Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Frankenbacon - Bumfuzzled Bulgogi Bacon

This is part three of a five part series where I look into how far I can push the boundaries of what can be defined as bacon.  If you need a refresher here is the original post Frankenbacon and here is Part II, Dilly Bacon.

This post is going to be about one of the more successful experiments which if you read the title was the bulgogi bacon.  I've been kinda stumped about how to describe bulgogi to someone who hasn't had the pleasure of this awesome Korean dish orgy of flavor.  In its more traditional form bulgogi is thinly sliced beef that can only be described as an explosion of flavor in your bacon-receptacle.  Bulgogi falls solidly within the standard Asian in flavor profile by it's inclusion of soy, garlic, ginger and scallion (or as my Asian cuisines instructor called it, GGS) but differs from your stereotypical marinades a couple ways.  Teriyaki, which we can agree is the most approachable, bastardized and well known Asian marinade, is dominated by brighter and cleaner Japanese flavors but is often heavy with soy sauce, sugar and often garlic.  Many Chinese marinades tend towards complexity and often include a flavor base of salty, savory and umami with ingredients such as soy sauce, oyster sauce and chiles.

I feel that  Korean cuisine often straddles the schism between Japanese and Chinese cuisine and takes the best from both worlds.  You get the soy and garlic but also the chilies and often toasted sesame for complexity.  And heck, if you look at a map it makes total sense that Korean food is a little east (china) and a little west (Japan).

When I talk about bulgogi to local SoCal people I refer to it as 'Korean carne asada' and they get it, basically really flavorful moisty meaty deliciousnicity.  If you're outside of SoCal and don't understand the connection then get on the next flight to 'Dago, order up a carne asada burrito at the first taco stand you see and all will become clear.

Korean cuisine is experiencing a bit of resurgence recently with the popularity of the Kogi Truck which just about started the whole mobile cuisine craze as well as Seoul Sausage which is just awesome incarnate.  My original idea was a kimchee bacon but I was a little wary, besides, when I went to my local Korean market this is the selection I had to choose from.  

Frankly it was overwhelming.  I decided to go a different route and when looking at the combination of bulgogi and bacon I saw a lot of applications where people took bacon and marinated it to become bulgogi but I didn't see anyone going in from scratch and I felt I found my niche.  

The base recipe was from my days in cooking school when we "explored" the Cuisines of Asia and as mentioned before is great with beef but might be a little overpowering to lighter meats such as chicken or fish.  Obviously pork is a thumbs up!  The marinade was halved for this application and officially starts after the first three ingredients which is actually my base bacon recipe:

Bulgogi Bacon

792 grams pork belly
20 grams kosher salt (I cut this down from my normal 3% to compensate for the soy sauce)
2.5 grams pink salt
1 Tbl toasted sesame oil*
1 Tbl chopped garlic
3 Tbl sliced ginger
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1/2 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1/4 cup sake (I used gin)
1 Tbl vegetable or other neutral flavored oil
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl Korean red pepper powder*

*available at most Asian grocers.  If you take the time to seek out a Korean market this is your selection of pepper powder:

The recipe was pretty simple really, I just mixed together all the cure/marinade ingredients, rubbed the belly down and tossed it in the refrigerator.  As per normal curing the belly was flipped daily.

The bulgogi bacon is on the far left of this family portrait. 

More information regarding the curing/smoking process was documented on the Dilly Bacon post.

Tasting Notes - this one didn't get knocked out of the park but there was definitely a glint of something worth pursuing.  The bacon did have the pig funk I mentioned in my prior post which I'm attributing to the smoking process, however, this bacon actually tasted like bulgogi!  It made me want to scream, "Shazam!" like Gomer Pyle (who as you tell by the picture below had his own cooking challenges).

Now back to our regular bacon-based programming:  The flavor was muted but was persistent unlike the Dilly where you only got a hint of flavor here and there.  The goal now will be to find a way to bump the flavors up.  I'm not sure if increasing the quantity of marinade so that more is in contact with the pork bely will get me where I want to go with the flavors but it's worth a shot.  One concern I have is that there was a lot more expense involved with this recipe when compared to a more basic bacon cure and this belly was only about 1.75 lbs.  My typical pork belly is in the 8-9 lb range and this might get expensive real quick. The next step might instead be trying to isolate the flavors and move forward with those ingredients that provide the flavor bombs and drop off the ones that got lost in the shuffle.  For instance, I might increase the soy sauce and sesame oil by 50% and at the same time eliminate the sesame seeds (which were a bastard to wash off the bellies so good riddance).  I'm a little on the fence regarding the sake/gin.  Alcohol enhances flavor by making alcohol soluble isoflavones available for your flavor receptacles (aka - your tasty buds) but there's so little in this recipe that if I choose to keep it I'll likely swap it out for something more cost effective such as vodka if not eliminated entirely.  More to come down the road on this one. 

Then again, I might just use v2.0 as an excuse to buy this:


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