In CityBeat's June 12 issue, I wrote about how Korean cuisine was finally getting its due on the American ethnic food scene. It was a tour of some of the best Korean restaurants in San Diego’s Convoy District, but it was also a survey of Korean flavors. And, just as I combined those dishes and restaurants into a single article, I also wanted to find a way to combine many of those flavors in a dish.
Much as Korean food has found its way into America’s ethnic food Main Street, so has its flavors begun to show up in our high cuisine. Jean-Georges Vongerichten paved the way: His well-demonstrated penchant for Asian flavors is one part of it; another is that his wife, Marja Vongerichten (née Marja Dominique Allen), is the star and creator of the PBS series The Kimchi Chronicles.
But it was David Chang, a Korean himself, who took Korean flavors over America’s restaurant scene ramparts with his Momofuku restaurants. While Chang's offered different explanations for the name of his chain (a direct Japanese translation of “Lucky Peach,” a reference to the name of the inventor of instant ramen—Momofuku Ando—or the intent to shock based on the similarity in sound to the term “motherfucker”) his skills, his unbelievable success and his equally undeniable journey of self-discovery led to the adoption of Korean flavors at the highest level of American cuisine.
It was in somewhat of that spirit that I sought to incorporate the flavors I tasted for my article into a single dish. To do so, I braised pork cheeks—the cheeks of any beast, sea- or land-based, are often the most flavorful parts—in soju, a Korean spirit that tastes like vodka crossed with sake. Instead of pasta, I made the ravioli out of pickled thin slices of daikon radish (a classic accompaniment to Korean barbeque). A reduction of the braising liquid tied it all together and Korean chili threads and chive oil provided a dramatic garnish.
For the chive oil:
1 bunch chives (Chinese chives or the green part of green onions)
2 cups grapeseed oil
For the braise:
1 pound pork cheeks, trimmed
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 cups soju
2 cups pork stock
2 large knobs of ginger, trimmed
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
For the ravioli
8-10 pieces of Korean pickled daikon slices (available at most Asian markets)
For the garnish
Chive Oil (see above)
Korean chili threads (available at most Asian markets)
Make the chive oil. Trim the chives back to the white part. Blanch them in boiling water or run under very hot tap water for 20 seconds and then pat dry. Place chives in a food processor and process while drizzling the grapeseed oil in very slowly. Transfer the chive oil to a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour (overnight is preferable). Strain the solids from the oil using a very fine mesh strainer.
Braise the pork cheeks. Cut the pork cheeks into 1-inch strips and season them with salt and pepper. Sear in the grapeseed oil over high heat. In a large pot, combine the seared pork cheeks with the remaining ingredients (except the Gochujang Paste) and bring to a boil over high heat. When the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour. After the hour, add two tablespoons Gochujang Paste. After two more hours, add two additional tablespoons of the Gochujang Paste and braise for two more hours, until the pork-cheek meat is tender. Strain the solids from the liquids and transfer the liquids into a sauce pan.
Make the sauce. Reduce the braising liquid over low heat for 20 minutes before tasting. Add another tablespoon or two of Gochujang Paste depending on the spice and salinity of the sauce and your tastes.
Chop the meat. Trim most of the fat from the pieces of braised pork cheek. Pull (using two forks) or chop the meat.
Plate the dish. In the center of a large plate, place two Daikon radish disks. Place a tablespoon of the pork cheek meat in the center of each disk and top with another radish disk. You now have your “ravioli.” Spoon the sauce over the ravioli and garnish with the chive oil around the sauce and the chili threads over the ravioli.