Every ethnic kitchen has its own permutation of (un)usual and necessary cooking tools. the chinese have bamboo steamers and the spider, that brassy wire, somewhat flattened basket lassoed to a wooden rod for sifting eggrolls and other fabulous fried things out of a wok. chinese cuisine is quite mainstream now, so these things are actually no longer restricted to just chinese kitchens. there are bamboo mats for rolling maki sushi as well as tiny red and lacquered bowls for miso soup in a japanese kitchen. the tools themselves may not be so unusual in other contexts, but the fact that say, a japanese home kitchen may have a $1000 knife made from a single piece of steel that looks like a shogun knife just to slice fish...well, you get the idea.
Take a peek into any korean home kitchen and it’s the same thing. not only are there stacks of wooden chopsticks and electric rice cookers that are in every asian kitchen, but there are also those ridiculously oversized silver spoons for gook (soups), long metal tongs for grabbing kimchee toward the bottom of the kimchee jar without getting hot pepper and kimchee “juice” all over your forearms, and of course, earthenware pots in different sizes for making dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice in a stone pot) or any number of jjigaes (hot pots).
And as you noisily rattle through the cooking utensil drawer, you’ll see either a wooden spoon or a white plastic ladle that has turned a strange shade of...yellow. it’s not a deep antique yellow, a ladle that’s been passed from generation of korean cook to generation. no, it’s a dirty mustardy brown yellow, stained from many a dip...in the curry pot. yeah, you know what i’m talking about. there’s one in your kitchen too.
"kah-reh," as koreans call it, is the same kind of curry that many folks are familiar with in japanese cuisine, a yellow curry that ranges from golden yellow to a deep brown. growing up all over the south- and midwest, i had always eaten it like most korean households do, made with cubes of beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots, ladled over a plate of steamed white rice. of course, even if the curry sauce box says “hot,” a proper korean still squish-mixes in a liberal dollop of koh-choo-jahng (red pepper paste).
In the midwest, curry was an asian delicacy. without the invention yet of ethnicgrocer.com, and for that matter, the internet, we had curry only when the local kroger (cincinnati) happened to stock boxes of s&b curry sauce base. now i walk into ralph’s and there are not only many more brands, but many instant microwaveable curries, meat and vegetables already included! and it’s not just curry sauce base anymore. it’s a roux. *roll eyes* as if making curry was a true gourmet undertaking. let’s face it, branding curry as gourmet, or even homemade for that matter, is equivalent to adding chopped onions and peppers to a bottle of ragu to make “homemade” spaghetti. *hmmm*
So i felt a little like i’m cheating, making curry for a “homemade” meal. oh well, i got over it. i have taken a cue from the japanese, now very familiar to me through the likes of the curry house chain and hurry curry of tokyo on sawtelle ave. instead of the beef and root vegetables, i’m using chicken, spinach and mushrooms, and though it’s served over rice for everyone else, mine is on linguine (no rice!). maybe the curry-spaghetti comparison is more applicable than i thought, because the japanese restaurants, in their eternal fascination with italian food (french as well - iron chef?) serve curry over rice or spaghetti noodles. crazy japanese.
I'm no professional chef, but even i know that browning the chicken breast (so i gave in and went a little healthier this time) first will make it taste good, using broth instead of water makes it taste even better. once the chicken is cooked through, i use my trusty tongs and a pair of chopsticks to shred the chicken. after crumbling in the block of curry paste and stirring in to dissolve (this is what makes me feel so *sigh* instant-cheap), it doesn’t take long to cook after that, since the meat is already cooked and any vegetables added now cook in a snap.
The large box of curry base (i should have thrown away the evidence of “semi-homemade!”) says it serves 6, but unless i’ve done something horribly wrong, it only makes enough for three meals. no wonder those japanese kids are veritable bamboo twigs.
Wow, the plate almost looks... professional. and it tastes... homemade. now all i have to do is go back to hurry curry and see just how much better mine is than theirs.