Growing up in Sydney I’ve been spoiled with food options; the sheer number of cuisines available really is quite astonishing. However the majority of international food I’ve eaten over the years has been predominantly Thai, Japanese and Italian. So recently when Dylan and I were invited to attend a Korean cooking class at the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney I was excited.
But first things first, what is the Korean Cultural Office (KCO)?
The KCO was established in April 2011 acting as the cultural ambassador for all things Korean in Australia. It aims to encourage cultural exchange and bring Australian and Korean relations closer. I’d first heard of the KCO late last year when my brother began working with the Consulate-General of the Republic of Korea in Sydney and undertook the massive task of establishing the Korean Film Festival In Australia (KOFFIA) which would eventually fall under the KCO’s management.
The inaugural KOFFIA ran for a week in October 2010 and was a huge success. I attended the festival and saw awesome taekwondo demonstrations (yes those little kids were a thousand times better than me and my rather dusty yellow belt), traditional Korean dance and my first two Korean films – Rough Cut and Old Partner. If film is your thing then take note that KOFFIA is about to kick off for its second year, running from Wednesday 24th August through to Monday 29th August at the Dendy Cinemas, Opera Quays.
In addition to the film festival, the KCO brings a wide variety of other cultural experiences to Sydney including Korean language classes, craft classes and K-Pop classes (though I don’t think my terrible singing would improve in another language!) as well as exhibitions and events at their premises throughout the year.
But the reason we were invited to the KCO was to attend one of their cooking classes, of which the first semester is currently drawing to a close. Dylan and I attended the 7th class (there are 8 classes in the first semester) to learn how to cook BBQ Galbi (Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs), Korean cucumber pickles and a Korean cucumber salad.
Typically on the day of the class I got stuck at work on a pitch and ended up dropping everything knowing I’d have to make it an early morning start on Tuesday (wah!) and bolted up the road to arrive only 5 minutes late. Phew. Once Dylan and I were settled, we were introduced to the rest of the class, including Tammi from Insatiable Munchies and four other keen cooks.
Our class was hosted by Heather Jeong, a caterer and cooking teacher from Sydney who has been cooking for over 30 years and is clearly passionate about Korean food and sharing her knowledge. Heather also hosts the new Korean Walking Safari of Eastwood with Maeve O’Meara’s Gourmet Safaris which I am keen to check out after my wonderful experience on the Italian Food Safari.
Following the introductions Heather brought out the flanken style slabs of beef short ribs to show us a little bit of butchering. The slabs of ribs usually comprise 3 or 4 ribs which need to be cut into individual ribs and butterflied in preparation for the BBQ galbi.
We’re thrown straight into it and immediately I realised two things. Firstly my knife should have been sharpened before the class, and secondly my knife skills need some serious work (one of the few downsides of Dylan doing the majority of the cooking). I’m glad the class is small and designed for all levels of experience, with step by step instructions to prepare the dishes.
Galbi requires the ribs to be butterflied in what butchers call an accordion cut where the meat is first cut away from the rib, then rolled and cut in a series of parallel cuts without cutting through the meat but rather using it to create ‘hinges’ to produce one long piece of meat. As the short ribs are a tougher cut of meat, we’re told to score each piece to aid the tenderising process.
Once the ribs have soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to remove any excess blood and impurities, we drain the meat and take 4 ribs each. We first add sugar which helps further tenderise the meat and draw out moisture. Then we drain the meat once more and add onion, garlic, ginger, green onions, soy sauce, cooking sake, ground pepper and sesame oil to create our galbi marinade.
We mix the ingredients together and leave the ribs to marinate for 24 hours. Lucky for us Heather had prepared some ribs ahead of time, so we got to enjoy galbi in the class and take the ribs we’d butchered and marinated home for another delicious meal.
After we’d prepared the meat Heather passed around a snack of vegetable twiggim which is essentially a Korean style vegetable tempura with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, Korean brown rice vinegar, green onion and gochugaru (Korean chilli powder).
The fried bites comprised slices of sweet potato, lotus root and mizuna leaves. The mizuna leaf was quite peppery and the sweet potato delicate, but it was the creamy lotus root that won me over with its crispy fried batter and firm bite. The dipping sauce was fortunately not too vinegary for my taste-buds and had a nice kick to it (think I need to get my hands on some gochugaru).
Cucumbers! I love cucumbers! I could tell just from looking at them that the Korean variety isn’t as watery or seedy as others. We gobbled down some fresh slices before the pickles were made and wow Korean cucumbers are extremely crunchy and sweet. I loved them and can imagine they’d make awesome cucumber sandwiches (and don’t knock cucumber sandwiches, they rock!).
The next snack of the evening was beef short rib pieces. This was not mentioned in the course description at all but it seemed we were to be treated to a few extra dishes throughout the evening.
