Wednesday, November 22, 2017

half a load

Today, I brought in half the food I'll be serving at lunch in the office tomorrow. I'm a bit behind schedule, but I think everything will be ready by our 1:30PM start time. I had to bring the food in today because this is the largest amount of food I've ever made, and the burden would simply be too heavy if I tried to carry in everything tomorrow. Just coming home from Costco last night, my huge Costco shopping bag was so heavy that I thought it must have weighed around seventy pounds.

What I brought in today:

- cider
- chicken mushroom gravy
- cranberry sauce
- peas
- sweet-potato casserole

I began with the sweet-potato casserole. Actual sweet potatoes, as Americans know them, are hard to find here on the peninsula, where one is more likely to encounter the local cousin of the sweet potato, i.e., goguma. The problem with using goguma as a surrogate is that the tuber's flesh is much paler, being somewhere in the white/grey/brown region—a far cry from the orange-ish flesh of the standard American sweet potato. I wanted my casserole to look American, so I had to get clever.

This was a Korean problem, so it required a Korean solution, and the answer to my dilemma was to buy carrots and ripe persimmons, both of which are readily available in Korean groceries. The persimmons, in particular, were a solid addition because they added some necessary sweetness: goguma aren't as sugary as American sweet potatoes. I peeled and chopped the carrots and goguma and boiled the hell out of them. I extracted the gooey flesh of the ripe persimmons, removing the seeds and placing the orange goo in a bowl.

Once everything was cooked to fork-tenderness, I extracted the veggies, dumped them into a bowl, and went after them with a potato masher. I had a small tub of leftover ricotta cheese, so I shrugged and dumped that in, too, in lieu of butter. The smell coming off this ensemble was weird: it smelled almost as if I had tossed in some chicken or turkey. Nonplussed, I tasted a spoonful of the carrot/tuber mixture, but all I tasted was what I had expected to taste. I had no idea where that aroma was coming from. Anyway, I dumped in the persimmon flesh and continued mashing.

After some time, it became obvious that the carrots weren't mashing as well as the goguma were, so I brought out my immersion blender and tore into the mash with a vengeance. A few minutes later, and the whole mix looked properly orange, just like American sweet potatoes. Neither the carrots nor the persimmons intruded in terms of taste, and once I added brown sugar, molasses, and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, the casserole tasted like a proper casserole... only now, the problem was that the whole thing was too runny. (At a guess, I didn't let the tubers and carrots drain for long enough before I began mashing them.)

To surmount that obstacle, I turned to my old friend, panko (Japanese bread crumbs often used for frying, and called bbang-garu, or "bread powder," in Korean*). As I've noted in previous posts, bread is actually an ancient thickener, and the panko—once I dumped a large bowlful of it into the mix—solved my consistency problems nicely, without altering the casserole's taste. I dithered over whether to top the casserole with some sort of marshmallow coating, but I eventually decided against it. I plan to toast some leftover macadamia nuts and create a sugary topping that people can spoon onto their servings of casserole.

Next up was the gravy, and I have to congratulate myself for having capitalized on happenstance. While I was working on the casserole, the water in my two pots—one in which I'd boiled carrots, the other in which I'd boiled goguma—cooled down, and the goguma water actually seized up and became a kind of gel. At a guess, this is because the goguma had released a ton of starch and/or pectin into the water. I saw this and knew instantly that this would be an excellent starter for my chicken gravy, so I took out some frozen chicken chunks that had served me in making chicken stock a few months back, added my mushrooms, set the whole thing boiling, pulled out the chicken chunks after forty minutes, added a bit of bouillon cornstarch—et voilà: a velvety chicken-mushroom gravy that was thick without being either too goopy or too runny.

I reused the carrot water to boil a bagful of frozen peas, which I then lifted out of the water with a slotted spoon and dumped into a large plastic container. I then added salt, pepper, and butter, allowing the peas' residual heat to melt the butter and spread the salt and pepper. The peas were probably the quickest thing to cook.

Cranberry sauce was also easy to make: I dumped the berries into my bokkeum pan, then added sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon juice, and a splash of orange juice. After a few minutes on high heat, the berries began to burst and release their pectin, thereby thickening up the mixture and forming a sauce. Like the peas, this was a fairly easy, straightforward prep.

Lastly, there was the cider. The traditional 70s-era recipe calls for orange-juice concentrate, but I didn't have any of that. Following an online recipe straight from my childhood, I realized that the apple juice/orange juice ratio was 4:3, so I poured the juices into the pot in those proportions. The recipe called for the addition of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, but I soon discovered that the simple mixture of apple and orange juices was enough to produce a drink that was pleasing to the taste. I mixed up a gallon of the plainer cider, pouring it into the large Costco/Kirkland jug that had so recently held only apple juice.

Lugging all of the above to work today was a chore, but I'm glad I did it. Tomorrow, I'll be bringing the rest: turkey, stuffing, ham, corn pudding, choux rouge aux marrons, and homemade pumpkin pie (which will actually be a dan-hobak/kabocha pie).

*A bit of linguistic trivia: the "pan" in Japanese panko and the "bbang" in Korean bbang-garu both come from Romance-language words for "bread," which is called el pan in Spanish, le pain in French, and o pão in Portuguese.


  1. Did you use 밤고구마 or 호박고구마? The former are more common, but the latter are sweeter and more yellow in color (though not nearly as orange as American sweet potatoes).

    I normally prefer 밤고구마 precisely because they aren't as sweet, but 호박고구마 would be better for the type of dish you made.

    Also: no 칠면조?!

  2. C,

    I used a mix of bam and hobak goguma. As for the 칠면조: this was only "half a load," per the post title: the turkey is a-comin' with the other half of the load.

  3. Whew. I thought for a second you were going turkey-free!



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