Posts Tagged ‘fish’

DSC_0020-11Photo by Anna Waigand

Inspired by a sunny street-side market and the serving style of galbi and samgyeopsal, I decided to make a salad eaten as a lettuce wrap. For those of you who haven’t had galbi in Korea, you grill meat at your table. The most common way to eat it is to make a sort of mini-taco with lettuce like a tortilla and adding any number of toppings from the side dishes around the grill.

This salad has lots of big pieces, which makes it hard to cut up with a fork and eat. If you’re really opposed to eating a salad with your hands I guess you could dice all the ingredients and eat it with a fork, but that would be much less messy and so much less enjoyable, in my opinion.

DSC_0013-9Photo by Anna Waigand

Serves 2

1 medium mackerel or one can mackerel
A dozen leaves of interesting looking lettuce
1 tomato
1 green onion
2 in. ginger, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

1. We made this salad by cooking up a whole fish, which turned out to be a big hassle. It was only beheaded for us, not gutted, and the bones were as thin and plentiful as hairs. Not sure what fish we got, but we’d recommend mackerel instead. Or, for a much easier route, just get a can of mackerel. Either way, put the fish in a hot, oiled pan with half the ginger. Saute until cooked or hot.
2. Mix half the ginger with the lemon juice, olive oil, and green onion. Salt and pepper to taste. These are guessed proportions and mine took a lot of finagling, but this should get you started.
3. Slice the tomato into large circles.
4. Arrange the lettuce in a circle on each plate. Place a slice of tomato on top of each piece of lettuce. Put a small squirt of olive oil, a pinch of coarse salt, and a dash of pepper on each tomato.
5. Shred the fish if it’s whole, otherwise pile it in the center of the lettuce. Drizzle the dressing over everything. To eat, pick up a piece of lettuce and fold it into a U. Pile some fish on top of the tomato. You can eat it in two bites if you feel you aren’t up to the challenge, but the juicy, salty flavor is best enjoyed with a full mouth.


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Lunar New Year’s must have given us good luck because Incheon was just the escape from Seoul and city-life that we were yearning. The first thing that you notice upon arriving at the beach is the swarms of ajummas crowding the street (there is one main drag by the beach) yelling, waving their arms, knocking on passing cars all in an effort to get anyone and everyone into their restaurant. It may sound annoying but it’s really quite friendly. One ajumma even suggested another restaurant when she realized her restaurant didn’t have what we were looking for.

Ajumma ushering in hopeful customers

A hopeful ajumma inviting some passerbys to her restaurant.

At the first restaurant we ate, we picked out a plump red fish about the size of a football. We tried to tell our servers we wanted it cooked, but the roar of the language barrier was just too loud. We were shown our caught fish flopping around in a bucket before they brought it to the kitchen, sliced it up, and brought it back on a heaping mound of glass noodles. As most Korean raw fish seems to be, it was stringy but this one was full of flavor and as fresh as one can get.

Our banchan were, well, almost dead. Half of the banchan were either cooked, like the shrimp, or didn’t need to be, like the mayonnaise with apples and nuts. The other half were barely dead (if dead at all) sliding around and pulsating on the plates, filling our table. We had squirming, skinny red tubes that were chopped up into 1/4 inch pieces. There were bright red and orange sea squirts with a gelatinous film covering them. Sea cucumbers moved almost imperceptibly, but a chopstick shove proved they were, in fact, still kicking. And of course to top it all off, we had octopus tentacles soaked in sesame oil flopping around on the plate like a rave dancer in molasses. They moved around, suctioning onto anything they could. We were wary to try it but the restaurant owner gave them to us as “service”, which is what Koreans say when they are giving you something special for free (it’s a great perk to being a foreigner). Plus, our servers were constantly walking by telling us to eat it. So, peer pressure at work, we bit in.

