One of the most promising new cookbooks to hit shelves this spring is Koreatown: A Cookbook, written by freelance food writer Matt Rodbard and chef Deuki Hong (Eater Young Gun class of 2015) of New York City's Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong. The pair have spent years studying the restaurants and dishes found in American Koreatowns and the result is this book, as much a travelogue and narrative as it is a book of recipes.
Authenticity isn't the chief rule; techniques are taken seriously, but they're employed playfully. Here, the authors tackle kimchi jeon, or kimchi pancakes. Don't have a Korean grocery store nearby? The Korean ingredients can also be ordered online.
Crisp and chewy pancakes are an incredibly popular menu item a Korean restaurants. They are fun to pull apart and offer diners little hints of kimchi (or scallions and seafood), mellowed out with crunch
and elevated by a soy-vinegar sauce. Note: You sometimes have to ask for the sauce if the busy servers forget. Never let this happen.
But. Most pancakes you find in American restaurants, and we're talking about 70 to 80 percent here, are (1) usually burnt and (2) way too doughy! Let us show you how to make them right. We're starting with the most basic, kimchi jeon. By using extra-fermented kimchi and a nice amount of kimchi juice, the pancake really packs a lot of flavor.
We use packaged pancake mix, which is available at any Korean grocery. We like how the mix of flour, baking powder, cornstarch and light seasoning binds together and tastes...and in our experience, almost all Korean restaurants and homes use it too, so this will give you the flavor you know and love. The real key is finding the right ratio of vegetables or seafood to dough. We aim for just enough batter to bring the filling together. When frying, it's important to follow our method: take refrigerated batter and drop into a hot pan before lowering the heat. This will help to cook the pancake evenly, with crisping throughout. And always keep your eye on the prize at all times, as they can burn quite quickly if the flame gets out of control.
Makes 8 Small Pancakes
1 cup Korean pancake mix
1 cup ice-cold sparkling water
1 cup diced extra-aged kimchi
½ cup kimchi juice
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon doenjang
1 teaspoon coarsely ground gochugaru
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil, as needed
Jeon Dipping Sauce (recipe follows), for serving
1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the oil and dipping sauce and refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow everything to mingle and marry. Preheat the oven to warm, or the lowest temperature setting.
2. Generously slick a large cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil and heat it over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, drop ½ cup of batter into the pan for each pancake. Drop the heat to medium-low and fry 4 to 5 minutes until light golden brown along the edges, then flip and fry the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes, until also golden and the pancake is cooked through. Fry longer if you like it crispier, but take care not to let it get too dark. Repeat with remaining batter, stirring between additions, and reheating and oiling the pan between batches.
3. Remove pancakes from the skillet and place on a paper-towel-lined plate, turning them once to remove the excess oil. Place the pancake on a cutting board and cut to your preferred size and shape (we like ours squared off). Keep pancakes warm in the oven while you make the rest. Serve with Jeon Dipping Sauce.
JEON DIPPING SAUCEMakes ½ Cup
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons finely ground gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. This will keep in the fridge indefinitely.
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