Monday, 5 October 2009

Fish 'n' Chips - Korean Style

Recently I cooked fish and chips for just over 100 kids. We, the 3 British native teachers at my school, were granted the extraordinary opportunity of organising an event day, which translates as a day off teaching formal classes. My fellow Brits and I decided that it would be silly to pass up an opportunity to dispel a few commonly held misconceptions about Britain, like we are American. After mere minutes of thinking the idea came to us. Fish 'n' Chips. What could be more British? Well lots of things actually but we are going for the easily digested stereotypes and not the realities of what being British actually means, for the stereotypes are still closer to the realities than the perceived stereotypes.

So Fish 'n' Chips it was, along with a small quiz about the constituent parts of the UK (maybe I will endeavour to explain what the difference between the UK and Great Britain is) and some flag making and waving. The main labour, a labour of love would be stretching it, was however to be the fish and chips.

A few pieces of fish, some batter and some chips (Americans read 'thick fries'),
simples. The best batters have beer in them, which is out for the kiddies, even though I have never heard of kids at home getting drunk from fish and chips, but the director would surely disapprove and she is paying so a delicious, crispy alternative would have to be found. And the 'bit of fish' has to be of a certain type, not too watery, not too expensive. It was never going to be like home but if we are to introduce fish and chips to these foreign palates (I love calling Koreans foreigners!) then it must be as good as we can make it, hence this post.

I spent some time researching what fish might be best to use and then tried to accurately translate Korean terms for these fish and decide if they are considered suitable for battering, after all I don't want the taste to be wildly off because that would defeat the point of the day and I don't want a fish that is unsuitable, lest if fall apart in the oil.

So, from here on in it might get a bit technical, a bit Latin with fish family names and the like but I think, with a bit of logical thinking and a smattering of faith, I might have found one or two fish that are as close to what might be used in a 'chippy' or 'Fish shop', or even 'Fishy' if you are Northern England, back home.

A common white fish in Korea is 명태, and can often be bought in ka-maecks to accompany beer. In its dried form it is called 황태. This is Alaska Pollock, it is a member of the Gadidae family, the same family as cod which means that it may be a suitable alternative to cod, which is out for cost reasons, especially when you are spending your director's money. Alaska Pollock is found in and around Alaska and the Bearing Sea and is sometimes called 생태, which means 'Fresh Pollock'

On a Koreabridge forum discussion, Dave, of Dave's Fish and Chips in Busan said that he uses whiting as he finds Pollock too watery. The problem is that the names 'Whiting' and 'Pollock' can both refer to more than one fish, a multitude of fish if you will. Pollock usually refers to fish of the Pollachius genus, of which Alaska Pollock is not actually a member, that is a whole other genus. Therefore I conclude, by a stretch of the imagination and that logic I mentioned earlier, that the Pollock that Dave is referring to is Alaska Pollock, as it is very common in the waters not too far from Korea and Pollock of the Pollachius genus has been used back home as a suitable alternative to cod in fish and chips, meaning that it probably isn't too watery. So now I will work on the basis that I know what Dave doesn't use and move on to what he does, or might use.

Whiting, the fish which Dave uses for his very nice fish and chips, unfortunately has the same complicated, naming system as Pollock and can also refer to more than one fish of more than one family. The fish originally known as whiting, in English that is, is in the Gadidae family, remember that? The cod family, so that's a good start. But Whiting can also refer to smelt-whitings, which are a whole other kettle Smelt-whitings usually have an adjective before 'whiting' to identify them as smelts and from the family Sillaginidae, and not the other kind, the cod like whitings from the Gadidae family. Keeping up?

Cod whitings, which is how I shall refer to the whiting from the family Gadidae, are typically found in the temperate waters of the northern hemisphere but smelt whiting inhabit a wide region covering much of the Indo-Pacific, from the west coast of Africa to Japan and south to Australia. Japanese whiting (Sillago Japonica) was first recorded in Japan in 1843 but has subsequently been found in Korea. In Korea the Japanese whiting is known is known as 청보리멸 and is found is spades around the south coast of Korea. So the 2 fish that Dave mentions, Pollock and Whiting are more than likely the Alaska Pollock and the Japanese Whiting, due to the fact that they are more common in Korea by virtue of their location and because I would imagine Dave can't really afford to buy expensive fish to batter for you and I. If I am correct in all these assumptions, which I may well not be, then Dave is recommending the Japanese Whiting over the Alaska Pollock.

And it is no surprise actually. The Japanese whiting is revered, in Tokyo particularly, as being THE fish to tempura. Known as Kisu in Japan it is regularly enjoyed in batter by many drunken Japanese businessmen.

I think this ousts the Alaska Pollock as my main contender for my very first, home made fish and chips a la Korea. Which would be great if I weren't constrained by both time and budget. My local Home Plus stocks 700 gram bags of Alaska Pollock for around 7,000 won and even though I know the other fish will be better, I went with the Pollock, Alaska Pollock that is. To the refined palates of the Brits in work the Pollock did indeed turn out to be too watery and even though the beer less batter, researched and made by my girlfriend, was quite delightful, the fish and chips were not exactly as home, a little bit pappy with no real texture inside the crispy batter. The real litmus test was the teachers and kids in school who devoured every mouthful, the teachers even rationing the fish and chips towards the end of the day so they had enough for themselves, which made me none too happy when , after seeing them stuff their faces, I saw the state of my cooker.

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