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Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home

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Notes From Your Bookseller

This is an homage to what it means to be Korean American explores how new culinary traditions can be forged to honor both past and present. In this book of recipes and thoughtful insights, especially about his mother, Jean, Eric Kim divulges not only what it means to be Korean American but how, through food and cooking, he found acceptance, strength and the confidence to own his story.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An homage to what it means to be Korean American with delectable recipes that explore how new culinary traditions can be forged to honor both your past and your present.

ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR: Bon Appétit, The Boston Globe, Saveur, NPR, Food & Wine, Salon, Vice, Epicurious, Publishers Weekly

“This is such an important book. I savored every word and want to cook every recipe!”—Nigella Lawson, author of Cook, Eat, Repeat

New York Times staff writer Eric Kim grew up in Atlanta, the son of two Korean immigrants. Food has always been central to his story, from Friday-night Korean barbecue with his family to hybridized Korean-ish meals for one—like Gochujang-Buttered Radish Toast and Caramelized-Kimchi Baked Potatoes—that he makes in his tiny New York City apartment. In his debut cookbook, Eric shares these recipes alongside insightful, touching stories and stunning images shot by photographer Jenny Huang.

Playful, poignant, and vulnerable, Korean American also includes essays on subjects ranging from the life-changing act of leaving home and returning as an adult, to what Thanksgiving means to a first-generation family, complete with a full holiday menu—all the while teaching readers about the Korean pantry, the history of Korean cooking in America, and the importance of white rice in Korean cuisine. Recipes like Gochugaru Shrimp and Grits, Salt-and-Pepper Pork Chops with Vinegared Scallions, and Smashed Potatoes with Roasted-Seaweed Sour Cream Dip demonstrate Eric's prowess at introducing Korean pantry essentials to comforting American classics, while dishes such as Cheeseburger Kimbap and Crispy Lemon-Pepper Bulgogi with Quick-Pickled Shallots do the opposite by tinging traditional Korean favorites with beloved American flavor profiles. Baked goods like Milk Bread with Maple Syrup and Gochujang Chocolate Lava Cakes close out the narrative on a sweet note.

In this book of recipes and thoughtful insights, especially about his mother, Jean, Eric divulges not only what it means to be Korean American but how, through food and cooking, he found acceptance, strength, and the confidence to own his story.

ISBN-13: 9780593233498

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed

Publication Date: 03-29-2022

Pages: 288

Product Dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Eric Kim is a New York Times staff food writer born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He worked his way through the literary and culinary world to eventually become a digital manager at Food Network and a senior editor at Food52, where he amassed a devoted readership for his “Table for One” column. He now hosts regular videos on NYT Cooking’s YouTube channel. A former contributing editor at Saveur, Eric taught writing and literature at Columbia University, and his work has been featured in The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, and Food & Wine. He lives with his rescue pup, Quentin Compson, in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


When I was seventeen years old, I ran away from home. College acceptance letters had just come in, and my mother, Jean, had torn into all of mine before I could come home from school that afternoon. I was so angry with her for opening my mail that I packed a bag in the middle of the night, took the car with the GPS, and drove from our house in Atlanta (where this story begins and ends) to Nashville (where my cousin Semi lived, four hours northwest). In the morning, when Jean saw that my bed was empty and my toothbrush gone, she called me, over and over. In my very first act of rebellion as her son, I didn’t pick up.

I remember that trip to Nashville distinctly because Semi and I cooked coq au vin together. By then, as an avid watcher of the Food Network, I had tried my hand at a variety of non-Korean dishes, mostly flash fries and quick pan sauces, but never a proper braise. It was liberating to braise chicken with red wine on Semi’s tiny stove, not least because that just wasn’t how we cooked back in Georgia. My mother’s Korean soups and stews were vociferously boiled, the meat made fall-apart tender in stainless-steel stock pots or burbling earthenware called ttukbaegi. Slow-cooked dishes in general were a whole new frontier for me and wouldn’t become a fixture in my home cooking until years later in New York, where I would eventually go to college, take an internship at the Cooking Channel, and buy a yellow Dutch oven with my first paycheck. But for now, at seventeen, tucked away in Semi’s Tennessee bachelorette pad, I tasted freedom for the first time in my life. A vast world of pleasures had opened up to me, pleasures that had, until then, been reserved for adults who get to cook whatever they want, however they want, in kitchens that aren’t ruled by their parents.

