Cycle 4 – Item 36
10 (Sun) February 2013
Braised Babyback Ribs with Siraegi Kimchi
by Aunt T
at the cabin
-Changchon, Seowon, Hoengseong, Gangwon, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ
The occasion was dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year’s Day.
My aunt’s contribution to the meal took me by surprise. She came in with a big pot, saying simply that she’d prepared some ribs. It turned out to be babyback ribs braised with kimchi made from siraegi.
For two years in an untouched container at the bottom of her kimchi fridge – every Korean household has at least one separate refrigerator, often two or three, designed specifically to age and store kimchi – the kimchi had been slowly but surely fermenting to the point of peak pickled perfection, where the maturation of flavors converge with the complete breakdown of the vegetable’s fibrous structure into tenderness; beyond, it’ll start to spoil and crumble. Like a fine wine, really, the amounts of seasoning/spice/salt at the time of pickling have to be just right to achieve this effect in the long run.
Now peaking, the kimchi is too intense to be eaten as is, but it underwent a metamorphosis after a slow simmer of several hours into sublime mellowness, a balanced blend of sour and bitter, savory and spicy, soft and silky. The ribs – pork is the ideal partner for ultra-fermented kimchi – added a dimension of warm, fatty roundness, both in terms of taste and texture; in fact, my aunt seemed to regard this as more of a meat dish, the kimchi being secondary. I’ve always known her to be a great cook – my mother and her sisters are all good cooks – but this dish was the best thing that she’s ever made for me. Funny, she kept insisting that she’d screwed the whole thing up by overcooking the pork – the sisters also share an apparent inability to accept compliments for their food. What a fantastic dish to start off the new year.
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)