A perfect reinvention of Korean traditional flavours for a modern banquet

Korean cookery writer and teacher Kiejo Sarsfield decomposes the menu served at the KCCUK’s fifth birthday banquet.

Birthday Cake
A special red bean rice cake was served at the KCCUK before the dinner (photo: KCCUK)

The Korean Cultural Centre is perfectly situated near Trafalgar Square. I still remember when it was opened, I could not believe the location: it simply could not get any better that this. The centre sits in the middle of an arty part of London. Nearby institutions include the National Gallery, the Royal Academy and the West End theatres. It is the perfect location to promote Korean culture to UK.

KCCUK promotes Korean Culture so successfully in art, literature, film and language. Korean film has developed a vast following here in UK already. I think the weekly free film night was a good foundation, along with Korean film makers who had won awards from various film festival.

Korean Culture is not as widely well known as Chinese or Japanese, but it certainly has as long and deep roots as Chinese and Japanese. However, in my opinion I can say our culture is quietly elegant and has more understated charm. And since the KCCUK opened, UK citizens have been falling in love with Korean Culture it seems.

Pumpkin soup with pine nuts (Photo: KCCUK)
First course: Pumpkin soup with pine nuts (Photo: KCCUK)

The KCCUK 5th Anniversary Dinner at Corinthia hotel was a grand occasion with distinguished guests from the arts world. I feel very privileged to have been invited with my husband.

Executive Sous-Chef Hyunggyu Kim’s menu was carefully created and beautifully presented. I had a long conversation with a lecturer of Cordon Bleu in London, and we found endless things to talk about in the food.

The starter was Pumpkin soup with cream and herbs on top. It was adapted from our traditional dish of pumpkin porridge, but made into a more watery soup, with the addition of a few red beans, pine nuts and cream on the top. It was an excellent idea, light and not too sticky, without the rice balls you get in the porridge. Perfect for starting a meal in a Winter month.

Roasted rice cake with beef, wild mushroom and soy sauce
Secound course: Roasted rice cake with beef, wild mushroom and soy sauce (photo: KCCUK)

The second course was roasted rice cake with beef, wild mushrooms and greens, adapted from another old Korean dish, Tteokjjim. Roasted tube rice cake is eaten around the time of the Lunar New Year. This was another old dish given a modern twist by chef Kim. It was a sophisticated rice cake dish fit for the occasion. Slightly chewy rice cake and thinly cut beef and salad leaves on the top, with a mustardy drizzle, was a great combination.

The main course was Cod Saengseon Jeongol (생선 전골), meaning Cod Fish Stew. This is also a very famous Winter dish in Korea. In this version the perfectly cooked cod with a crispy skin came with vegetables and a light fish broth. It had a clean taste, well balanced with the delicate cod flavour.

Roast fillet of cod with Saengseon Jeongol
Main Course: Roast fillet of cod with Saengseon Jeongol (photo: Kiejo Sarsfield)

It looked more like French fish dish than a hearty Korean stew – but the colours of the vegetables and shredded egg around the fish reminded one of bibimbap despite the broth in which the dish was set. Chef Kim had again adapted a traditional Korean dish and made it fit for a modern banquet.

Two vegetarian options were available: tofu with slow-cooked kimchi and spring onion was a modern take on Kimchi Jjigae to follow the pumpkin soup; and for the main course a vegeratian bibimbab with namul and gochujang looked very tasty and colourful.

There followed a small palette-cleanser called Hongshi (홍시) with Plum Wine (매실주) granita. Hongshi means ripe persimmons, which are a signature fruit in late Autumn and Winter in Korea. The sweet, mild fruit contrasted with the sharp-tasting plum wine crushed ice.

Every village house has a few persimmon trees. You can often see bright orange-coloured persimmons on the tree in the late Autumn. They look so pretty against Korean blue Autumn sky. All Koreans have fond memories about this. Persimmons are very sweet when they are ripe. We used eat them with spoons, or put them on plain rice cakes like honey. When I had this dish I felt suddenly very homesick.

Korean pear tart with barley and sujeonggwa ice cream
Dessert: Korean pear tart with barley and sujeonggwa ice cream (photo: Kiejo Sarsfield)

Dessert was Pear Tart and Sujeonggwa Ice Cream. This was the most clever creation for me, because the idea came from Korean eating habits. Korean cuisine has no sweet dish at the end of a meal, but Chef Kim took our custom of serving pear and dry persimmon punch flavoured with ginger and cinnamon in the Winter.

Sujeonggwa (수정과) is cinnamon punch made with dried persimmons stuffed with walnuts. It is very refreshing after hearty spicy meal. I thought this creation of Chef Kim’s was very clever.

It was a perfect Korea-meets-the-West evening! Finally we have a menu which shows a different, more sophisitcated side of Korean cuisine. Chef Kim intentionally avoided serving kimchi and other well known spicy dishes, and in so doing he showed us a completely different aspect of Korean cooking.

This article originally appeared on Kiejo Sarsfield’s own blog, and is reproduced here with permission. Contact kiejosarfsield at hotmail dot co dot uk for details of her Korean cookery classes.

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