FIRE AND ICE, AND EVERYTHING NICE
the refreshment of slippery noodles in an icy tangy broth… gliding down with sizzling pork fat on a stick.
BEST ARGUMENT A SUMMER CAN HAVE.
SEEMINGLY, if you think that I have lost my mind and regards to the diversity of this blog somewhere in the frozen land of popsicles, gelato and gelato plus slushy cocktails, here’s a proof that… you’re absolutely correct. These days, I feel as much desire to be in close proximity to open flames as there is to a screaming baby on an airplane. Even with evident love for a bowl of hot and slurpable fire, these days I want my dinner to feel as close to a cold shivering shower as it can get, and believe it or not, it can.
Allow me to present evidence from our last two years in New York where we had the pleasure of visiting Fort Lee a few times, aka the better Korean Town just across the Hudson from Upper Manhattan. Before such trips, I thought I could be happily-ever-after with Manhattan’s functioning K-town with its satisfactory BBQ following an affordable eyelash-extension. But Fort Lee had ruined such ludicrous fantasy with delicious aggression. The variety of dishes served there isn’t too different, but with just an extra pinch of much-ness that kicks them from good, to great. And among which, the glorious mul Naengmyeon was unlike any I’ve ever had.
It means “cold noodle”, but boy is that an understatement.
Apart from dishes with the same claims, mul naengmyeon has kicked the word “cold” to a new level. Instead of mixing noodles that are cooled after cooking with various sauces, it plunges them into an icy bath of broth made from beef and pickling juice that is chilled to a borderline frozen state. As I swam my chopsticks through the frosty lake of flavours, I could hear the sound of slushes colliding in a refreshing symphony. The buckwheat noodles were cold, chewy and slippery, gliding effortlessly into my properly chilled tummy with the savoury and tangy broth, topped with more pickles and thinly sliced pear and cucumber.
It is not a summer dish. It is the summer dish.
But of course, obviously, Fort Lee is a long way from now. The other day, with temperature that made me feel like there was a wet sheep wrapped around my neck, I hallucinated on recreating this dish at home just when I saw a box of leftover kimchi. Hey, we love kimchi, don’t we? Kimchi is great. But leftover kimchi can smell like a head of garlic farting in your fridge. Not particularly fond with such perfume, I decided to do something progressive with it. So I blended the kimchi with condensed chicken broth then strained through a cheesecloth. It yielded a savoury and tangy broth with a beautiful orange hue which I reinforced with vinegar and salt. I then mix the squeezed kimchi with gochujang, grated apples, ginger and toasted sesame seeds to make spicy chili paste (which is a common topping for another type of soup-less cold noodle called bibim naengmyeon). That, in addition to thinly sliced summer peaches and runny, soft-boiled egg and sliced scallions, made the perfect topping for the ultimate ice-bathed buckwheat noodle.
But wait. What can make this refreshing indulgent even more perfect? Well, dousing it with a side of blazing pork fat of course, as in pork belly-skewers marinated in apple juice, soy sauce and ginger, then flash-grilled under the broiler just until charred. Brushed with a thin layer of toasted sesame oil and sprinkled with flaky sea salt just like how the Korean BBQ does it. The refreshing, slippery noodles in an icy tangy broth spiced up with chili paste and crunches of fresh peaches, were gliding down joyously with sizzling, dripping pork fat on a stick.
Dude, it’s the best argument a summer can have.
So here’s to the hesitant bunch – that even during a mid-summer evenings with humidity that feels like breathing inside a plastic bag – to whom the idea of having ice crystals floating over the surface of something that looks savory and dinner-like, still doesn’t come as the most familiar solution. I get it. Take your time. Take your sweet, wet ass-time for the moist, hot air of the high summer to dab your sticky skin and fuzzy vision until you feel a steaming rush of tantrum oozing out of every hair follicles on your smothered head. Then, and then, take a look again on this recipe.
It will warm up to you before the summer ends.
This recipe is one of the cases that I would recommend using store-bought chicken/beef broth rather than homemade. Mostly because boiling a giant pot of broth amidst summer kind of… defeats the purpose of this dish. But make sure that you use something that has a neutral flavour, without ingredients such as thyme, rosemary, other herby spices as well as celery. These are flavours, in my opinion, doesn’t mix well with the overall taste of this dish.
I have made this dish with both Korean buckwheat noodle such as this one (transparent and extremely chewy and slippery), and Japanese buckwheat soba noodles such as this one (more starchy and “noodle-like”). Of course to stay true to the nationality of this dish, Korean buckwheat noodle would be the go-to choice. But if you can’t find it where you live, Japanese buckwheat noodle is more widely available and tastes delicious in this case as well.
- Spicy kimchi paste:
- 3 tbsp of Korean chili paste – gochujang
- 2 tbsp of grated apple (or pureed pineapple)
- 1 tbsp of toasted white sesame seeds
- 1 tsp of grated ginger
- Grilled pork belly:
- 8.8 oz (250 grams) of skinless pork belly
- 1 clove of grated garlic
- 1 tbsp of grated ginger
- 1 tbsp of apple juice, or grated apple
- 1 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil, plus more for brushing
- 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
- Flaky sea salt for sprinkling
- 2 servings of Korean buckwheat noodle, or soba
- 1 small peach, or Asian pear, peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1/4 cup of Korean pickled thinly sliced radishes, if available
- 4 scallions, with the green parts only, cut into thin strips
- 1 soft-boiled egg, cut in half
To make the broth: Skim off any fat/oil floating on top of the broth. In a blender, blend store-bought chicken or beef broth, condensed chicken or beef broth and kimchi together until smooth. Pour the mixture into another large bowl through a fine cheesecloth. Carefully squeeze as much of the broth/liquid out of the cheesecloth as you can, then transfer the squeezed-dry kimchi into another small bowl. You’ll have 1 large bowl of clear broth, and 1 small bowl of squeezed kimchi. Season the broth with rice vinegar and salt, then cover and chill in the freezer for at least 4 hour until it just starts to freeze/form ice-crystals.
To make the spicy kimchi paste: Mix the squeezed kimchi with gochujang, grated apple, toasted white sesame seeds and grated ginger evenly together. Cover and keep in the fridge until needed.
To make the grilled pork belly: Slice the pork belly into 2″ (5 cm) wide, and 1/3″ (7 mm) thick pieces. Marinate with grated garlic, grated ginger, apple juice/or grated apple, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and black pepper for at least 2 hours.
Right before serving, preheat the top-broiler on high. Divide/make the pork belly into 4 skewers and place on a baking-rack, sitting over a parchment-lined baking-sheet. Place a few large pieces of onions or ginger on the bottom to prevent smoking, then place it only 2″ right under the broiler. Grill until nicely browned/charred on the first side, flip the skewers and repeat. This will only take a few min. Before serving, brush thinly with toasted sesame oil and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.
To put the dish together: Depending on the type of buckwheat noodles or soba you’re using, cook the noodles according to the package instruction (for example, Korean buckwheat noodle may require soaking before cooking, but soba noodle doesn’t). Prepare a large bowl of iced water, then immediately shock/cool the noodles once they’re properly cooked. Gently rub the noodles in the iced water to remove any excess starch and slime. Once the noodles are completely cold and feels clean to the touch, drain and divide them into two bowls.
Top the noodle with thinly sliced peach or Asian pear, Korean pickled radishes if available, 1 1/2 tbsp of spicy kimchi paste (or more if preferred), thinly sliced scallions and soft-boiled egg. Ladle the icy broth into the bowl and add more ice-cubes if you want to keep it cold. Serve immediately with sizzling grilled pork belly.