A match made in the stew pot
I missed Korean food. Being away intensified my love for all things pickled, preserved and enriched with pork fat. My family at home looked confused when I tried to explain my cravings. Once Korean cuisine gets a hold of you, it doesn’t let go. It weaves its magic slowly, then holds on tight. I have it bad. I have the itch and I’m not ashamed. On the long plane ride back I had one thing on my mind: kimchi jjigae.
The first day back I dove head first into a steaming bowl of jjigae. I had been craving the blissful union of pork and kimchi, simmering away in a hot bowl. It got me thinking about soups and stews (something I admittedly do most days.) In the Western canon of cooking, pork doesn’t show up often as a key ingredient in soups. Pork stock can become greasy if not looked after, as well as have a strong presence in a final dish. I can get a jjigae whenever I like now, so I wanted to focus this month on something a little more Western.
I started playing around with pork in soups after an old restaurant co-worker became obsessed with the combination of sausage and barley. Moving to Korea had a significant effect as well, seeing as pork is cheap and barley is plentiful. I started toying with the idea of pork and barley stew. Lamb and barley is a classic soup, something that reminds me of cold winters in Virginia and leftover lamb shoulder. I wanted something different but simple, with those two ingredients working together in harmony.
Pork and barley. Two cheap, readily available ingredients in Korea. They play off each other extremely well (something Korea needs to get on soon). Chewy barley soaks up the unctuous pork broth, thickening it to a stew. Spiced with thyme, black pepper, fennel, and coriander, it conjures up fresh Italian sausage. The pork needs to cook slowly for a while so the meat is tender and not dried out. The prep is simple, and you should be able to find pork ready for jjigae at the market. Don’t worry about the fatty pieces; chuck it all in there to add some depth of texture and flavor. Serve it with a light salad dressed simply to cut through the richness and this stew will grab hold of you and not let go.
Pork and Barley Soup
- 200 grams of pork (prepped for Korean-style jjigae)
- 1/4 cup of barley
- 1 medium sized onion, diced
- 1/2 a large (Korean sized) carrot, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes, drained
- 6 oz of your favorite wheat beer (I use Scheinderweisse)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon fennel seed, crushed
- 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
- Salt & freshly ground coarse black pepper
Place a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. In the pot, brown the pork on all sides in the olive oil. Remove the pork from the pot and add the onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and sauté for three to four minutes (until softened). Add the garlic, thyme, fennel and coriander. Sauté for another two to three minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and place the pork back into the pot. Deglaze with the beer, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cover the pork and vegetables with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the pork cook for one-and-a-half to two hours. Stir occasionally and refill with stock or water if it reduces too much. When the pork is tender, stir in the barley (make sure to rinse it quickly in water to remove some of the starch). Let the barley cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender but not overcooked (you still want some bite to it). Season with salt and pepper to taste.