Japanese/Korean food for the Chinese home cook?
November 17, 2013 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Reasonably decent Chinese home cook would like to venture into Japanese and/or Korean cuisine. I'd appreciate help on (1) good cookbooks, (2) pantry stocking and (3) choice of cuisine!

I'm a decent Chinese home cook -- I can turn out acceptable dry-fried green beans, mapo tofu, three-cup chicken, kung pao chicken, red-braised pork, etc. But I'm starting to want to explore some new cuisines, and for a variety of reasons I'd like to start with Japanese or Korean food.

1. I've been cooking a lot from Fuchsia Dunlop, especially her Every Grain of Rice book. (Super highly recommended if you haven't used it!) What similar English-language cookbooks would you recommend for Japanese and Korean food?

Things I like about Fuchsia/EGOR: lots of vegetable recipes (although definitely not a vegetarian here). Home cooking emphasis, so not a lot of very time-intensive or overly complex recipes. Ample discussion/pictures of pantry staples and general cooking techniques. Pictures for 99% of the recipes.

2. I have a pantry stocked with the essentials for Chinese cooking, see below*. What additional staples would I need to stock for Japanese and/or Korean cooking?

3. For someone like me, who has a decent understanding of Chinese cooking techniques and recipes, is one cuisine significantly easier to try?

Some considerations:
- Single grad student here. My Chinese meal paradigm is a pretty rigid rice+green vegetable+protein, in thirds. I like making large portions of proteins especially and parceling them out over several meals, although I usually prepare a simple green vegetable every night. Insofar that new recipes can fit into this pattern, that would be awesome.
- I've seen this and it covers some of the same points, but I really strongly prefer cookbooks because, honestly, I don't like cooking with a computer in the kitchen and I rarely remember to print out recipes.
- Assume good access to East Asian food products. I'm in Boston.
*In terms of pantry, I have soy sauce (dark and light), sesame oil, Shaoxing cooking wine, hoisin sauce, black rice vinegar, oyster sauce, Sichuan chili bean sauce, gochujang, fermented black beans, cinnamon sticks, Sichuan pepper, star anise and fresh ginger, garlic and scallions. Also have a rice cooker, salt, pepper, sugar, canola oil.
posted by andrewesque to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also in case it wasn't clear, I have no dietary restrictions or allergies (although I have a strong dislike of shiitake mushrooms!)
posted by andrewesque at 4:07 PM on November 17, 2013

For Japanese cuisine, Cooking With Dog is a good place to start. Japanese cooking isn't really anything like Chinese cuisine, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:18 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find the youtube videos by Maangchi to be excellent for Korean cooking.
posted by 445supermag at 4:30 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having dabbled in all three cuisines, I think Korean and Japanese are closer to each other than Chinese is to either of those two. I only have to add a few items (mirin, sake, katsuobushi, shiro miso) to my basic Korean pantry* to also be able to cook Japanese dishes. For Chinese, I find myself with ingredients and spices that do not overlap as much with what I use for Japanese or Korean cooking.

The basic Korean meal consists of a bowl of rice, soup/stew, and banchan (side dishes). The vegetable and protein you prepare would be considered banchan. So the one thing that's missing is the soup or broth. This could be as simple as bean sprouts boiled in anchovy broth to more time consuming beef broths (or the pork bone soup I made today). The easiest way to fit Korean food into your current meals is to add some Korean banchan to your meals, maybe some kimchi, or toasted seaweed, or some greens tossed with Korean seasonings.

Personally I've given up on finding an English-language Korean cookbook that I like, and I'll just print recipes from Maangchi or other recipes I find online when I'm not referring to Korean language cookbooks or consulting with my mother over the phone. Maangshi does have cookbooks in print, although they seem to be a bit on the spendy side for what they are.

* gochujang, doenjang (Korean miso), gochugaru (red pepper powder), garlic, ginger, scallions, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, dried anchovies for making broth (although these days I use anchovies and kombu teabags as they are more convenient), fish sauce (either Vietnamese or Korean is fine). and always a jar of kimchi.
posted by needled at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2013

I mentioned in a previous AskMe that Korean meals (at least your standard homecooking and non-specialty restaurants) have the following components: rice+soup/stew+banchan. A protein main that is easy would be braised chicken (ddak jjim) or if you don't mind fishy stinkiness, some grilled yellow corvina or mackerel

For soups or stews, you'll need to add these to your pantry/fridge: doenjang (miso is acceptable, but not any of the light or sweet ones), dashima aka kombu or anchovies to make stock. If you can find a good kimchi purveyor, you can make kimchi jigae, but don't bother if the kimchi is mediocre. Without kimchi, stews like soondubu or doenjang jigae or mandu guk are really straightforward.

