Granted, Dad is pretty picky and finicky. Thankfully I've figured out how to cook some things that he enjoys and eats with relish. I often experiment with new dishes on him, and he is often pleasantly surprised at how well I can make things. It is very satisfying to see him eat something I've made and enjoy it while I run a mini "I told you so. I proved you wrong. Eat your words while you eat my food Dad" conversation in my head.
But I will never be able to cook the food of his mom, my grandmother. Mom knows a few dishes and special things that Dad enjoys, but I've not learned those things yet. I've searched in obscure places for the cilantro of his childhood in North Korea, which he states simply does not exist anymore, as it has been bred out of existence. The comfort food of his childhood, I simply haven't had a chance to learn to make, and Kaesong, the province of my father's childhood has produced very few cookbooks which can inform me of what I should be making for him. I've even hunted in Korean bookstores in KOREA to find these books, and the food of that province is seemingly tied up in the hands of few who know how to make the food well.
However, I still have a strong desire to cook food that my father will love, so you can imagine that when friend SH mentioned a North Korean chicken soup, I was insanely curious as to what it was. She brought some over to me, this chicken broth and minced tofu and chicken topping, and I don't know if my North Korean roots were present, but this dish SPOKE to me. This dish comforted me in a ways I didn't know a dish could, and I hoarded it and did not share with Children. It's spicy, garlicky, hot, texturally pleasing, and delicious with a huge serving of rice and kimchi. Somehow to me the flavor is slightly reminiscent of Korean ramen, only much healthier.
Further research into the dish revealed that it is actually NOT a dish of Father's province, but instead, from Pyongyang, capital of North Korea. I had to research the origins on Korean websites, but even there, the information was a bit scarce. There were lots of pictures and I was able to study the dish, and mostly it was described as being delicious, special and from Pyongyang. Still, I'm curious to see if Father will enjoy it as I find it is healthy, satisfying and delicious.
The original recipe where SH got her recipe was here, but the proportions were all too approximate for me, so I came up with this version to improve my consistency at making the dish as well as adding my own flair.
It does seem time consuming, but once you get the hang of it, and aren't having to check the recipe constantly, you'll find it easy to make and boy, your belly will thank you.
North Korean Chicken Soup (Ohn Bahn 온반)
adapted from Muffin Top
4 to 5 lb whole chicken
2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled
4 cloves of garlic
2 ½ quarts of water
1 block of firm tofu, cut into 4 large chunks
8 scallions, finely chopped
10 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons Korean chili powder (gochutgahloo 고춧가루) - more is spicier but proportions can depend on your Korean chili powder. Taste and add more if necessary.
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon crushed sesame seeds
1 to 2 teaspoons salt. (add to taste)
In a large pot, bring 2 ½ quarts of water to a boil. Add all at once the whole chicken, ginger, garlic. Bring to a boil again and then reduce to a simmer, skimming off the scum off the broth occasionally. Simmer for 40 minutes, and then add tofu. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes with tofu. Turn off heat.
Remove chicken from the broth. Allow chicken to cool so that you can handle it and then begin shredding process. Carefully remove skin and discard and remove chunks of chicken to break up into tiny pieces. Shred by hand if you like, but I went for the big guns and used my mini prep food processor. The point is to shred the chicken into small pieces. I was able to complete the entire chicken in about 8 minutes, using the mini prep. Hand shredding would take much longer. Continue shredding until entire chicken is completed.
Remove tofu from cooking liquid. Mash with fork and add to chicken mixture.
OPTIONAL: You can add the carcass BACK to your hot broth if you’d like to fortify the chicken flavor of the soup. Bowl for an additional 15 minutes if desired.
To tofu and chicken mixture, add scallions, garlic, chili powder, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and salt. (start with 1 teaspoon.) Mix mixture all together well, distributing all ingredients evenly throughout. Taste. The flavor should be spicy and salty (imagine that you are going to be adding this to broth that has no seasoning at all) so if the flavor is a bit more pungent, it is okay. Add additional salt and chili powder if necessary.
To have really clean broth, strain broth through a sieve lined with a paper towel. This helps remove excess fat and removes solids and scum in the broth.
To serve, place a scoop of rice in the bottom of a large bowl. Pour hot broth on top of the rice, and then add heaping spoonfuls of the ohnbahn (온반) mixture to the top. Serve piping hot.