When I came home a few days later, Jean brushed it off, pretended it was a nonissue that I had run away. But she did bring it up at dinner that night: “So, did you have a good trip?” Even then I could tell that she was practicing her loosened grip on me, her second son, the one who never got into trouble. Over a plate of her kimchi fried rice, which she had made for my homecoming (and would continue to make for many homecomings to come), I told her how I had been feeling, paralyzed at that great nexus between childhood and adulthood. I ran away because I needed some space, I explained. Though I didn’t say it at the time, she knew what I really meant: I ran away because I needed some space from her. This hurt my mother greatly, I could tell. But she smiled and nodded and listened anyway. Seeing that effort—and the hidden worry in her face—was enough to thaw my cold, ungrateful heart. I burst into tears and apologized.

In many ways, I feel that I’ve been running away from home my whole life. I’m only just now, as an adult, starting to slow down and find my way back to Atlanta, where I was born and raised, to understand its role in my overall story. After a lifetime of running around, I’ve come to appreciate the stillness of rootedness. It took spending more time, too, in the kitchen as a food writer and journalist, first as an editor for publications like Food Network online and Saveur, and now as a columnist for The New York Times, to make me realize that we can never really run away from who we are. Not easily, anyway. This lesson was expounded for me during the pandemic, when I moved back home for one year to work on this cookbook with my mother. I wanted to write down her recipes, but as I got deeper and deeper into the project, I came to the conclusion that my recipes are an evolution of her recipes, and the way I cook now is and will forever be influenced by the way she cooks. This book, then, tells the constantly mutating story of how I have come to understand my identity not just as Jean’s son, but also as someone who has always had to straddle two nations: the United States (where I’m from) and South Korea (where my mother is from). Too often I have felt the pangs of this tug of war: Am I Korean or am I American? Only recently have I been able to fully embrace that I am at once both and neither, and something else entirely: I am Korean American.

As is often the case with cooking, there are many answers to be found in the kitchen. The recipes in here explore that tension, and the ultimate harmony, between the Korean in me as well as the American in me, through the food my family grew up eating and the food I cook for myself now. At the end of the day, this is all, for me, food that tastes like home, from the Very Good Kimchi Jjigae (page 98) that fuels my weary soul to the Crispy Lemon-Pepper Bulgogi (page 240) that feeds my friends when they come over, or the Gochugaru Shrimp and Roasted-Seaweed Grits (page 40) I make for myself whenever I’m feeling especially homesick for Georgia, and for my mom. This book navigates not only what it means to be Korean American but how, through food and cooking, I was able to find some semblance of strength, acceptance, and confidence to own my own story.

This story is mine to be sure, and my family’s. But it’s also a story about the Korean American experience, one that in the history of this country is often never at the center. It’s about all the beautiful things that come with being different, and all the hard things that come with that, too. My hope is that in reading this book, you’ll see yourself in it, whether you’re Korean, Korean American, or neither, whether your family immigrated to Atlanta, Los Angeles, or Little Rock. Because at the heart of this book is really a story about what happens when a family bands together to migrate and cross oceans in search of a new home. It’s about what happens when, after so much traveling and fighting and hard work, you finally arrive.

There’s a pivotal moment that occurs whenever I’m on a long drive home from somewhere distant. The blurry picture starts to come into focus. I can let down my guard and turn off my GPS. The roads are familiar again. I don’t need a robot telling me about my own city, my own street, my own hometown. But sometimes, after that long drive, I’ll forget to turn off the GPS because my mind is wandering, or maybe I’m listening to a really good song or an especially juicy podcast. And as I roll into my mother’s driveway, eager to walk through those doors and crash into my old bed, it’ll talk back to me.

“Welcome home.”

Table of Contents

Introduction 11

The Tiger and the Hand 14

What Is Korean American Cooking? 17

That Boring Pantry Section in Every Cookbook, but More Fun 21

TV Dinners

Fast foods to eat on the couch 27

Pan-Seared Rib Eye with Gochujang Butter 31

Three Dinner Toasts: Gochujang-Buttered Radish Toast, Soft-Scrambled Egg Toast, and Roasted-Seaweed Avocado Toast 33

