Korean Cooking Basics: It’s All About the Infrastructure

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Author: tess
Date: 4-14-10
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Even as a Korean American, I find it challenging to cook Korean food as frequently as I would like. I’ve talked to friends and they’ve expressed similar sentiments, blaming how long it takes to how much "stuff" one needs to have on hand … which is one of the reasons we started this site – to provide shortcuts to modern and simple Korean cooking. One of my other theories, besides the sheer number of ingredients involved, has to do with the structure of a Korean meal.

A Korean meal isn’t just an “entrée” which is made up of a piece of meat with a side like it is in many Western cuisines; instead, you have a main meal that is composed of many parts: banchan (side dishes), rice, a soup or casserole and maybe meat of some sort. That’s a lot to prepare! Which is why the more you cook Korean food, the easier it is to prepare a Korean meal – witness my Mom, who can whip up a meal very quickly – she already has all of the banchan on hand, rice probably leftover or cooking, and ditto for the soup.

In any case, if you are just getting started, or if you are more of an intermittent Korean cooker, then you still need to know what you need to have on hand so you’re not making trips to locate obscure ingredients.

Here’s the short list:

  • Garlic (Manul) -- there's a reason I put this first! For your own sanity, it's best to keep this pre-peeled, or even pre-ground (you can freeze this)
  • Saengang (ginger) 생강 -- keeping pre-ground and frozen works
  • Pa (green onion) -- also called scallions, used for everything
  • Gochujang 고추장 -- Korean red pepper paste, needed for a lot of different things
  • Gochugaru 고추가루 -- Korean red pepper flakes, needed for kimchi and general seasoning
  • Doenjang 된장 -- fermented soybean paste, for soup base, flavoring and general cooking
  • Ganjang 간장 -- regular soy sauce, for general cooking
  • Guk ganjang 국간장 -- a kind of lighter-flavored soy sauce for soup base and flavoring
  • Chamgirum 참기름 -- sesame oil, used for flavoring and frying
  • Ssal shikcho 쌀식초 -- rice vinegar
  • Kaesogum 깨소금 -- roasted, powdered sesame seeds, used for garnishing
  • Myulchi 멸치 & Myulchi Garu 멸치 가루 -- dried anchovies and anchovy powder, used for soup base and flavoring
  • Kimchi 김치 -- Korean pickled cabbage, juice is good for flavoring and you may use kimchi in other dishes

Not essential, but good to have especially if you're making kimchi:

  • Gim 김 -- plain dried seaweed, used in dishes and also for garnishing
  • Rice wine -- called "Mirin" in Japanese
  • Mulyeot 물엿 -- corn syrup, used for jorim or glazed-type dishes
  • Aekjeot 액젓 -- fish sauce, used in kimchi dishes and for flavoring
  • Saewoojut 새우젓 -- fermented small shrimp, used in kimchi dishes
  • Chapssalgaru 찹쌀가루 -- sweet rice flour / powder
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