I love Korean food. The spices, the attitude, and bold flavors that hit your tastebuds with the first bite. However, coming in to this week’s To cook or book challenge I was quite nervous. Sure I can appreciate Korean food but could I actually cook it? In fact I almost wanted to back out of this challenge and go with something I’ve cooked time and time again.
This week’s restaurant we went to BUL in Adam’s Morgan. Boasting “Korean comfort food”, BUL comes off as an unassuming restaurant in the center of insanity that is known as Adam’s Morgan (In fact we accidentally walked past the restaurant). Inside was a cozy restaurant with a full service bar and a second floor loft. We were quickly seated and given an extensive menu. Offered as tapas style, the food rolled out in several waves straight from the kitchen. With grumbling belly’s and huge eyes we started ordering as much food as we could.
The service was fairly quick, even as the customers started steadily filling the restaurant. Our first dish was the O-crab puffs. As I started salivating over the crabmeat filled wontons, I had a sinking feeling that I had a bitten of more than I could chew with this cooking challenge on my hands. The wonton was deep fried to a perfect golden brown, crispy shell and the first bite explodes into your mouth with cream cheese goodness.
Then came the Bulgogi tacos. The tacos were soft and warm. The bulgogi itself was overpowered by the taco filling. I felt that the meat should be center stage especially since bulgogi has such a distinct flavor that defines Korean cuisine. The taco dressing delivered a hot punch and brought the dish to life. Then came the headliner, the dish I was here for: Korean Fried Chicken. We foolishly ordered the full plate thinking we could eat everything we had previously ordered plus what looked like 5 lbs of fried chicken. The first bite resulted in a resounding “mmmm” from our table. The batter was light and the chicken inside cooked perfectly. With just the right amount of seasoning, each bite released juicy, flavorful chicken in a golden crispy shell. Each bite had me sweating with nerves, all I could think about was how in the world was I going to compete?
At this point I was very skeptical that I was capable of making any dish comparable to BUL. Flipping through Koreatown: A Cookbook, I became even more and more apprehensive. Koreatown: A Cookbook embodies Korean culture, from the vibrant neonlights, to the fresh scents of scallions, kimchi, and the sizzling of barbecued meat. The book starts with an introduction to common Korean ingredients, I particularly enjoyed the resources for finding products that may be harder to find. The recipes are seemingly endless with varying levels of experience (some of which I refuse to go near as of right now).
I must confess that I have a secret love affair with my deep fryer so I jump at any chance to use it. I was so eager to try my hand at my very own Korean fried chicken. Using soju to keep the batter light and crispy, the ingredients were simple and so were the instructions. There were two separate sauces as a glaze for the chicken and we went with the soy garlic (Disclaimer: BUL also offers soy garlic KFC which we did not order so I must compare the dishes based solely off the fried chicken).
The prep time was minimal and the instructions were clear and concise (even offering a recommendation in frying options if you have the extra time). Cook time was appropriate. The outcome was fried chicken that even I was surprised with. The batter was light and a beautiful golden brown color. It did not feel as “deep fried” or “greasy” as the restaurant version. The garlic soy was a show stopper, it added a fresh quality to the dish and added an extra deep component in flavor and texture. I was so shocked to know I had managed to cook a Korean style dish.
To cook or book it ??
This was a tough decision. I went back and forth (even contemplated making a list of pros and cons). At the end of the day however I must decide solely on the fried chicken. Both dishes delivered juicy, tender chicken. However, the crispy batter from BUL really took it to another level. The dish didn’t require a glaze because each bite left me wanting more. So for this week I would have to say I’d book a restaurant.
Koreatown: A cookbook
Author: Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
Hardcover: 272 pages