Learning Korean: Recipes for Home Cooking

Returning to the flavors of his very earliest years, chef Peter Serpico was born in Seoul, Korea and adopted when he was two. Raised in Maryland, he graduated from the Baltimore International Culinary School and cooked professionally at such well-known restaurants as Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City’s East Village. Serpico worked with David Chang, who founded the Momofuku chain, in opening two new restaurants. His job as director of culinary operations for Momofuku, Serpico garnered three stars from the New York Times, two Michelin stars and a James Beard Award. He currently owns KPOD, a contemporary Korean-American concept in Philadelphia’s University City.

Serpico was already an award winning chef when a taste of marinated short ribs and black bean noodles reeled him back through the years, giving him a taste of his original home. Now that reckoning, exploration, and elevation of the foods of his past has resulted in his debut cookbook, Learning Korean: Recipes for Home Cooking (Norton), Serpico has long been recognized as a virtuoso with ingredients but his lesser known talent becomes apparent in this book. He makes Korean home cooking easy. For anyone who has tried to master this intricate and delicious cuisine, it’s a relief to be able to easily cook Korean cuisine in a home kitchen using everyday home equipment.

Serpico starts with kimchi, that Korean staple often served in some guise or other, at every meal (and yes, that includes breakfast) with a recipe for Countertop Kimchi and then quickly segues into a master recipe that can be used to make a plethora of the fermented vegetable dishes.

“I also wanted to develop an easy ‘master’ method that could be applied to any vegetable, regardless of its texture, density, surface area, or water content,” writes Serpico before giving us the way to make Apple Kimchi, Carrot Kimchi, and Potato Kimchi, among others.

He continues with the simplification. Sure, there are some complicated recipes for those who already have or want to advance their skills with such dishes as Crispy Fried Rice–a recipe that’s a full page long. Add to that the ancillary recipes needed to complete the dish–Korean Chili Sauce, Marinated Spinach, Marinated Bean Sprouts, and Rolled Omelette which are all on different pages. But for those not up to or interested in the challenge, just flip to the recipes for such dishes as Easy Pork Shoulder Stew, Soy-Braised Beef, Battered Zucchini, Potato Salad, Chocolate Rice Pudding, and Jujube Tea as well as many others.

From the New York Times.

And while anyone experimenting with the cuisine of another country understands that they’ll need to purchase some unique ingredients, these are not budget breakers or, in many instances, so esoteric that after one use they’ll sit unused in your cabinet for an eternity. For example Serpico’s recipe for potato salad calls for Kewpie Mayonnaise instead of the mayo we typically have in our refrigerator. The latter uses whole eggs and white vinegar while Kewpie is made from just egg yolks and rice or apple cider vinegar. But the cost difference is definitely reasonable and a home chef might just find the extra richness translates to other recipes as well whether they’re Korean or not.

About the Author

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Peter Serpico was adopted when he was two years old, and was raised in Laurel, Maryland. Serpico graduated from the Baltimore International College Culinary School and his first cook job was at the Belmont Conference Center, where he worked under chef Rob Dunn. In 2006, Peter began as sous chef at the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village. For the next six years, Serpico worked with David Chang to open Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Momofuku Ko. As director of culinary operations, Serpico earned three stars from the New York Times, a James Beard Award, and two Michelin Stars, among other accolades. Serpico’s highly praised eponymous restaurant on South Street in Philadelphia opened in 2013.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Serpico was reimagined as Pete’s Place. In 2022, Serpico and restaurant-partner Stephen Starr launched a revamp of Pod, a long-standing Philadelphia pan-Asian restaurant, as KPod, with a menu inspired by Serpico’s native South Korea. Serpico lives with his family in Philadelphia.

Hobak Jeon (Pan-Fried Zucchini)

For the Dipping Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red-chile flakes)
  • ¼ teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced (white and light green parts)

For the Zucchini

  • 1 large Korean zucchini or 2 American zucchini (about ¾ pound), sliced into ½-​inch-thick rounds
  • 1 teaspoon all-​purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Make the dipping sauce: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl. This sauce will keep in the refrigerator in a covered container for 1 week.

Prepare the zucchini: In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini and flour, ensuring each piece is lightly coated.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and fish sauce, making sure to break down the egg white.

In a medium skillet or sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, dip and coat the floured zucchini rounds in the egg batter, then add to the skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side. Use a spatula to transfer finished zucchini rounds to a wire rack lined with paper towels.

Serve as banchan or as an appetizer with the sauce. The zucchini can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature; cooked zucchini pieces can be held inside an oven set to warm.

Ground Beef Bulgogi

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (white and light green parts)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • Cooked white rice, for serving (see NOTE)
  • Kimchi, for serving (optional)
  • Fresh lettuce or cabbage leaves, for serving (optional)

In a large bowl, stir together the beef or plant-based meat, onion, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce, maple syrup and salt until combined.

In a large saute skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the beef mixture and cook, stirring occasionally to break up any large chunks, until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Serve the bulgogi in bowls with rice, kimchi, and lettuce or cabbage leaves for wrapping, if using.

This article ran previously ran in the New York Journal of Books.

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