I made it! Round two of Project Food Blog… I guess it turns out there are at least a few people who are interested in hearing about more than just granola and yogurt and how many calories you can cut by eating… nevermind. The point is, it’s time for something meaty!
The second “challenge” in Project Food Blog is to recreate a classic dish from an unfamiliar culture. I wouldn’t say that Korean is necessarily unfamiliar to me… I love Korean food. But it’s definitely far from home and far from the standard “classics” – this ain’t gonna be coq au van or osso bucco. Although I’d love to do either of those dishes… not today. Today I’m going to take you on a journey through the life of a pile of bones that will be transformed into something magical. This is actually a great opportunity to talk about something I’ve been wanting to for a while now – stock. Stock-making is this almost alchemic, magical process and next to slicing and dicing, it’s one of my absolute most favorite things to do in the kitchen.
Today though, the medieval alchemy of making stock is only part of the story. That’s the witchcraft and wizardry that’s going to get us to a beautiful, steaming bowl of seolleongtang. Seolleongtang is one of the most refined, yet simple dishes you’ll find in Korean cuisine. It is great stock-making taken to the next level and beyond. It’s a “beefing” up of the marrowy part of the stock to the point that you actually want it to turn milky. The milkier, the better! Because that thick, creamy, 2 percent-milk-ish layer that you’ll be seeing in your broth – that’s the marrow, melted out in all its deliciously boney goodness.
I could go on all day about the process of making stock and broth but at its core the process is extremely simple – you take a pile of bones, cover it in water and simmer it until you have milked out every last ounce of flavor hiding within the depths of those bones. While you’re at it, you’ll pull out some collagen too that will give your stock “body” – you’ll actually feel it on your tongue. I will never cease to be amazed by how much you can pull out of bones – how much further you can take these pieces of the animal that we regularly discard as trash. Having good homemade stock around at your disposal is the one thing that will take many of your dishes from just ok to amazingly, stupidly delicious.
This is one of my most favorite soups ever because it is so simple yet so deliciously, amazingly, perfectly beefy, and good. It takes a fairly long time to make the broth but once you have that it’s really simple. As with many soups like this, it’s all about the broth – but here moreso than ever because it literally just is broth and meat. There is something amazing too about the way that these simple ingredients really play in concert together. At first when you taste the broth it’s really simple – just beef broth. But as you add salt and mix it to your liking you’ll really taste the power of salt as not just a seasoning agent but something more – a real player in the flavors of this soup as it helps bring out and enrich the layers of depth in this delicious broth.
The key to this soup is treating your stock well – lots of skimming and lots of marrowy bone segments (and/or oxtails) to distill into that rich, milky broth. Although I didn’t really follow the recipe, it comes from a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles, Yanggi Seolleongtang, where their specialty is seolleongtang. The recipe comes from a great book that is a collection of recipes from Korean restaurants around Los Anageles called Discovering Korean Cuisine.
The keys to this soup are:
1) great broth/stock – it’s all about the broth
2) tons of green onions and a healthy dose of salt
You can make the broth the day before so it has time to cool overnight to make skimming the fat easier. If you do that all you’ll need to do is re-heat and serve.
Adapted from Discovering Korean Cuisine
This is a really plain seeming soup but its beauty lies in exactly that – the simplicity and subtlety that allows you to really appreciate that warm, intense beefiness of the broth. On a cold rainy day, nothing beats a big bowl of seolleongtang – the King’s stew. According to Discovering Korean Cuisine, the story of this soup is that a Korean king wanted to share a cow he had just sacrificed with his people. So he took the cow, made a stew and gave each person a bit of the meat in their bowl of soup.
Bones – cross-cut beef shanks, oxtails, or any combination of the two – About 5lbs
Water – enough to cover the bones in a large pot
Beef brisket – 1/2 to 1lb (depending on how much meat you want – but you don’t need much, just a taste)
Noodles – about 1oz per serving – the book calls for “oriental noodles” but you can use whatever you have around… rice noodles work well.
Scallions – 1 bunch
Salt – I prefer coarse sea salt but you can use whatever you have around
And a bowl of rice to have on the side or to mix into your soup.
*You can get bones from almost any butcher shop, especially if you have an Asian market around. You should be able to buy a decent size bag of beef bones for under $10 unless you go for the really good stuff – which can be tougher to find but totally worth it if you can get em.
**This method is a little different than I’d usually use for stock because this soup is really about letting the beef shine as the star, we’re going to stick to a super simple bone-only stock/broth and we’re going to heat it a little more vigorously and I typically would.
***This is going to take about six hours, so make sure you have enough time set aside. I’m going to keep a time tally so you know about what point you should be at.
1. You’ll want to cover your bones with cold water in the pot and slowly bring it to a boil (you almost never have to measure the water-to-bone ratio, just make sure you have enough water to barely cover your bones and you’ll be good to go).
Boil the bones for a few minutes and then dump the water. This boil is essentially to begin purifying the bones a little bit – you’re going to pull out some of the blod and scum that’s collected around the bones so that your stock will be nice and clean. Rinse a couple times and try to dump some of the scum that’s collected. Re-fill with cold water again to just cover the bones (The alternative to this process is to cover the bones with cold water and just let them sit for about two hours)
2. At this point you’ll want to crank the heat and boil the bones for about an hour. This goes against everything I’d typically say to do in making stock but we’ll just assume that Koreans have been doing this for a lot longer and it works just fine for them!
3. After an hour, turn the heat down a bit and continue to simmer the bones on medium for about two hours. Skim as necessary to remove scum that collects on top.
4. After two hours, add your brisket and let that simmer for two hours. Add more water if you need to to ensure the brisket is covered. By the end your broth will have reduced by about half. As you’re simmering, continue to skim fat and scum from the top.
5. While that’s working, you can cook your noodles. Since you’re cooking them ahead of time, boil the noodles until they’re just about perfectly cooked, drain them and then rinse them under cold water until they’ve chilled completely to ensure that they stop cooking.
6. Slice up a nice pile of scallions/green onions. I chopped up a whole big bowl so that I could just constantly keep replenishing my supply. I ate almost all of these with my bowl of soup – at seolleongtang restaurants I clean out the green onion dish completely and sometimes even need a re-fill.
7. When it’s ready to go, remove the brisket and slice it nice and thin, across the grain.
8. First, place a pile of noodles in your bowl, pour in your hot broth, top the noodles with your sliced beef and then top everything off with some scallions. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Have your bowl of rice on the side or add it to the soup as you eat.
I paired my bowl of the king’s stew with the king of beer. Any clean crisp lager would go well with this soup.
If you liked this, voting is open for this round – head over and vote for me here.