In North America, when we think about food fundamentals, “meat and potatoes” comes to mind. Besides referring to something somewhat vulgar in urban slang (think body part…it’s always colourful metaphors for body parts), meat and potatoes make up basic meals: steak frites; sausage and mash; pork chops and scalloped potatoes, poutine…
In fact, diners can be defined by their affinity to the archetypal new world plate of meat and potatoes. “My husband is a meat and potatoes ‘kinda guy.’” “Are you kidding me? My John (or Jane) Wonder Bread isn’t adventurous. He (or she) tucks into three squares of meat and potatoes a day.”
The implication usually involves him (or her) not appreciating more refined fare or his (or her) habitually bland diet, representing the limits for trying new cuisines.
Moreover, the value proposition when dining out usually involves quantifying how much protein and starch gets plated. Vegetables are “garnishes” to add colour.
Before fussier diners consider the “pedigree” of the ingredients, some of us look at the presentation. We consider the temperature the dish was served. We try to identify the techniques employed. We taste the plate, considering flavours, aromas, and textures. Usually, audible appreciation follows…
“mmmmmm…Sweetie, you gotta taste this! It’s gorgeous!”
Simply put, there is more to a dish than just “meat and potatoes.” In fact, vegetables are beginning to be featured in lieu of meat. To cater to changing tastes, many palettes moving away from fattier comfort foods, Chefs are looking to more vegetarian-oriented plates. Vegetarian dishes are no longer merciful options for non-meat eating members of larger groups of diners, something cobbled together with pantry staples. Think mains and appetizers, made with fresh ingredients. Diners are looking to eat healthier. Diners are recognizing how expensive meat can be, be it sheer price or ecological footprint.
Now, what happens when Wonder Bread John or Jane sits down to a meal at an “ethnic” restaurant. Say, a Korean one? The usual suspect dish to ease someone into the cuisine is a rice and vegetable bibimbap, served in a stone bowl (or “dolsot”). The role of “banchan” side dishes is explained as they are served alongside. But, if John (or Jane) is game for a little spice, I usually point the skittish to gamjatang.
It literally is a bowl of meat and potatoes. Only, a soul satisfying soup, deeply savoury and redolent of chiles, keeps everything warm.
Having ordered and enjoyed many a bowl, I finally took the time to try making it at home.
What You’ll Need
- 8-10 cups of pork stock or broth
- 1 medium onion
- 1″ finger of ginger
- 2 dried red chiles
- 2 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 – 2 1/2 lbs of pork neck bones
- 4 medium waxy potatoes (yellow or red)
- 1-2 tbsp of Korean soybean paste (doenjang) – to taste
- 1-3 tbsp of Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) – to taste
- 4-6 leaves of napa cabbage
- napa cabbage kimchi as a side (optional)
- fish sauce to flavour
- 3 whole stalks of green onion (scallions) for garnish (optional)
- roasted black or white sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
- We usually start dishes like this with a pork trotter stock, made by barely simmering trotters in water with whole spices for 6-10 hours. If you opt to make your own pork stock, start it the day before you attempt this recipe. This will give you time to clarify and de-fat the resulting stock.
- Afterward, soak you pork neck bones in cold water for 2 hours. Pork neck bones can be purchased in many oriental super markets. It is usually in the butcher case and tends to be cut to order. Make sure the pieces are cut small enough to accommodate your bowls. Soaking the neck bones hydrates the bones and helps to wash away the any bone meal or coagulated blood. If you cannot find neck bones, look for meatier pork bones to substitute.
- Halve the onions and set them aside.
- Slice the ginger and set them aside.
- Place the neck bones in a large pot of cold water and bring it to a boil on medium heat.
- Boil the bones violently for 10-15 minutes, uncovered.
- Discard the water, reserving the bones and rinse the pot, making sure to wash away any “bits.”
- Rinse the bones, removing any excess fat.
- Add the bones back to the pot.
- Place the pot back onto medium heat.
- Immediately add the pork stock, onion, ginger, chiles, and mushrooms to the pot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 3 to 5 hours. You want the meat to fall from the bone.
- Clean your napa cabbage and tear it into pieces. Napa cabbage kimchi can be substituted.
- Peel, roughly chop, and soak your potatoes to remove surface starch.
- With an hour remaining to cook (braise) the neck bones, add the potatoes to the pot.
- Then, mix the doenjang and gochujang together in a heat proof bowl. If you want to substitute kimchi for napa cabbage, adjust the amount of gochujang accordingly.
- Add a ladle full of hot soup to the bowl and make a slurry. Add the slurry back to the pot.
- Stir to dissolve the bits. The doenjang will season. the soup. The gochujang adds heat and colour.
- With a half hour remaining to braise the neck bones, add the cabbage.
- When the potatoes are tender, take the pot off the heat
- Taste the soup. Adjust its seasoning as needed with fish sauce and more gochujang.
- Chop the greens from your green onion (scallions) into 3″ pieces and add them to the hot soup to wilt.
- Finely slice the whites.
- Discard the chile and ginger. Slice the mushrooms.
- Plate your gamjatang, piping hot: a meaty neck bone on the bottom of the bowl; surrounded by potatoes and topped by nappa cabbage and green onions.
- Garnish with sesame seeds (optional).
While you shouldn’t really have any leftovers of this wonderfully warming (spicy and savoury) soup, here are some suggestions.
For leftover kimchi, make fried rice.
For leftover soup, soak blanched rice vermicelli in it. Debone any remaining bits of meat. Wrap everything in rice paper.
Belated Friday Appendix: #GoodEatsBlogs
As per last week’s round up, here are recipes from some local food bloggers.
Another play on slow cooked pork, Heather of Home to Heather shares a pulled recipe, made in a slow cooker. I rather enjoy reading about how other people season their pork butt. David Chang’s bo ssam is on my horizon.
Taking things in a beefier direction, Rebecca Stanisic of Bit of Momsense shares her mother’s recipe for meat loaf. I adore meat loaf. Leftovers can be added to so many dishes. Crumbled they even make quick and easy meat sauces.
Just as we like to point out stock isn’t difficult to make (it just takes time), Andrea Tomkins of A Peak Inside the FishBowl shares a recipe for black bean soup. Accordingly, so long as you’ve chicken stock or broth on hand, a bowl of “Marla’s” soup can be cobbled together rather quickly.