Why It Works
- Asian pear adds a subtle sweetness to the marinade, while helping to tenderize the meat.
- Stir-frying in batches ensures that the ingredients will brown and not just stew in the wok or skillet.
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 chile paste) and gochugaru (Korean dried chile 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 new ingredients.
I started with the sliced onions, scallions, and a green Korean chile 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.
1/3 cup gochujang (Korean chile paste; see notes)
1/4 cup chopped peeled Asian pear (see notes)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger (about one 1-inch knob)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Asian rice wine
2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean dried chile pepper flakes; see notes)
2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into thin strips
6 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 fresh Korean green chile pepper, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces (see notes)
1 packed cup drained kimchi
Sesame seeds, for garnish
Lettuce leaves and cooked medium-grain rice, for serving
In a food processor, combine gochujang, Asian pear, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, rice wine, and gochugaru and process until a smooth marinade forms.
In a large bowl, toss pork with marinade, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 8 hours.
When ready to cook, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add onion, scallion, and green chile pepper, and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until softened and starting to brown around the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
Heat 1 more tablespoon oil in the wok until smoking. Add kimchi and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until heated through and excess liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the platter with the onions.
Working in 4 batches, heat remaining oil in wok until smoking. Add pork and stir-fry until just cooked-through and starting to brown in spots, then transfer to platter. Return all ingredients to wok and cook, tossing and stirring, until heated through. Season with salt, transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve right away with lettuce leaves and rice.
Korean ingredients like gochujang and gochugaru are available at Korean and Asian markets.
If you can't find Asian pear, you can still make this recipe by adding an additional 1 tablespoon sugar to the marinade.
A serrano or jalapeño can be substituted for the fresh Korean green chile pepper.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 41g||52%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||52%|
|Total Carbohydrate 20g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 13g|
|Vitamin C 26mg||129%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|