Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Simple Potatoes, on the side
As I've mentioned before, one of my favourite things about going to a Korean restaurant was enjoying the side dishes, or panchan, included free of charge with the meal. These side dishes were made from whatever vegetables the kitchen decided to use, and varied seasonally, and with the moods of the staff. Part of the fun of going out to dinner was the anticipation for the side dishes - to paraphrase Cartman from South Park, wondering what side dishes we would be enjoying with the meal.
Somethings were quite common, and very Westerner-friendly - such as pan-fried spinach with sesame oil and garlic, or small boiled quail's eggs with salt and pepper for dipping. Barbecue restaurants often featured some sort of creamy salad, like pasta or potato salad. (And cheap places offered mounds of shredded cabbage with a mayo-ketchup dressing) Other panchan were more challenging, like raw crabs fermented in chili sauce, or raw-oyster studded kimchi.
I always enjoyed getting a potato panchan, because thanks to my North American upbringing, a meal never quite felt complete unless it involved some sort of potato. Normally, this craving could be satisfied with the aforementioned creamy salad. But other times there might be whole baby potatoes, simmered in soy sauce and malt syrup (better than they sound). One of my favourites was extremely simple, and I remembered it the other day, when I was staring crankily at two runty potatoes that were malingering in my kitchen.
In Korea, this panchan came with matchstick potatoes fried in sesame oil, garlic, salt, and green chili. Since I wanted to make this to fill out my bento, I made it without the garlic, as I always feel shy about using a lot of garlic in Japan. Instead, I cut the two potatoes into thin matchsticks, heated up a frypan, and added about two tablespoons of sesame oil. The potatoes go in for about five minutes - the key is to madly toss them about in the hot oil, getting them coated, and cooking them no more than until they're still a little firm when you bite them. (Try not to lose too many behind the stove; this really annoys the person tasked with cleaning up.) Then, I season them heavily with the shichimi togarashi I'd bought in Takayama. This is a a flavourful seasoning that isn't particularly spicy, and worth picking up if you're curious about it. If not, try using Montreal steak spice. This takes only minutes to make - most of the work is in cutting the potatoes. It's great for lunch the next day, or in a morning omelette.