‘Fainted octopus,’ and other culinary atrocitiesKorean food has a definite visual allure. There is Japanese food, of course, which is much more stylistically refined, and French, a fixture of culinary aesthetics. But not many cuisines around the world are as earthy, original and visually captivating as Korean.
Just picture that chopped garlic, boiling in a bed of sesame oil, wrapped in aluminum foil in a barbecue restaurant. Or those freshly fermented crabs that pour out flesh when you squeeze the shell with the tips of your fingers. Or how about steamed silkworm larvae, or pig blood sausage? Who on earth could have thought of those as a snack? Yet there is something attractive about how they look. It’s almost puzzling that nobody has ever made contemporary artwork about Korean food.
There are, however, times when I feel overwhelmed by its bold aesthetics, especially when it comes to “stamina food,” with its wriggling sea creatures. Relax, I am not going to talk about live octopus ― that is, not until later in this column. Right now I’m going to talk about chueotang, or mudfish stew.
Mudfish is one of the rare species of Korean seafood that I haven’t explored yet. I can handle grilled eel, though it is not my favorite.
My fears about mudfish probably come from an image that stuck in my brain a while ago ― a scene at a local seafood restaurant, where a chef took a net full of mudfish out of a fish tank, dumped them into a giant plastic bucket and sprinkled salt onto them. It was amazing how the tiny mudfish started to jump out of the bucket as soon as the salt was poured, leaping up and down on the cement floor. It surely wasn’t a peaceful way to die.
I was reminded of that incident recently by a TV documentary. It showed Korean fishermen on a boat, sprinkling salt onto a basket full of wriggling octopus.
The fishermen then rolled up their sleeves and began to violently rub the salt into the octopus flesh with their hands. In few minutes, the octopi had stopped moving. But they weren’t dead!
“Only fainted,” the caption on the screen read.
A fisherman would then thinly stretch an octopus around a wooden chopstick, grab the end of the chopstick and dip the creature into a bed of chili paste. At that point, it would start moving again. Then the fisherman would eat it from head to legs.
The fishermen call this “fainted octopus,” and according to the program, the locals’ mouths water for it every time octopus season comes around.
No moral judgments. It’s only octopus, after all. Or mudfish. But does the process always have to be so intense?
Maybe that’s where the tradition about “stamina food” comes from: It’s the stamina involved in undergoing torture.
It’s autumn; time to enjoy some mudfish stew. Let’s be as merciful about it as possible, unless you want the mudfish to show up in your dreams one night and get their revenge by putting salt in your eyes.
How to Cook
Chueotang (mudfish stew)
Ingredients: 400g of live mudfish, 100g of Korean cabbage (diced), 50g of bean sprouts, 50g of ferns, 50g of green onions (diced), 3 green chili peppers, 1 ginger root, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 2 teaspoons of chili paste, 1 teaspoon of soybean paste.
1. In a pot, sprinkle salt on the live mudfish and close the lid.
2. Once the fish are dead, wash them throughly under running water until the foam is gone.
3. Put the fish in a strainer, put the strainer in a pot of boiling water and stir gently; the flesh will break apart and naturally fall through the strainer.
4. Take the strainer out. To the pot, add the diced cabbage, ferns, bean sprouts, diced green onions, green chili peppers, soybean paste, chili paste, pepper, ginger extract and soy sauce. Boil for an hour and serve.
Provided by miz.naver.com, Delicook
by Park Soo-mee