Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post 93: Pork Belly Octo-nom (LA: Koreatown)

When I decided to dedicate the month of October to the most pleasurable portions of pork, the first thing I thought about was pork belly.  Not bacon? What a shock.  Ah, pork belly... it is a luxuriously thick slab of fatty pork that, at least for me, gives me more exhilaration than eating just basic bacon no matter how smoked, cured, or maple syruped it has been.  One of the most memorable meals of delicious pork belly that came to mind was the eight courses of decadent grilled pork belly from Palsaik Samgyupsal Korean BBQ in Koreatown.  Palsaik, meaning eight colors, specializes in BBQ of pork belly.  There is beef on the menu also, but most patrons select one of two multi-course set meals of pork.  The first selection on the menu, the one we ordered, is an ample amount of food for three people with moderately large appetites.  The meal comes with other grilled vegetables, a salad, seafood stew, fried rice and side dishes... all of which can be refilled by the server with the push of a glutton.  Er... button.

The eight different flavors include (in order of suggested consumption)... wine marinated, original, ginseng, garlic, herb, curry, miso, and spicy gochujang.  There is even a ninth flavor of smoked pork belly.  It is left off the classic palsaik, but it can be ordered a la carte by the strip or by the tray.  The restaurant stresses the healthy aspect of eating the pork belly, which is laughable at first.  But after exploring the health benefits of the eight flavors posted on their website (ginseng stimulates metabolism... herbs alleviate stress... curry helps prevent Alzheimer's and certain cancers, etc.), it is understandable as to how each ingredient can be good for you... those healthy ingredients should probably be consumed without it being slathered over slices of fatty pork belly.  Speaking of which... each cut of the fatty pork belly has been scored so that the supposedly healthy marinades can permeate the protein more easily for the utmost of flavor in each bite.

The first cut is wine flavored pork belly, which the server tells us has been marinated in a red wine overnight for eight to 12 hours.  Having the wine break down the proteins in the meat for that many hours allows for a texture that is tender and succulent.  I have not figured out why the wine marinated belly gets served prior to the original flavor yet... although I speculate that the remaining seven cuts of belly are not as tender as the wine marinated.

Following the wine marinated cut is the original pork belly.  It is the cut in the purest form without even a sprinkling of salt or pepper...  Returning from the tenderness of the wine marinated cut, this is a reminder of what unaltered pork belly tastes like.  It's crispy... it's fatty... it's juicy.  It is around this time that I notice the many things happening on the table at once that it is difficult to focus on only the pork belly.  I am distracted by the seafood stew that is still boiling away... and mesmerized by all that is gleaming on the table.

After the original flavor is one that has been rolled in ginseng.  The ginseng flavor is extremely smart because it is almost a palate cleanser.  It is a bit unexpected but not unrealistic to have contrasting flavors to help cut the grease of fatty pork belly, which there is a lot of exuding from the strips of glistening pork.  Tilting the grill pan is another method of helping to cut the grease.  All the extra fat runs downward into a convenient hole at the bottom of the tilted grill.  What is not captured by the black hole helps to fry the kimchi and spicy soybean sprouts.  That goes without saying that kimchi fried in lard is quite delicious. 

The last of the first four is garlic pork belly with actual sliced cloves of garlic.  The pairing of meat and garlic is very natural.  It is one of the first items in the kitchen that cook will grab to cook or marinade with.  The fragrance and aroma of the garlic is powerful, and it becomes even more potent after it is grilled.  It may even help induce an orgasmic climax during the meal.

Of the final four, herb marinated is next, with dill as the predominant tasting herb.  None of the herbs are thought of as typically found in Asian cooking, so it was surprising to taste these flavors marinated into the pork belly.  I appreciate the break in seemingly Asian flavors knowing that curry and miso were coming up.  More than halfway through the meal now, food coma may start to set in.  I found myself zoning out and staring at all the cuts of pork belly sizzle away on the grill.

Curry tasted like a blend of Southeast Asian curry flavors more like the taste of Malaysian curry rather than an Indian or Japanese curry.  It was a little heavy for my taste, especially because I was expecting something a bit lighter like Japanese curry, but it was still good.  The Southeast Asian curry uses its somewhat more exotic spices to provide more of a punch.  Because it is one of the heavier tastes it is nice to wrap it around some radish paper or have a bit of the pickled japaleños and onions to cut the heaviness.

The penultimate flavor of pork belly was miso paste.  There were no surprises here.  The miso flavor provided the saltiness that I expected from eating pork belly, which gave it more of a bacon quality.  I especially liked this flavor because the miso paste crusted up really well on the grill.  It has a great grilled color and crisp texture on the exterior.  Yum.

Hot/spicy was a favorite for all at the table.  It was flavored with gochujang, a spicy Korean chili paste.  Although the red glow from the marinade warned of the impending heat, the slight sweetness of the gochujang does not overpower your taste buds with overwhelming heat or bite.  There is a smoothness to the spice that allows you to continue eating it until there is no more.  It really was the best ending to all of the flavors... understandable why they saved the best for last.

Our eight colors of pork belly was quickly followed by a boiling cast iron pot of seafood stew.  From crab to shrimp to mussels to octopus to tofu to udon noodles, we eat everything until just the little dregs were leftover... but there is just enough stew to reduce down into some intense flavor that is perfect for making fried rice.  The server arrives to cut and fold the leftover kimchi and soybean sprouts into the rice along with remaining onions, mushrooms, and seaweed.  If the pork belly has not already made your stomach full, the last of the fried rice will.  In the couple of times that I have dined on Palsaik's eight flavors, we have never finished the last of the fried rice.  No matter... when the rice is done, we dig in.

We are full and satisfied from the eight, delicious flavors of pork belly.  This meal has inspired me to make my own pork belly octo-nom.  I am convinced that my collection of eight pork belly flavors are going to result in mouthgasms across the land just like Palsaik's incredible palate of eight has done for us.  So until then (when I wow you with my pork belly octo-nom), let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120811

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