Live octopus soaking in sesame oil

The boys dipped the tentacles in hot sauce, which seemed to make them very angry. When I took the leap, my little octo-friend decided to latch onto my tongue. It’s a very odd sensation having your food rebel inside your mouth. But after about a minute of chewing and being sure that it would not cling to my throat on the way down, I swallowed. The taste was fine, mostly overpowered by the taste of the oil, but nothing I have craved since. The experience of it was all I needed.

Clam kalguksu

The next day we treked over to a neighboring snow-covered beach. We wandered into a small restaurant directly on the beach with a central fire and most patrons still wearing their jackets for warmth. We ordered a soup that I can only describe as crave-inducing. It was a simple soup: a bowl half the size of the table filled with broth, noodles, clams, and a sprinkling of zucchini and green onions. The clams gave just the right amount of saltiness to the simple broth. The zucchini and green onions amplified the flavor of the soup and it was all satisfyingly weighed down by the thick, slippery noodles.

Clams grilling over an open fire

That night, Lunar New Year’s night, we decided to treat ourselves to something special: a big, juicy, meaty, fresh king crab. I do think we have never made a decision quite as good as that one in our whole lives. The first course was what we lovingly called a “clam bake” although it was actually more of a clam barbeque. Heaps of fresh clams still hiding in their shells were thrown on the grill in the middle of our table. The real gem of this course is the miniature, disposable aluminum foil pie tin filled with an unidentified, non-spicy red sauce, rice cakes, and, get this, mozzarella cheese. Yes, you heard that right, cheese. This was placed on the grill and, as the clams were bubbling over and being cracked open, the juices were poured into the cheese bake. The result was a straight-forward tin of melted cheesy-goodness. My mouth is watering just from typing about it. Mmmm….

Cheesy, cheesy goodness

Heaven in a little aluminum pan.

Alright, now that I have taken a moment to reminisce with my taste buds, I can continue. The next course was our beautiful king crab. The glorious creature practically covered our whole table. Each leg housed thick, lengthy chunks of crab meat. Each time someone pulled out a slab of meat I was shocked at the size. Greg, who worked at Red Lobster for a few years, could not stop commenting on the enormous amount of meat and the low price of it all. It was truly a glorious occasion.

The King Crab

The head of the crab was hollowed and filled with a cloudy liquid. I later found out from my 6th grade student that we were supposed to mix this with our rice. Apparently, it’s delicious. We missed out on that part because we were unaware of the appropriate way to eat it at the time, but this only gives us one more reason to go back again.

Later that night, we befriended a Korean family. On a snow-covered beach. By a bonfire. With sparklers. And tried roasted octopus.

All in all, I’d say, it was one delicious adventure that I will never forget.

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Sea Bream is damn cheap

More fish shots

This is how much fresh sea bream we got for 5,000 won or approximately $4.17.

This was our first fish purchase at the market. After watching some Korean women order fish and have them cleaned for them we were confident that if we pointed at a whole fish we wouldn’t be stuck trying to figure out to clean it ourselves.

We pointed to what we thought was red snapper, turned out it was sea bream, and watched as the fish seller took off the scales, gills, and fins and then he took out the guts and chopped off the head. We thought the head was going into the discard bucket, but instead after a drizzling with rock salt it went in the bag with the rest of the fish.

A whole fish for a little over $4 is a seriously good deal. We will definitely be back for more.


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I needed garlic for a sauce because every sauce in Korea requires garlic. Anna went into the fridge to grab the black plastic bag that had all the peeled garlic we bought from the market.

She handed it to me and I started to massage the contents because they didn’t feel quite like garlic. I opened the bag and instead of finding a pile of white cloves I saw a disembodied sea bream head staring back at me from a puddle of watery fish blood. Anna thought it was a great prank, especially because it was completely by accident.

So is the danger when you buy everything from the market where every seller hands over your purchase in the same shallow black plastic bag. Right now we have a fish head, garlic, pork ribs, mushrooms, carrots and chives in identical black bags in our fridge. There is a lot of feeling around to find what you’re looking for, and it’s gross every time you touch the head.

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