3.349 Sampgyeopsal

Cycle 3 – Item 349

19 (Wed) December 2012



by me

at home

-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-

with W and DJ, Nanny 8

Korean-Swedish Culinary Exchange (3) (see also KSCX)

This is – sort of, though not really – the 3rd installment of the Korean-Swedish culinary exchange that I’ve been having with reader GK.  While he managed to prepare a full Korean meal on his end, I’ve failed to cook a single Swedish dish in return.  No excuses.  However, the meal that I prepared tonight happened to feature sliced pork bellies, just like GK’s, so I decided to show the two spreads in parallel for the sake of comparison, even though they’re both Korean.  I’ll do the Swedish thing soon enough – and ever the overachiever, GK has already completed yet another Korean masterpiece, so now I’m two in the hole (actually more, as he’s put together multiple items on every occasion).


I would wager that 99% of households own at least one tabletop portable gas stove.  It’s called a “blue star,” supposedly the genericized product name of an early influential model that no longer exists.  Sold at all supermarkets at prices ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 won, depending primarily on the design, nothing much to do with function.  Powered by disposable butane gas canisters, each costing less then 1,000 won and providing about 30 minutes of heat at full blast.

Grill pans, also sold at supermarkets at prices ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 won, depending on shape, finish, and features (e.g., adjustable vents, oil drain), are made to fit on the stoves.  When cooking samgyeopsal, an oil drain is essential for no-fuss fat management.  The pan is slightly declined towards the hole.

At ABV 25%, Jinro Gold Soju is the only mass-market soju that comes at the original strength.  The ABVs of other sojus are somewhere below 20% and continue to drop, supposedly in response to ever-increasing consumer demand for milder stuff.  I prefer the harder stuff for the kick.  Alas, it’s almost never sold in restaurants, only at the occasional supermarket.

For tabletop grilling at home in Korea, the meat of choice is samgyeopsal, technical conveniences being a major factor.  The very nature of the pork belly’s layered meat-and-fat combination, when cooked to a perfectly juicy crisp, along with a sprinkling of salt, makes advance marinades or dipping sauces unnecessary for samgyeopsal to realize its full potential.  Such simplicity is amenable to any manner of accompanying side dishes: whatever happens to be on hand, such as rice or kimchi or lettuce or salad or all of them or none of them.  Whereas most barbecue cuts are better cooked on an open grill over coals – a task best left to restaurants in a country comprised predominantly of apartment buildings – pork belly slices are better cooked on a flat pan for even heat distribution, preferably a pan with a built-in drain to evacuate the rendered fat; in fact, because of all that fat, direct grilling is unadvisable due to the constant flareups that would ensue.  Also, less fatty meats and marinated meats especially tend to char/caramelize on the cooking surface, necessitating constant replacement and extra cleanup afterwards – again, best left to restaurants – but pork bellies usually require just the one.

A minimal spread of banchan, as well as kimchi jjigae (not pictured).

Of course, convenience aside, situation regardless, Koreans are passionate about their samgyeopsal.  They react to the suggestion of eating samgyeopsal with childlike giddiness, often accompanied by high-pitched squealing and/or hand clapping and/or jumping up and down, like it’s a rare treat, even though it’s the most widely available cut on the market.  The reaction seems to intensify when the opportunity arises at home, like it’s a difficult dish to pull off, even though it’s the easiest cut to cook tabletop.


[All italicized comments below are in GK’s own words.]

I made samgyeopsal last friday.  Pretty awesome.  

As suggested by one of my dining companions, I pan-fried the kimchi.  The samgyeopsal was pan-fried as well.  I made sure to soak up most of the fat with paper before cutting the pork up with scissors (Korean style).  The other items are gyeran mari (계란말이) (rolled omelet) and zucchini jeon (전) (pancake).

I had gotten my hands on some pre-made ssamjang, which made the whole thing more genuine. 


Whether for any of the reasons described above, GK made the ideal choice in going for samgyeopsal to represent at-home tabletop Korean barbecue.  His side dishes were also spot on, including his HOMEMADE kimchi – again, what an overachiever!

His spread looks exactly how it would’ve been done by any Korean (or maybe a Korean-American, judging by the MGD and Sam Adams in the background).  The other items appear to be butterhead lettuce, pan-fried garlic slices, and salt in sesame oil, almost exactly as I had done it.

I look forward to our next exchange!

(See also BOOZE)


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