I first studied cooking at the Hattori Nutrition School in Japan, so it is perhaps no surprise that the one ingredient I feel most nostalgia for is an ingredient used often in both Korean and Japanese cuisine.
‘Hamo’ or pike conger eel is luxury food staple in both cultures, and most delicious between July and September. I remember using Hamo eel to create the most tasty Suimono soup – it’s impossible to forget how light and succulent the Hamo eel was there! At Ryunique, we slightly sear and crisp the eel, before boiling it down with blue crab and chive oil to create a fabulous sauce.
My second stable has to be Samgyupsal – sliced, fatty pork belly meat beloved across the peninsula, and beyond! It’s best known as ‘Korean Barbecue’ in the West, but little else is known about it outside of Korea. The best quality Samgyupsal is from the Jirisan and Yesan regions of the country. Yesan is actually a region of Korea that is famous for its sweet apples, on which the pigs farmed here are raised. This is said to make the resulting Samgyupsal especially aromatic and juicy. My personal favorite is the Samgyupsal by Berkshire K Port – half fatty, half lean meat, which is extremely soft and tender. I cook my Samgyupsal in one of two ways: using either the ‘double cooking’ method, which results in a Samgyupsal which is crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside, or by cooking in a high pressure cooker for an hour and a half, before frying until a gorgeous golden brown. Perfection!
I traveled to the apple farms of Yesan earlier this year, and to the pig farms in the area, to learn more about the ecosystem there, and the conditions in which the pigs are raised – it’s very important to me that I know the sources of the ingredients I serve at Ryunique.
My third choice? Mackerel – yummy, fatty, and very high in nutritional value! Mackarel from the seas surrounding the Korean island of Jeju is the most fresh and delicious in the country, and so most commonly used in Korean raw fish – or ‘hoe’ – dishes. Mackarel caught in the autumn and winter is the best, as this is when the fish is at its most fatty. Mackarel is also the one ingredient that has played an important part in my cooking in almost every single place that I’ve worked: the tiger-striped, strikingly colored mackerel of England and Norway, the sparking gold, spotted mackerel of Japan, and the light-colored, fatty mackerel of Korea. I’ve enjoyed cooking ‘shimesaba’, or mackerel pickled in vinegar, smoked mackerel, baked mackerel, salted mackerel – it’s a popular dish all over the world.
At Ryunique we’ve created a boneless Jeju mackerel dish. We slice the fish and cure it with lemon salt, before removing the meat. We then serve it with endive, asparagus, sea cucumber and horseradish, drizzled with miso butter milk. It’s divine!
Last but certainly not least – I have to choose garlic! Undoubtedly the most important vegetable in my cooking. It’s commonly caramelized into ‘black garlic’ in Korea, which is believed to be great for health. I’m not going to disagree, if it means I can enjoy it as often as I like! At Ryunique we ferment our garlic with coarse salt at a 1:1 ratio, at 10 degrees, for about three months, and then use this to create garlic powder and liquid for seasoning various dishes on our menu.