The beef short rib pieces were cooked on the Korean BBQ plate with just a little sesame oil.
Heather also had some ggaennip (perilla leaves also known as sesame leaves) for us which Dylan and I ate with some beef and gochugaru, sang choy bow style. The perilla leaves were slightly minty but we couldn’t really put our finger on what else it reminded us of, though Korean perilla leaves are similar to Japanese shiso.
And have you ever wondered how to slice green onions so finely? With a negi cutter (which I believe to be a Japanese kitchen tool) widely available at Korean supermarkets.
Once we’d demolished the short rib pieces we were surprised with yet another dish not on the class outline, pork belly, which we cooked up on the Korean BBQ plate and ate with the sides, on its own and in little lettuce wraps. Delicious!
Meanwhile, Heather prepared some David Chang inspired pork buns. Fluffy buns (which I am stoked to find out you can buy frozen) with pork belly, green onions, pickled cucumber and hoisin sauce. Not a fan of sauce I was worried that I wouldn’t like these but they were delicious, with the pickled cucumber cutting through the fattiness of the meat and the bun soft and fluffy.
But back to the galbi, it was cooking time! Heather would much prefer to cook up a storm with a charcoal BBQ but as we were cooking indoors we were restricted to using frypans on the portable stoves (which Dylan and I are so going to buy!). We lined the frypans with baking paper to protect them as the marinade is full of sugar which will caramelise and burn before the meat is cooked (and galbi needs to be well done). Once the meat was cooked through we cut it up and sat down for our Korean banquet.
The banchan (side dishes) went well above and beyond anything we expected of the class, they just kept coming. Heather made all bar one of the sides dishes for us – I was amazed! We tasted kimchi (cabbage kimchi), ggakdugi (radish kimchi), shiitake mushroom jun (shiitake mushroom filled with pork and vegetables and lightly pan fried), a Vietnamese inspired salad with grated apple and fish sauce dressing, moo moochim (julienne radish slices with moochim sauce which is made from gochugaru, brown rice vinegar and sesame oil), pa moochim (slices of green onions with moochim sauce), odeng bokum (stir fry of fish cake and carrot) and ssamjang (a Korean dipping paste). It was a spectacular feast – next time I must remember to take some photos rather than just pigging out.
We finished the night with a bowl of doenjang jjigae (Korean miso hotpot) which won me over. It was much stronger in flavour than Japanese miso and a little saltier. Heather made the hotpot, including the soybean paste, from scratch! I really liked the big punchy flavours and enjoyed this thoroughly.
The classes are $50 for members of the KCO or $70 for non-members (it only costs $25 to become a member, and the benefits of membership seem pretty good). Or if you’re really taken by Korean cooking and would like to attend all of the sessions, there are discounts available for the whole semester essentially giving you one session for free.
With most cooking classes around town ranging from $100-200, the low price is definitely a big draw card for this class. I also loved the small numbers of the class meaning everyone receives assistance when necessary. And we were given a lovely meal and a huge take home pack, much more than we would ever have expected.
A Food Story attended the Korean Cooking Class courtesy of the Korean Cultural Office.
Korean Cultural Office
255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Korean Cooking Class: (02) 8267 3467 (Irene (Kyung-soo) Woo)
Korean Cultural Office: (02) 8267 3400
Korean Cultural Office Website
And if you’d like to cook Korean BBQ Galbi, here is the recipe we cooked…
BBQ Galbi (Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs)
By Heather Jeong
3kg beef short ribs, butterflied out very thinly to one side while keeping the meat on the bone (you can ask your Korean butcher to prepare the short ribs for you)
1⅓ – 1¾ cup sugar
1 onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1cm piece ginger, minced
2-3 green onions, sliced
1 tsp ground pepper
¾ cup soy sauce
⅓ cup cooking sake
¼ cup sesame oil
1. Place the butterflied short ribs in a large bowl and cover with water (pour over enough water so that the water level is higher than the meat). Let the meat stand for at least 30 minutes in the fridge to remove impurities – the paler the meat the better. Once the meat has paled in colour, discard the water, drain the meat and place back in the bowl.
2. Add ¾ cup of sugar to the bowl and massage into the meat. Let the mixture stand for at least 10 minutes to tenderise the meat and draw out excess water. Discard the excess water and sugar solution, drain the meat once more and place back in the bowl.
3. Place the roughly chopped onions in a blender and puree. Add the puree to the bowl and stand for 10 minutes.
4. Add the remaining sugar and all other ingredients to the bowl. Massage the marinade into the meat and let stand overnight.
5. For the best result, cook the beef short ribs over a charcoal BBQ. Alternatively, line a frypan with baking paper and cook the meat until all juices have evaporated. The baking paper will help protect your frypan as the marinade contains soy and sugar which will caramelise and burn. Turn the meat over and cook through.