When I was seven and grandma watched us while our parents were at work, I would do little experiments in the kitchen with Vicki as my designated taste-tester and sous chef. One of the more infamous experiments was when I decided to toast a hot-dog bun, slathered it with butter and sugar, and topped it with soy-sauce. Despite her protests I was able to convince Vicki to eat it, and not surprisingly she gagged.
For all those culinary disasters, there were also some early successes, like when we would microwave bologna, just to the point that it curled up on its sides, stuff it with sushi rice, put a little kimchi in there, and then giddily eat it as a “Korean taco”. To a 7 and 5 year old, paired with a frosty-glass of barley tea, and watching “Reading Rainbow“, that’s about as good as it gets.
The reason that I bring this up is that every once in a while, when I announce a new dish idea to Vicki, I can see that look in her eye that means she’s remembering the taste of that salty-sweet hot dog bun. Today was one of those instances.
So I’ve been working on the menu, and specifically I needed to create a signature fish dish that was both light and hearty. I mentioned the idea of doing Halibut, paired with a kimchi and pork-belly broth, to Vicki, and by her reaction of “Uhmm….Okay”, it didn’t take a mind-reader to tell that she was doubtful that I would be able to pull it off. To be fair, when I first told Jenny about the dish, she was a bit skeptical as well. My reaction,”Trust me…it’ll work.”
So here’s where my head’s at. I want to create a fish dish that evokes and reminds of a wooded forest. At the same time I want this dish to be light, and hearty, like crisp autumn air, yet with enough depth that it could sustain a lumberjack. So I’m thinking Halibut, pan seared, with lots of thyme. Halibut is a hearty fish that has a very clean flavor, and I want to give the dish more character by adding something that has a bit of punch, but not so much piquancy that it sets the mouth on fire.
My 1st step is to make a kimchi broth, by braising pork-belly with kimchi, kimchi pickling juice, a little ginger, and chicken broth. After the pork-belly is nice and soft, I pull it out and then strain the resulting liquid. I then reduce the liquid to about 1/2 so that I’m able to attain a nice body in the kimchi broth. Having introduced the chicken stock, the kimchi broth has lost a lot of its fire/spiciness, but still has enough heat to remind you that its there.
The next step I take is to add a starch element to the dish. This dish is meant to be rustic, so I go with Yukon golds that I bake until light and fluffy , and then I crush them gently with a fork.
The last element is a vegetable component, and although mushrooms aren’t really vegetables, I know that they’ll be the perfect accompaniment to the dish. Plus, I had just recently gotten my hands on some beautiful mushrooms, donated by our generous friend Roger, and I couldn’t let them go to waste. I clean and reserve these mushrooms, and I’ll cook them a’ la minute in a hot pan with a lot of room so that they can get nice and crispy with thyme, and a garlic clove, to bring out their woody flavor.
So here’s how it went:
I heat up the broth, and then take the reserved pork belly and some fresh kimchi and brunoise them, which roughly means small perfect cubes. I add the pork-belly to the broth, and place it over low heat, so that it can warm up. I fire up the burners and in one pan I start searing the halibut. In another pan I start sautéing the mushrooms. At the same time I throw the potatoes that I fluffed, into the oven so that they can get nice and toasty. When all is done, I start composing my plate. In a small pasta bowl, I lay down my pork-belly and kimchi brunoise. I then pour my kimchi broth, that I’ve brightened up with chopped cilantro, so that it fills 1/3 of the bowl. On top of this I lay my potatoes in the middle, and then circle the potatoes with my mushrooms. Last I lay the Halibut, which after searing I lightly smeared with a delicate-horseradish mustard and a sprinkling of toasted bread-crumbs, just to add a little crunch on top.
Vicki looks at the dish and expecting a stew, is pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t look how she imagined. I take a taste, and I’m excited by its flavor. This is a dish that is French in technique, European and Korean in ingredients, yet captures a feeling that is both pleasantly unique and familiar. To me it’s a dish that could have only been made with the influence of different cultures and continents. It’s not forced together, it makes sense, and because of this, it’s wholly American.
Vicki tastes it, and I wait for her reaction. She smiles, takes a small leap while simultaneously clapping her hands, and tells me what I’m already thinking “This is going on the menu.”