As I recently mentioned in my piece on cold Korean noodle soup, I may eat more Korean food than any other single cuisine (though now that I live in Jackson Heights, Mexican, and cemitas specifically, are threatening to overtake it). Not only do I love and crave it, but I also find myself a block away from Manhattan's Koreatown several times a week, since that's where I've trained in martial arts for many years.
But, aside from the occasional jumbo batch of homemade kimchi, I've never cooked it at home. I'm committed to changing that. This recipe, a personal favorite, is a stir-fry of pork and kimchi in a spicy-sweet marinade that's called jaeyook kimchi bokum. Aside from a shopping trip to a Korean grocer to get a few key ingredients, it's pretty easy.
Two of the main things you'll need are gochujang (Korean chili paste) and gochugaru (Korean dried chili powder). Here are a couple product shots to help you search them at the market:
So, the first step is to whip up the marinade. I used a food processor to blend mine together, but if you don't have one you can just finely mince the garlic and ginger and stir it together by hand.
I was once talking to the chef Hooni Kim about this type of marinade and he told me that puréed Asian pear, or its juice, is a traditional ingredient for both a subtle sweetness and a tenderizing effect on the meat. According to him, sugar is a common substitute today, but it doesn't deliver that tenderizing effect that the fruit's enzymes do.
After looking online, I found some folks who use apple or other fruit juices in their marinades, but, given that I was already heading to a Korean market to get other ingredients, I figured I'd just grab some Asian pears while I was there. Still, I worked out an alternative version with only sugar for those who can't find Asian pears (the pork still comes out plenty tender—feel free to play with other fruit juices if you'd like).
The marinade itself is just a purée of the gochujang, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine, along with the Asian pear.
When I worked at Food & Wine, we recipe tested a similar marinade from Hooni Kim using different cuts of pork, including the belly, loin, and shoulder. From what I can tell, pork belly is the most common cut with this marinade, but I actually liked the pork shoulder even better in the side-by-side tasting, so that's what I opted for here. After a toss in the marinade, I let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Once I was ready to cook and serve this stir-fry, I followed Kenji's batch stir-frying method, which is designed to deal with a home range's depressing lack of firepower when cooking in a wok. Preheating the wok and cooking in small batches ensures that the temperature doesn't drop too suddenly when you introduce a new ingredients.
I started with the sliced onions, scallions, and a Korean chili pepper (you can use a jalapeño or serrano pepper here as well). Once they were beginning to brown in spots, I transferred them to a platter.
Then I stir-fried the kimchi by itself until hot and sizzling before I added it to the platter with the aromatics.
Finally I cooked the pork in batches until cooked-through and browned in spots. Once all the pork was cooked, I added back all of the ingredients and cooked them together for a couple minutes before transferring it all to a serving plate.
I served it with medium-grain rice and lettuce leaves, and was kinda thrilled with how much it tasted like the versions I've had in Koreatown. If only I had someone at home to bring me endless waves of banchan, and I wouldn't need to eat out at restaurants ever again.