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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Asian influence is great for barbecue, potato salads

Marc Bouchard

“I’ve more than once called Korean food ‘Japanese food with guts,’ not as a slight against Japanese food (wonderful in its own right), but as an endorsement of Korean cuisine’s vigorous, muscular, completely unsubtle flavor profile.”

– Mark Bittman, New York Times ...

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“I’ve more than once called Korean food ‘Japanese food with guts,’ not as a slight against Japanese food (wonderful in its own right), but as an endorsement of Korean cuisine’s vigorous, muscular, completely unsubtle flavor profile.”

– Mark Bittman, New York Times

Bittman hits it right on the head. Japanese food is spectacular in the way it highlights and enhances natural flavors, colors and textures. The Koreans start off strumming the same tune, then crank the volume up a couple of notches.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Korean approach to grilling meats. Their marinades are closely related to Japanese Teriyaki sauce, but with more complexity.

The following recipe has the usual sweet-salty balance, minus the vinegar found in most American sauces. Soy, ginger, scallions and sesame oil bounce the Umami levels through the roof.

The real secret lies in the addition of grated onion and pear. The pear may sound bizarre, but in fact both ingredients contain enzymes that help to tenderize the meat.

P.S. If you can’t find the large, round Asian pear in the marketplace, substitute a Bosc or Bartlett.

P.P.S. Make an extra-large batch of this and refrigerate for later use. It won’t take long for this to become your favorite grilling sauce.

KOREAN BBQ MARINADE

½ Asian pear

½ medium onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced

2 scallions, chopped

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

Pinch ground black pepper

Rub the pear and onion through the smaller holes of a hand or box grater. In a bowl, combine pear and onion puree with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.

Optional additions to marinade: Add any of the following to suit your tastes: 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, a few drops of Sriracha hot pepper sauce, a pinch of cayenne or other crushed hot pepper, 2 Tbsp. rice wine, 1 Tbsp. honey.

Now we are ready to grill. There are four tricks to getting the most out of this flavorful marinade:

1. Give it enough time to soak into the meat. One hour will give steak a savory crust; but two-12 hours is better.

2. Remember there’s sugar in the marinade, which can burn on the grill. So sear the meat or veggies over high heat, before sliding it over a lower flame to finish cooking.

3. Reserve a little extra marinade to use as a “mop” or finishing sauce just before serving.

4. Read the notes on choice of meat. Don’t waste a two-inch thick New York sirloin, when thinner pieces of flap meat will work even better.

KOREAN MIXED GRILL

a double portion of the
Korean BBQ marinade
(above)

2 lb. steak (see note)

6 Portobello mushrooms,
caps only

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled
and sliced ½-inch thick

Vegetable oil

Separate the marinade into three portions.

Combine one portion with the steak in a bowl. Toss well to coat. Allow to marinate one-24 hours.

Combine a second portion with Portobellos and onions. Toss well to coat and marinate for at least one hour.

Reserve the third portion.

To cook: Preheat your grill, setting one side high heat and the other low. Rub the grates with oil.

Remove meat from the marinade and place onto the hottest grates. Sear both sides until grill marks are prominent, then move over to the lower side to complete cooking. Remove meat when it is almost done and allow it to rest on a plate for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Repeat procedure with the vegetables. Baste vegetables and sliced meats with remaining marinade.

Notes on the meat: Korean barbecue usually uses thin cuts such as boneless short ribs or flank steak. Neither of these are common in local stores (try Saigon Market, Pine Street, Nashua).

Ideally, we are looking for beef that is not too thick, preferably with a little marbling for tenderness and flavor.

Because of its tenderizing properties, this marinade works wonders on less expensive cuts such as steak tips, flap meat, shoulder steak, flatiron or chuck blade. If necessary, slice them into ½-inch strips.

Fish? Tuna is awesome with this sauce. Also salmon. And, surprisingly, farm-raised catfish.

The words “Asian food” and “potato salad” rarely collide in the same sentence. But in fact the Koreans and Japanese make awesome tater salads, better (dare I say it) than most of the American versions!

What we are looking at is a creamy-textured, mayonnaise-based salad loaded with all sorts of goodies. Lightly-pickled cucumbers, crunchy peppers, sweet carrots, onions, you name it.

Don’t be afraid to overcook the potatoes a bit. Think chunky mashed potatoes. In fact, I usually use an ice cream scoop to dish it out.

A BETTER POTATO SALAD

1 cucumber, seeded and
diced (but not peeled)

2 Tbsp. distilled white
vinegar

2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and
diced

3 small carrots, peeled and
diced

2-3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

¼ cup diced red onion

2 scallions, chopped

½ red bell pepper, diced

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Mayonnaise to taste

Salt

Pepper

Toss cucumbers with distilled vinegar and two pinches of salt. Set aside for one hour, then drain.

Bring potatoes and carrots to a boil in a pot of lightly salted water. Cook until potatoes are fairly soft. Drain.

Sprinkle wine vinegar over potato-carrot mixture and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

When cool, add drained cucumbers, onions, scallions, peppers and parsley. Add 2 Tbsp. of mayonnaise and a pinch of pepper and toss with a spoon, crushing and mashing some of the potatoes as you go, so the mixture becomes creamy. Add more mayonnaise, salt or even vinegar to taste. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate for later use.

Optional add-ons: Minced hard-boiled eggs, diced ham, diced cooked sweet potatoes, 1-2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish, 2 Tbsp. plumped raisins, ¼ cup diced apple.

Marc Bouchard, of Hudson, is executive chef at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, Mass. Reach him c/o Encore, The Telegraph, 17 Executive Drive, Hudson, NH 03051.