Saturday, March 23, 2019

the Last Supper

The following pics of yesterday's Friday meal represent the end of an era. Our R&D team got word that, because of construction happening in our office, we're going to have to move one building over to a new, much smaller office. I had a chance to check out the new office, and its size reminds me of the space we had back in the 2015-17 period, when only three of us worked in the Mido Building. Our staff now has four people thanks to the recent addition of a team member, and installing four work stations in the new place is going to be a bitch. It'll be a tight squeeze, but we'll manage.

Anyway, for me, the upshot is that this spells the end of an era: I won't be hosting any huge luncheons anymore. The new place supposedly has a faux kitchenette reminiscent of the one we currently have: it's "faux" because it's got a counter, cabinets, a fridge, a water dispenser, and a garbage can, but it lacks that most crucial of elements: a damn sink in which to wash dishes. (We do the dishes in the men's room, which just feels unsanitary.) But would this be enough for even small-scale luncheons? I doubt it. So that's pretty much the end of my monthly, large-scale cooking projects. This doesn't signal the end of all cooking, per se: back when we were in the Mido Building, I used to bring food semi-routinely to the office; you may have seen the pictures from that epoch.

For now, though, the major cooking comes to an end, and while I'm generally sad about that, my wallet and bank account are breathing sighs of relief. If ever there was a year in which I shouldn't be making extravagant expenditures, this would be it because I'm trying to pay down my final debt by this November or December (just a reminder: I've gone from being almost $80,000 in debt to having only a final $20-something-thousand to pay off). So perhaps this move to a smaller place is a blessing in disguise. If I do cook anything, I'll be cooking only for four (or maybe for five, if our department's new boss randomly shows up). If I add dieting to that, i.e., a cutting-back on the sheer volume of food I eat, plus a return to walking to work instead of cabbing to work, as I've done lately, I can save hundreds more dollars per month. I haven't done the math yet, but I think the financial picture is about to improve radically.

Back to the meal. Friday's luncheon was meant as a goodbye to two native-speaker staffers, both of whom have been at the Golden Goose for several years. One, an Aussie, will eventually be returning to expat life in China after spending a month just kicking around in Korea and Japan. The other, a South African, will be heading home to South Africa for a bit, then will start a new life in Qatar, a country with air quality just as bad as Seoul's. The South African guy also loves to cook, so for the past couple months, he and I have been talking shop, swapping food photos, and learning from each other.

The meal was basically two meals done in parallel: on one side, we had brisket sandwiches on butter-toasted ciabatta rolls with a chimichurri dip, plus two sides: sweet, smoky baked beans and no-mayo cole slaw. On the other side, Greek-ish gyros with a plethora of toppings: tzatziki, crumbled feta, olives, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and roasted potatoes. The latter turned out horrible (see below), but everyone loved the gyros in general. I got particular praise for the gyro meat, which I had spiced up rather aggressively, and some people even complimented my beginner's naan. In the end, though, people voted the brisket sandwiches the winner of the day. I voted that way, too, despite my love of the gyros, but that was because brisket sandwiches are something I haven't prepared often: this meal was only the second time that I had done them. The chimichurri was essential to the brisket experience, and that turned out perfectly, garnering high praise from all the diners.

This wasn't the largest meal I've ever prepped, but it was one of the most ambitious—a true labor of love. What follows are photos from the prep, plus some pics of the actual service, and some belatedly taken pics of complete sandwiches. Apologies in advance for the pics that came out blurred; I tried to delete blurred pics whenever I saw them, but on occasion, I either forgot to delete or I couldn't tell the level of blurriness because it was hard to judge picture quality in the office's weird lighting. That said, shall we begin?

First pic, below: one kilo of brisket on a rack, in a pan, rubbed with Carolina dry rub, and about to be covered and placed in the oven for a 3.5-hour adventure. I had been racking my brains (pun intended), trying to figure out some sort of rack system to keep the brisket off the bottom of the pan when I realized I had these metal, grid-shaped "hot pads" that I could tuck into the pan. The metal hot pads were slightly too large to sit side by side, but when I made them overlap, the result wasn't tragic at all. Being made of metal themselves, the hot pads had no trouble surviving the raging furnace of the oven.

