’m no food-o-phobe but those Korean options spook me.
Similarly – this Korean market had a gauntlet of pre-made things on a self-service bar.
Not even a KOREAN explanation for what any of it was – though I will admit – lots of it looked pretty tasty. But – after my waterbug close call – I shan’t eat anything Asian – the ingredients of which are not clearly explained to me beforehand.
Next to this smorgasbord – was the seafood counter:
Next time you get a craving for fish heads – you can thank me for showing you where to buy them.
Everything is just all out & floppy & looks SORE and sorely unhygienic but what do I know? They did have shrimp on sale for $3.99 a pound with a two pound limit – so I stocked up. I watched a woman bag some & hand it to the fish monger guy to weigh & price. I did the same & am proud to say that my best guess at 2 pounds weighed in at 2.1 lbs. The fish monger let me slide.
On a side note – the vein in these shrimp was on the under side of their curve – rather than along the “spine.” Not sure what that was about but they tasted fine & I didn’t get sick. So – there.
Another curiosity was the sweet potato vendor. Who knew there were sweet potato fetishists out there?
The meat department proved disappointing after the horror show of a seafood department. Mostly, I learned that ox tails are not cheap.
Which brings me now to today’s recipe – Sock-It-To-Me Vegetarian (or not) Spicy Sausage & Mushroom Pasta – Gangnam Style. I made this with various produce I had laying around, my precious gochujang & some vegetarian sausage.
Gochujang is like a spicy tomato paste – but not so spicy that I needed to be warned TWICE by that cranky woman in the Korean grocery. I’m calling this dish Gangnam in honor of my hero – Psy – and his amazing dance-craze video:
Here is what Wikipedia had to say about it (among other things):
“Gangnam Style” is a Korean neologism that refers to a lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district of Seoul, where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain supposed “class”. The term was listed in Time‘s weekly vocabulary list as a manner associated with lavish lifestyles in Seoul’s Gangnam district. Psy likened the Gangnam District to Beverly Hills, California, and said in an interview that he intended a twisted sense of humor by claiming himself to be “Gangnam Style” when everything about the song, dance, looks, and the music video is far from being such a high class.
People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are—it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style”—so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they’re not.—Psy
At any rate – this came out VERY meaty for a non-meat dish but you can certainly use real sausage if you prefer. I also used leftover (frozen) arrabiata sauce in this. You can use your own arrabiata or a jarred version – if you like.
Sock-It-To-Me Vegetarian (or not) Spicy Sausage & Mushroom Pasta – Gangnam Style