Nearby, as in two miles (or less?) away, there was a Japanese-Korean restaurant — they mainly advertised their Japanese menu, but the place was operated by Koreans, and eventually they added on a Korean menu. I’ve mentioned their japchae in the past, and I’ve already re-created that.
Come to find after several months of not stopping in there (out-of-town-family events and serious family-related distresses), one night when I really craved a local shot of Japanese or Korean, I learned that they had closed, probably at the end of 2014. It’s their Korean menu I miss — there are other Japanese restaurants around here, which, frankly, were better on the Japanese end. However, I seriously miss their Korean food. The owners and main chef were Korean, and you could tell this is what they preferred to cook.
I loved their japchae appetizer, and their spicy Korean seafood soup. I have to admit their rice-based entrees involved far too much rice in the dishes for my tastes — far too much for a lower-carb diner such as myself. I’m sure the ratio was authentic and this would have been fine — I simply wanted a smaller serving overall, without having to have doggie-bag so much rice with the other stuff for the next three days! (And they hovered over me, asking me to mix the real food fully into all that rice, before I ate….Okay, yes, authentic, but. Not so much at once, please!) Rice, by the way, doesn’t keep that well by the third day once cooked. And I hate throwing excess food out. So, I stuck with their appetizers and soups. Believe me, the wonderful japchae appetizer was large enough for a meal in itself!
The restaurant is gone now, but my hankering for Korean remains!
I stumbled over this recipe for kimbap by Maangchi, and so decided to make some. This isn’t something that was served at that defunct restaurant, but hey, I’ve been jonesing for Korean food. It has its own serious ambiance, and I really want more.
Consider kimbap (or gimbap) to be the Korean equivalent of futo maki. (those Japanese sushi rolls of the thicker variety.)
How do the two differ? I did some googling and:
Japanese sushi rice: Has vinegar and a little sugar. Perhaps some salt.
Korean kimbap rice: Has sesame oil and a little salt.
Japanese nori (the seaweed wrap) is slightly different than the Korean gim/kim wrap. The Korean doesn’t come pre-roasted – you have to do that yourself. But it’s much easier to find the nori in supermarkets here. I use nori in my recipe. Maagchi uses her gas range and swiftly roasts her nori by hand, but since I am on electric, I’m happy with nori.
Japanese rolls: Raw fish is frequent, although some are made with cooked seafood. Vegetarian ones are also common. Meat from birds or mammals seem to be used very infrequently, if at all — though one local sushi bar serves a cooked duck roll that I have never tried.
Korean rolls: No raw fish; all sea foods and meats are typically cooked. Pork, ham and beef are common. Vegetarian rolls are also common. And indeed there’s one subset that appears to be just the rice preparation, nothing else! Canned Spam (a vestige from the days of the Korean War) is actually a possibility. The seafood equivalent of canned Spam is that fake crab made from pollack and God knows what else, and that is also used. (Personally, I avoid that, just as certainly as I avoid Spam. Your mileage may differ.) Canned or cooked tuna also is a choice. Preserved / pickled radish is very frequent, and often definitive for a good Korean kimbap roll. More on which below. At any rate, Maangchi also made a delicious-looking lobster gimbap/kimbap, when she was up in Lobster Country (Maine).
Okay, armed with all this wealth of information, I decided to make my own version of Korean Kimbap, especially since I happened to run into a package of preserved (daikon) radish at my local Asian grocery. It came from Thailand, but I figured this was as close as I was going to get to Korea.
You’ll need a bamboo roller unless you are already very adept with just your hands, in which case you probably already know how to make these things. I just purchased a silicon roller from Amazon, arriving after I made this recipe, and which will be easier to clean, but I haven’t used it yet.
Prep Time: Depends on how complicated you want to get, and on knife skills. NOT a quick meal, at least for me. For a good variety, plan on an hour, or maybe 90 minutes, and be happy if it takes less. I did a lot of other things this particular day.
Cook Time for the spinach and the pepper: about 5 minutes each. For the rice: About 35-40 minutes.
Rest Time: Eat immediately or sometime that day. Sticky rice seriously turns into little rocks within 12 hours.
Makes: 6-8 rolls – 6 for me at futomaki size.
Serves: Made 6 rolls, it served 16 people at a potluck with a lot of other food.
Perhaps three servings (2 rolls apiece) otherwise.
Extra equipment: bamboo (or silicon) sushi mat. Extremely sharp chef’s knife or Japanese sushi knife.
NOTE: You’ll probably have a lot of extra stuffing materials when all is said and done. This makes for excellent salad materials for your next few days!
Korean Kimbap/Gimbap (Rice Seaweed Rolls)
Ingredients and prep for ingredients follow: (I’ve downsized the amount of roll stuffings somewhat from what photos depict, but there should be leftovers — the rice may be the rate-limiting step.
* 3 cups raw sticky rice (sushi, calrose…) See below!!!
* Sesame oil, not toasted
* Sea salt
* 8-10 ounces fresh spinach. Blanch quickly in boiling water for about a minute, toss into a kitchen sieve and drain, running cold water over. Wring with your hands — we don’t want watery spinach.
* 4 ounces canned pre-sliced bamboo shoots. Drained.