Beef goes in (with chicken broth on the bottom):

While the brisket was busily metamorphosing in the oven, I turned my attention to the frozen loaves of gyro meat I had made. With the help of a miraculously sharp cleaver given to me by my ex-boss, I was able to slice two kilos of gyro meat into pieces that looked, more or less, like the slices of meat that would come off a restaurant rotisserie. Despite the cleaver's sharpness, the task took a while. Here's a mostly whole loaf before major cutting begins:

Here's a pile of gyro-meat slices:

Here's a wide shot of the completed task:

I decided to use my large griddle (that thing is a godsend for big-scale cooking projects) to fry up the gyro meat. The original intention was to fry some of the meat until crispy, some of the meat until juicy, and to mix the whole—again, so as to simulate the various textures of shaved gyro meat in a real Greek restaurant. My plan didn't work as well as I'd wanted it to, though: I initially overcrowded the pan, which produced lots of water and steam and no real searing. From then on, though, I kept wide spaces between each piece of meat, and results were better. But the pieces varied in size and thickness, so I had to stay on my toes and watch each individual piece as it cooked. If a given piece got burned, I didn't mind: that piece simply became a crispiness-enhancer. Here's the carnage:

Below, the first brisket is done and out of the oven. It doesn't look that pretty, but damn, did it slice well the following day. I cooked one brisket on Thursday night and the other on Friday morning. Reason: the oven was too small to accept two briskets at once. Cooking the two separately meant nearly eight hours of oven time, which is another reason why I divided the work up as I did. Had I cooked both briskets at night, I'd have been up all night, with no time for sleep at all.


The roasted potatoes, which I made thanks to a recipe by Serious Eats founder Kenji López-Alt, were actually pretty good when they first came out of the oven. Here's how they looked before time and tragedy took over:

Next up: butter-fried ciabatta, which I let cool before packing:

It's Friday morning. Here's the second brisket:

We're at the office, now, and I've laid out the gyro toppings:

My slaw, now nicely pickled after sitting in the fridge a few days:

About half of my baked beans, microwaved on site:

I broke out a folding table to set up a bread-and-meat station. The idea was that people would come here first, select their option—brisket sandwich or gyro—grab their meat, then head over to the other table for toppings and sides.

Friday evening. The orgy of eating is done. People have been groaning about how full and tired they are, how they don't want to teach and just want to sleep, etc. Music to my ears. Here's a shot of some lonely slices of brisket:

A shot of the leftover gyro meat:

The last two naan flatbreads:

The last two ciabattas (which actually disappeared before I went home):

A belatedly made second brisket sandwich, done up for photographic purposes because I'd forgotten to take pics of my food during the actual meal (my South African colleague sheepishly admitted the same; he, too, had intended to take pics). At a coworker's suggestion, I had left off the BBQ sauce for meal service but kept it on the side as an option. I did this because I agreed that the chimichurri's strong flavor would dominate the sandwich, possibly making the BBQ sauce irrelevant. In the end, though, I added sauce to my own sandwich as a sort of tribute to the brisket slider I had made while at Manimal. The carefully prepared (and very tasty) brisket sarnie:

I went for a food-porn shot:

The day is over, I'm exhausted, and I'm back at my apartment for these remaining shots. What follows is a step-by-step portrayal of how I build a gyro. Start with the naan:

Add tzatziki. I don't like putting tzatziki and feta on top of the gyro because of how it all has a tendency to fall off/out of the sandwich when the piled veggies begin to fall off. Instead, I use gravity as my ally and spread the tzatziki on the bread, then add the feta on top such that the feta becomes "glued" to the sauce. With the meat placed on top of the feta, the problem of runaway cheese is solved. Behold the tzatziki:

And now, the feta:

Meat comes next:

A few hunks of tomato:

A scattering of olives:

And finally, the lettuce:

The about-to-be-bitten shot:

The post-bite shot, which isn't very good:

...and we end this photo essay with the note that I, in my shame, left on top of the potato container, which held those limp, sad potatoes:

It's been fun. I've enjoyed prepping large meals, despite the hard work, the long hours, and the hellish expense. Now, I have to re-paradigm my mind and learn to appreciate how much money I'll be saving by not cooking like this for the foreseeable future. Ah, yes—that was one thing I'd asked about regarding our future: was this move to another building supposed to be temporary or permanent? Thus far, there's been no clear answer. Living without clear answers is par for the course at my company; it's hard to find people who are clearly responsible for the decisions being made about our futures. But maybe that, too, is part of the fun of living in Korea, a most non-linear country if ever there was one.


John Mac said...

Well done! It is very rare to see a meal prepared just right. Your combination of sandwich options certainly seemed to be a happy medium!

Sorry, just having some pun. It all looks great. I'd love to sample your cole slaw someday. And I don't even bother ordering brisket so as not to be disappointed, but yours looks exactly like what I've been missing.

Maybe you should just host some get togethers at your place on a quarterly basis to satisfy your big meal prep urge...

Kevin Kim said...

A quarterly basis might be reasonable, but some of my coworkers can't make it to my place on the weekend because they live too far away, e.g, in Suwon.