When I first got married, I got burned.
An assault of blazing red. The stinging. Eyes watering.
That was my introduction to Korean food.
I learned later that there’s a lot more to it than the painful, red recipes so often featured (and that my husband favored). After a while, husband purposefully sought out recipes that “even Steph” could handle.
Enter Samgyeopsal, or, as we call it, Korean bacon.
Slices of pork belly are fried/grilled at the table. The slices are thick enough to include one side of crispy fat that crackles, reminiscent of Western breakfast bacon, but the other side is a piece of pork meat that tastes a lot like a Sunday pot roast.
They sizzle and give off a bit of oil and juice. Vegetables on the grill absorb and fry in those juices, soaking up the flavor. Slices of potato and long “King” mushrooms become bacon potatoes and bacon mushrooms. Onion rings and whole garlic cloves are transformed.
Waiting on the table are the fixin’s.
Bowls of sticky rice.
A variety of large, fresh green leaves, ranging from romaine, to butter lettuce, to sesame leaves.
Several bowls of kimchi line up beside dishes of red pepper paste, soybean paste, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.
Husband does the cooking, and I do the organizing. Pretty soon, there’s no room left on the table.
After the first round of bacon and veggies comes off the grill, husband reloads it, never sitting down to relax and eat. This food is meant to be eaten hot, so someone sacrifices a seat in order to cook.
While he works, I hand the chef a sesame leaf packed with a bit of rice, a slice of still-hot bacon dipped in both the sesame oil and salt and pepper, a generous smear of red pepper paste, and, finally, a steaming bunch of veggies on top (a slice of king mushroom, slice of onion, and a whole piece of grilled garlic, also dipped in salt and pepper).
As is customary, he tucks the edges of the leaf, making a bulging packet, and stuffs the entire bundle into his mouth in one go. He can barely keep his lips sealed while he chews the giant mouthful.
In the 30 seconds of chewing, I’m free to make my own, much smaller, hot-pepper-paste-free roll. I might be slower, but no less enthusiastic.
This isn’t just food “even Steph” can handle. Korean bacon is dream food.
I’m going to request it this Valentine’s Day.