The Quiet Power of Gim 36

Creamy Bucatini with Roasted Seaweed 39

Gochugaru Shrimp and Roasted-Seaweed Grits 40

Maple-Candied Spam 43

Jalapeño-Marinated Chicken Tacos with Watermelon Muchim 44

A Lot of Cabbage with Curried Chicken Cutlets 47

Salt-and-Pepper Pork Chops with Vinegared Scallions 49

Cheesy Corn and Ranch Pizza with Black-Pepper Honey 52

Meatloaf-Glazed Kalbi with Gamja Salad 55

Kimchi Is a Verb

On time capsules and pantry cooking 58

Kimchi Is a Time Capsule 65

Jean's Perfect Jar of Kimchi 68

Baek Kimchi with Beet 70

Bitter (in a Good Way) Green Cabbage Kimchi 72

Seolleongtang-Restaurant Radish Kimchi 74

Naengmyeon Kimchi 77

Perilla Kimchi 78

Oi Sobagi 81

Spam, Kimchi, and Cabbage Stir-Fry 83

Kimchi Sandwiches 84

Kimchi Bibimguksu with Grape Tomatoes 87

Bacon-Fat Kimchi Jeon with Herbs 88

Caramelized-Kimchi Baked Potatoes 91

Kimchi-Braised Short Ribs with Pasta 92

S Is for Stew

The Korean art of gentle boiling 95

A Very Good Kimchi Jjigae 98

Budae Jjigae 101

The King of Scallions (and Other Negotiables) 103

Doenjang Jjigae with Silken Tofu and Raw Zucchini 104

Cornish Game Hen Soup with Fried-Shallot Oil 106

Dakdoritang 109

Sunday-Night Chicken Sujebi 110

On Soaking and Blanching Meat 113

Pork Spare Rib Soup in the Style of Gamjatang 114

Seolleongtang Noodles with Scallion Gremolata 117

Mountain Kalbitang with All of the Herbs 120

Kalbijjim with Root Vegetables and Beef-Fat Croutons 122

Rice Cuisine

Jipbap means "home food" 125

Perfect White Rice 128

Gyeranbap with Roasted Seaweed and Capers 130

Tomato-y Omelet Rice 133

Nest 135

Eric's Kimchi Fried Rice with Egg Yolk 136

Spam and Perilla Kimbap 138

Cheeseburger Kimbap 141

Jjajangbap with Cabbage and Peas 143

Weeknight Curry Rice with Eggplant, Spinach, and Lotus Root 144

Scorched Skillet Rice with Raw Spring Vegetables 145

Summer Albap with Perilla and Salted Garden Vegetables 148

Sheet-Pan Bibimbap with Roasted Fall Vegetables 150

Winter Squash Risotto with Chewy Rice Cakes 153

Korea Is a Peninsula

The fish chapter 157

Salting Fish and Why It Rocks 161

Pan-Fried Yellow Croaker 162

Salted Salmon Steaks with Celery and Mushrooms 165

Crispy Trout with White Wine and Lemon Butter 166

Maeuntang 169

Old Bay Shrimp Cocktail with Wasabi Chojang 170

Roasted Lobster Tails with Lemony Green Salad 173

Ganjang Gejang 176

Garden of Jean

The vegetable chapter 179

Oi Naengguk with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes 183

Chicken Radishes 184

One Dressing, a Thousand Fruit Muchims 187

Raw Brussels Sprout Muchim 188

Garlicky Creamed Spinach Namul 189

Gem Lettuce Salad with Roasted-Seaweed Vinaigrette 190

Smashed Potatoes with Roast ed-Seaweed Sour Cream Dip 193

Crudités with Roasted-Seaweed Sour Cream Dip 194

Grilled Trumpet Mushrooms with Ssamjang 195

Crispy Yangnyeom Chickpeas with Caramelized Honey 199

Charred Cauliflower with Magic Gochugaru Dust 200

Gochujang-Glazed Zucchini with Fried Scallions 203


Menus and ruminations on living 205

A Korean American Thanksgiving 208

Yangnyeom Roast Chicken 210

Cheesy Scallion Stuffing with Sesame Seeds 212

Sesame-Soy Deviled Eggs 215

Aunt Anne's Broccoli-Cheese Rice Casserole 216

Mac-and-Corn-Cheese with Jalapeño Bread Crumbs 219

Honey-Buttered Goguma Casserole with Turmeric 220

Judy's Empanadas 222

Lasagna with Gochugaru Oil 225

Roasted Bo Ssam with Coffee, Garlic, and Bay Leaves 227

Sheet-Pan Japchae with Roasted Wild Mushrooms 231

Sheet-Pan LA Kalbi with Sprite 232

Salt-and-Pepper Ribs with Fresh Mint Sauce 235

Microwave Gyeranjjim with Chicken Broth 236

Aunt Georgia's Soy Sauce Fried Chicken with Jalapeños 239

Crispy Lemon-Pepper Bulgogi with Quick-Pickled Shallots 240

Two Soju Cocktails: Somaek and Clementine 50/50 243

Korean Bakery

Baked weekend projects 247

Milk Bread with Maple Syrup 251

A Proper Grilled Cheese 254

Honeyed Biscuits with Strawberry Refrigerator Jam 255

Korean Pear Galette with Salted Cinnamon Whipped Cream 259

No-Churn Ice Cream with Dalgona Butterscotch Sauce 261

Honeydew Semifreddo 264

Gochujang Chocolate Lava Cakes 267

Chewy Black Sesame Rice Cake 268

Whipped Cream Snacking Cake with Fresh Fruit 270

Epilogue 273

Acknowledgments 278

Index 280