When I was a little girl, I used to say that I loved my grandma first and my mother second. She was my number one. I was blessed that my mother’s mother lived in America in the same town that we did and was active in taking care of me. She mostly lived in her own apartment or house, but there were a few short periods of time that my Halmeoni lived with us. It was then that I got to sleep in the same bed with her; I was so happy to cuddle next to her. She was a nurse and used to have to wake up early to go to work at the hospital. So before I fell asleep, I would hold onto her hand tight hoping that that would stop her from being gone when I woke up in the morning. Sometimes crying, I would feel a sad sense of emptiness when I found that she had left.
When she died in 2003, that memory haunted me as I felt that same sense of emptiness. She smoked for years and it was this habit that ended up taking her at a rather young age of 76. I didn’t quite realise it when I was a girl, but my grandmother was unique for a woman of her time. As aforementioned, she lived by herself, she spoke English (making me wonder later in life that had she not been so talented and independent, I probably would have grown up speaking Korean), she drove a car, and she worked. When she left Korea to immigrate to the US, she was the head nurse at a large hospital in Taegu. She had been widowed when her daughters were still very small and she raised them all by herself. They all went to university, and she even managed to find a good husband for my mother in the hospital where she worked. Tee hee.
Despite being such a modern woman, she maintained some traditions in her kitchen. Most distinctly, she made her own dwenjang. Those bricks of fermented soy bean paste would be lined up by her heating vents or out on her backyard steps to dry. I can still easily recall their powerfully pungent smell, and when I was a kid, I can tell you that I did not like it. When I moved to London in 2000 though, one of the valuables I packed in my carry-on was a jar of her dwenjang. Of course, this is something I wouldn’t dare to do now. The likelihood of getting caught and having that precious jar of homemade dwenjang thrown away would hurt too much.
Today, I’m writing about another recipe that makes me think of Halmeoni whenever I make it: jang-jo-rim or soy sauce steeped beef. She used to make this a lot.
This is a great dish to make in Germany. It’s just beef, and you can go to your butcher and order 500 grams of Gulasch Rindfleisch. You get a pound of pre-cubed beef (usually from the round part). You can also go to any grocery store and find Gulasch meat precubed in the refrigerator instead of buying one hunk of meat and having to chop it in chunks. This is a time saving step.
- Place the meat in cold water to remove the blood.
- Meanwhile bring approximately four cups of water (enough to cover the meat) to boil. Make sure the pot is big enough for all of the meat to fit on one level.
- Put your Goulasch meat in the boiling water and boil covered for at least 30 minutes. If the meat is not falling easily apart, boil longer.
- Skim any scum from the top or sides of your pot. The broth should otherwise be clear.
- Once your meat is tender, add four tablespoons of soy sauce. This will be enough to achieve the correct flavor. If you prefer a darker color or saltier flavor, add more soy sauce.
- Add 8-10 peeled garlic cloves and gently place three eggs in the top. You can also put in several Korean gochu (Shishito peppers) if you’re lucky to have them and if the flavor won’t bother your kids.
- Boil with the lid on for about ten minutes.
- Turn the eggs gently so that the yolks of the eggs stay centered.
- Boil for another ten minutes.
- Remove your meat and let it cool long enough for you to handle without scalding yourself. (If you are short on time or too lazy, you can leave the beef in their Goulasch size chunks as in the picture below.)
- Remove your eggs at the same time and rinse in cold water.
- Gently peel the eggs and place them back in your pot.
- Once your meat has cooled down, shred into smaller pieces.
- Put the meat back in your pot and boil for another ten minutes. (My grandmother, the nurse, felt that this step killed any germs you might have introduced while handling the food.)
- If dealing with the eggs seems laborious or tedious, just leave this step out.
This is a great banchan (side dish) and also a great dosirak (lunchbox) banchan. You can also use this in bibimbap too. Be sure you keep the broth too as it will fantastically flavor a soup like ddeokguk. I have video of my daughter Vera at age 2.5 when she came home from preschool chowing down on jangjorim, rice, ggagdugi (radish kimchi), and kongjaban (black beans cooked in soy sauce). She always loved Korean food, something that I know would have made my Halmeoni happy.