I also always keep a stash of roasted laver on hand too. It's worth figuring out what the tastiest brand is, there's a pretty marked difference in deliciousness.

On preview, what needled said!
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:53 PM on November 17, 2013

I am a fan of these two sites that make everyday Japanese cooking accessible: Just Bento and Just Hungry. She has one cookbook from the Bento site which is quite good for the everyday lunch.

Japanese and Chinese food are really different from each other. Even the choice of rice will be different so your pantry items will overlap a bit but not too much.

I am a fan of various Japanese cookbooks but will throw out Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Tsuji, which is an early book in the field while more modern writers include Andoh and Shimbo.
posted by jadepearl at 4:56 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

For Japanese food, Japanese Cooking A Simple Art is easily the best I know of. I'd be skeptical of most English language Japanese cookbooks though.

Also, virtually none of the ingredients you listed, nor other ingredients used in Chinese cooking, will be used for Japanese food. Japanese cuisine only seldom uses things like garlic or sesame oil (despite the proliferation of dishes everywhere called "Asian" and doused with the overwhelming flavor of sesame oil), or the other seasonings you mention. Even Japanese and Chinese soy sauce is very different, and Japanese soy sauce made in China tastes different. The flavor of Chinese soy sauce is not compatible with the flavor of Japanese food. Japanese and Chinese rice are completely different from each other and it would be absurd to serve Chinese rice with a Japanese meal as the rice is very, very essential. The above book will also go a lot into stocking a Japanese Pantry, however.
posted by Blitz at 5:03 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cooking with Dog on youtube is great, and no you aren't cooking "with" a dog, the host is a dog. Trust me watch it and find out. They do great step by step instructions breaking down everything and cover a real range Japanese foods.
posted by wwax at 5:08 PM on November 17, 2013

Ha, yeah, making it clear that you're not actually cooking with dog is important since people seem to amalgamate everything "Asian" and some people seriously wonder if Japanese eat dog, they don't. It's a good series on Youtube, but from what I've seen it focuses on "yoshoku" and entrée type meals. Yoshoku is the word for Japanese takes on western type dishes. They are very different from the originals and very Japanese and yeah they have a category for it because they at least seem totally aware that they are inauthentic. And while Japanese do eat some dishes that are more like an "entrée" style, mostly they eat many dishes at once without a main centerpiece, so they don't teach you how to make all these small dishes which is what you would really be eating in Japanese cuisine. These small dishes really make up the substance of Japanese food and go much beyond gomaae, hiya yako, or agedashi tofu, as Japanese cuisine is really vast.

Also, the Just Hungry site has a helpful section on picking out a bag of rice depending on price as well as what's available is the US versus various parts of Europe. Picking out rice can be confusing if you're lucky enough to have a Japanese grocery store near by and have more than one brand to choose from. Although I also find the site suffers from the same criticism as Cooking with Dog, lots of fried foods, yoshoku, and main dishes in favor of other possible Japanese recipes.
posted by Blitz at 6:39 PM on November 17, 2013

Yeah, "Cooking With Dog" focuses more on Japanese home cooking as opposed to stuff you might eat in a restaurant.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2013

Response by poster: Hi all -- I just wanted to be clear that I wasn't trying to imply that the three cuisines are very similar. Part of why I'm asking the question is to clear up my sadly lacking knowledge in this area! (I was sort of hoping to get lucky with not having to pick up too many new pantry staples, but it appears that will not be the case...)
posted by andrewesque at 8:07 PM on November 17, 2013

I've found recipes from Everyday Harumi to be tasty and easy to cook. Once you get some miso, mirin, good soy sauce, sake, sesame seeds and a suribachi (pestle and mortar) set you can a whole bunch of Japanese recipes. Harumi is a very famous TV chef and this book is basically an idiot's guide to Japanese food for westerners, but none the worse for it.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:20 PM on November 17, 2013

I checked "The Japanese Kitchen" out from the library, then bought it.
posted by JABof72 at 9:21 AM on November 18, 2013

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