Food: Korean classic bibimbap finds a place at brunch

Bibimbap is a classic Korean dish. | Melissa Elsmo/for Sun-Times Media
Bibimbap is a classic Korean dish. | Melissa Elsmo/for Sun-Times Media

Tweaking breakfast traditions recently led me to rediscover Korean bibimbap. A gentle blend of fluffy rice, marinated meat and sautéed vegetables, bibimbap is a colorful dish that isn’t complete without an egg on top, making it ideal brunch fare.

I was naturally a little nervous about making one of the three most popular Korean dishes at home. Bibimbap is as iconic as bulgogi and kimchee in Korean cuisine. It didn’t help matters that I had recently enjoyed a truly sublime bibimbap interpretation at Small’s Smoke Shack in Chicago’s Irving Park (smallschicago.com).

Their BBQ beef bibimbap came arranged in rows on a metal tray and the more I mixed it the better it got. The smoked meat was the undeniable star of the dish, but every element, including the fried egg, added an essential layer of flavor to the plate. Enjoying that bibimbap was one of the single most memorable comfort food indulgences of my life.

Rather than be intimidated, I remembered that bibimbap has been subject to interpretation for hundreds of years and recipes vary greatly by region. Just because an Irving Park smoke shack makes insanely good bibimbap with smoked beef brisket and a fried egg didn’t mean I couldn’t take a crack at making my own solid version of a Korean classic in the suburbs.

Emboldened and inspired, I acquired shiitake mushrooms, spinach and aromatic rice to back up the stars of my Korean-inspired dish. While bibimbap is traditionally made with beef, I opted to use pork in my version because it is readily available, quick-cooking and well-suited to the sweet and spicy marinade that gives the dish its signature zing.

Bibimbap is most often served with a fried or raw egg as the finishing touch, but I wanted to bring a happy medium to the mix. Poaching the egg brings a delicate quality to the dish without upsetting the balance of flavors that make bibimbap successful.

I rounded out my rice bowl with an assortment of optional garnishes including chili-garlic paste, bean sprouts and kimchee. After taking a bite I realized my version of bibimbap was as unique as I wanted it to be. The steamed Jasmine rice soaked up the egg yolk and meat juices equally, while the sesame seeds brought crunch and texture to the dish.

My take on bibimbap manages to celebrate traditional Korean ingredients of meat, egg, vegetables and rice, but a little egg cookery twist makes this colorful and festive dish as suitable for brunch as it would be for dinner.

Bibimbap with Pork and Poached Egg
Whether you make this hearty meal for brunch or dinner, be sure to start preparing the recipe the day before you plan to serve it in order to give the meat ample time to marinate.

Meat and marinade:
1 Pound pork tenderloin, chopped into 1” x ½” strips
1 Cup 7 Up
¼ Cup Hoisin sauce
¼ Cup reduced sodium soy sauce
¼ Cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
½ Teaspoon coarse black pepper

Rice:
1 Cup Jasmine rice
1 Teaspoon salt
1 ½ Cups water
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Vegetables:
1 Pound baby spinach
1 ½ Cups shredded carrots
6 Ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 Teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Eggs: 4 fresh eggs at room temperature
Garnishes: Sesame seeds, bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, sliced scallions, kimchee, chili garlic sauce

Marinate the meat: Place the pork in a gallon-sized zipper bag. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over meat. Seal bag, place on a plate and refrigerate overnight; turn bag occasionally.

Cook the rice: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the rice well and place in a loaf pan. Sprinkle the rice with the salt. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the rice. Seal the loaf pan tightly with foil and bake 25 minutes. Check the rice for doneness, fluff with a fork, fold in the sesame seeds and keep warm until ready to serve.

Cook the meat and veggies:
While rice is cooking, drain the meat from the marinade. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add meat, stirring constantly until well browned and cooked through (about 10 minutes). If meat appears to be burning, reduce the heat.

Add the spinach, shredded carrots and mushrooms. Toss until wilted and well combined. Remove from heat and drizzle with the sesame oil. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Or: I prefer to cook the vegetables and the meat in separate skillets, but cooking them together cuts down on dishes. If you’d like to cook in separate pans, sauté the mushrooms first until deeply colored and add the carrots and spinach to wilt. Season the veggies to taste and drizzle with sesame oil.

Poach the eggs: Fill a high-sided, nonstick skillet with 3 inches of water and bring to very gentle simmer.

Crack the eggs into individual cups. Working quickly, slip each egg into the pan of water taking care to make sure the eggs do not touch. Use a wooden spoon to gently flip the white over the yolk.

Cover pan, turn off heat and let eggs sit for 3 minutes.

Assemble the dish: Place a spoonful of rice in the bottom of a bowl. Top the rice with some of the meat and vegetable mixture. Use a slotted spoon to transfer a poached egg to the top of each dish. Sprinkle the bibimbap with sesame seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

Poached Eggs 101

There are loads of gadgets and gizmos that promise to make poaching eggs a foolproof kitchen task. While a few of these contraptions are sure to yield good results most of them over complicate a fairly simple cooking technique. Making perfectly poached eggs requires nothing more than a skillet, wooden spoon and slotted spoon.

Follow the instructions for poaching eggs in my bibimbap recipe and use the following tips to ensure you eggs are perfect every time.

1. Use a non-stick skillet to poach eggs. Even if the delicate egg whites touch the bottom of the pan there won’t be a threat of sticking.

2. Do not add vinegar to the water. For a longtime I followed the suggestion that vinegar was an egg poacher’s best friend, but over time came to discover that adding vinegar to the poaching water only creates rubbery whites. Treating eggs gently during the cooking process eliminates any need for this protective ingredient that adversely affects both texture and flavor.

3. Fill the pan to cover the eggs by one inch. Poaching in shallow water gives you more control when coaxing the whites over the yolks with a wooden spoon.

4. Cook at a simmer not a boil. Boiling water will blow the eggs apart, while simmering water will gently solidify the whites while leaving behind a runny yolk. Look for tiny bubbles to pepper the bottom of the pan just before adding the eggs.

5. Do not swirl the water. Many poaching recipes recommend dropping the eggs into a swirling vortex of simmering water. This technique only serves to tamper with the delicate whites. Instead, slip the egg from a cup into the water by placing the lip of the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible.

6. Do not disturb. Once the eggs are in place and whites have been eased closer to the yolk with a wooden spoon. Cover the pan, kill the heat and walk away. After three minutes, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon.

7. Poach in advance. If poaching to order makes you nervous, poach the eggs in advance and place them in an ice bath and keep them in the refrigerator in the water overnight. When ready to serve the eggs, simply transfer them to barely simmering water to warm through for a couple of minutes.

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