Fusion, Part II: Bibimbap

Korean food has not been at the forefront  in the rush to embrace all things foodie. Kimchi, that condiment of pungent aroma, is a love/hate dish. Bibimbap is a thing of mystery to the uninitiated. Once, when presented with a bibimbap set-up, my sisters and I were at a loss: a radiating hot, lidded stone bowl, little dishes of condiments, a raw egg—what to do?

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Bibimbap in stone bowl

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Bibimbap condiments

Roy Choi changed that. Born in Korea and raised in Los Angeles, he revved up today’s food truck scene by sending Kogi out into LA with a street-smart Mexican/Korean menu. Alerted by Tweets about where to begin the next 30-minute wait, eager fans line up for kimchi quesadillas, bulgogi burritos, and short rib sliders. As I am not a tweeter and am miles from LA, I made do with pupusas.

So imagine my delight when the hotel desk clerk recommended Tako, “a Mexican/Korean fusion restaurant in downtown Sacramento. Ignoring the Weather Blonde’s gleeful forecast of the first substantial rain in fourteen months, I loaded my pockets with bus money and headed out the door. Once again, Google Maps did its magic. Two bus transfers and one Gold Line ticket later, there I was—no lines, no Twitter alert, no reservations.

I ate all three of my bulgogi tacos, bought a kimchi quesadilla to go, and reversed my trip on Google Maps. The promised rain began on my three-block walk from the bus stop, and I dripped in the door, having saved a trip to LA, and looking forward to Mexican/Korean food for dinner instead of the hotel’s happy hour snacks.

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Bus stop detail

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Dae japchae tacos

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Tako menu

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Thought this was a bar, but it’s a woodworker’s house.

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Bibimbap, makes six servings

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped green onion
4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
20 ounces rib-eye steak, sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups uncooked glutinous (sticky) white rice, rinsed
6 1/2 cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound fresh spinach, washed and chopped
12 ounces cucumber, Julienne
12 ounces carrots, Julienne
sesame oil
8 ounces fresh bean sprouts
6 eggs
6 sheets nori, crumbled
6 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup chili bean paste (Kochujang)

Beef marinade: Combine the soy sauce, sugars, garlic, green onions, sesame seeds in a large bowl; add the sliced beef strips to the marinade, and season with salt and pepper. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Rice: Bring the rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover; simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C), and place 6 Korean stone bowls in oven.

Combine shiitake mushrooms and 1/2 cup hot water in a small bowl, and soak for about 10 minutes, until pliable. Trim stems and discard.  Thinly slice the caps. Set aside.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add spinach to the water just long enough to wilt the leaves, and then drain and pat dry. Set aside.

Combine cucumber and carrots in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat wok over medium-high heat. Cook carrots and cucumbers in a small amount of sesame oil to soften, stirring frequently. Remove from pan, and set aside. Add a small amount of sesame oil to the pan, and cook spinach in sesame oil for a minute or two. Remove spinach from pan,and set aside. Add the meat strips and marinade to the wok; cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces in volume, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Transfer the stone bowls from the oven to suitable heat-resistant surface. Brush each bowl with sesame oil to coat. Divide the rice into the bowls, and gently pack to the bottom (the rice should sizzle as you arrange). Arrange the cucumbers and carrots, bean sprouts, greens, shiitake mushrooms, and beef mixture over each potion of rice. Immediately before serving, add one raw egg yolk to each bowl, drizzle with about a tablespoon of sesame oil,and top with the nori.

Serve Kochujang sauce as a condiment.

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