* Preserved (Pickled) Korean radish. Slice thinly but not to matchstick size.
* 1 (nearly) seedless English cucumber. Cut into long 8 inch match sticks, excepting those seeds. Maanghi had me salt them and let them rest for a bit before rinsing and using — next time I’m not doing that again — they just turned soggy. If you use a regular supermarket cuke, please entirely peel off that waxy skin layer!
* 1 large bell pepper, preferably red or orange for the color. Cut off top and bottom, pull out the interior and discard, slice about 1.4 inch thicknesses the full length of the pepper (not counting where strips start to bend). Reserve the rest of the actual vegetable for some other use.
* Meat: 1/4 pound stir fry beef, and/or perhaps 1/2 pound eating-ready ham. Have the ham cut 1/4 inch thick at the deli department. For me, this ended up with three slices, with some overage. For the beef, if using: Slice up into thin stir-fry pieces, and marinate for 1/2 hour in tamari (or coconut aminos) or a mushroom sauce, with a little ground pepper. Stir fry in a small amount of sesame oil at medium, until meat is cooked, perhaps 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
* 2 eggs: With just a touch of sesame oil in your fry pan, you’ll make an omelette. Or, two. To the well-beaten eggs add 1/8th teaspoon salt, and turn the heat up to medium/medium high. Add the sesame oil to that pan, and when it starts to ripple, add those beaten and slightly salted eggs — just ENOUGH to make a very thin omelette. This isn’t breakfast; instead this is delicate. The ideal is to watch the egg cook, and flip it just at the right time that the underside is fully cooked, but not browning. Same with the other side. Since every cooktop/rangetop is different, I simply suggest you be very attentive. If your skillet is small, you may need to turn the rest of your beaten eggs into a second omelette. Chill, and slice about 8 inches long (where possible) and nearly 1/2 inch wide.
* 1 large carrot. (Optional). I don’t like carrots except as an occasional shredded garnish in a salad, and I am seriously TIRED of seeing them in wraps, or anywhere else, mostly because they always seem to be overstuffed with the cheap things. Some Japanese restaurants seem to be moving away from wonderful shredded daikon to cheaper icky shredded carrot – in defiance of that practice, I’m personally not going there! Use at your discretion, but do peel. Parsnips are far better and IMHO seriously tastier — remove skin and shred or matchstick as you might do a carrot. You should blanch parsnips first for 30-seconds to a minute.) Parsnips wider than an inch can be a bit woody at their wide end, so you may wish to omit those.
* Kimchi. (Optional). Drain before use. Again, liquids may affect how the rolls hold together.
* Optionally you can have Spam or fake crab meat in your plan. These are both common in today’s Korean kimbap, but I’m SOOooo not going there!
* White sesame seeds can be sprinkled in just before you roll these.
Dipping sauces may be found at the Kimchimari blog. I went simple:
4 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari or coconut aminos
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water with anchovy paste (use half inch of paste and about 1/4 cup water to make, stir, and use) For vegetarians, omit, of course.
About 1/8 teaspoon toasted crushed white sesame seeds. Toast on rangetop for approximately 3 minutes at a medium heat, stirring occasionally. When most start to brown, transfer to a mortar and pestle, and grind.
The rice will take about 35-40 minutes to cook, and so you may want to get many of the other ingredients prepped up before hand. For the rice, I used my Japanese Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker, following their exact instructions for sticky sushi rice.
After cooking, add in 2.5 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the rice, and mix.
You can start rolling the rolls just as soon as the rice cools down enough to handle. There are flat “spoons” for dealing with the rice, but I found my (well-rinsed) hands were more effective. The cooler the rice gets, the harder it is to work with, and the more it will stick to anything you don’t want it to. I recommend keeping a container of cool water next to you, so you can periodically clean your hands of excess rice. And yes, some towels.
Anyhow, lay down a sheet of nori (or quickly roasted kim) shiny side down onto the bamboo (or silicon) mat, and then add a thin layer of warm sticky rice, leaving about a half inch uncovered on the section furthest from you.
Scatter some white seasame seeds thinly over the rice layer, if using. (I forgot…)
Place your inner ingredients in a line about the middle of the rice. A couple strips of egg, some preserved salted radish, spinach, and then whatever else you’ve assembled that suits you. Then, start to roll from the fully-riced side to the other side of the sheet (the side which the rice doesn’t completely cover), squeezing hard as you do so, and being careful NOT to roll the bamboo directly into the roll itself – let it move out as you work. Squeeze the final roll tightly when done, and remove the bamboo.
While I got six rolls out of this amount of rice, with practice on the rice I should be able to get seven or maybe eight rolls.
(I don’t have a photo of this stage since I was running late and didn’t have time to wash off the rice from my fingers in order to snap the shot! )
In Korea, it appears typical to wipe the rolls before cutting with a little more sesame oil. I forgot to do this, and I didn’t miss it.
With a very sharp knife, slice each roll into 8 slices, pretty much evenly spaced. If the knife starts sticking and fails to cut well, dip it in cold water and continue.
You’ll almost certainly have leftovers when done. They make great salad ingredients over the next few days.
Don’t forget the dipping sauce!
This dish was well-received, and vanished rapidly!