there was a dusting of snow this christmas eve morning. alas, there would be no white christmas as rain is forecasted for much of tomorrow, washing all of this away. there were ample parking spots outside as neighbors depart for holiday destinations. i was surprised my upstairs neighbors were still here - they always get away for christmas - i think the new omicron variant has put a damper on their plans.

a few china friends were wishing me a merry christmas on wechat. i think they overestimate the importance of christmas, especially for someone who isn't christian and who doesn't celebrate the holiday. of course their well-wishing was also peppered with questions about the pandemic status in boston, given what they've heard on the news, how cases in the US are rising again exponentially.

when my parents arrived at the cafe this morning, it was freezing cold inside. turns out the furnace pump had died overnight. my father called xiaowu who by a christmas miracle actually showed up around 11:30am to come and replace the furnace pump. he charged them $300 for parts and labor, the same price he charged them on monday when he replaced the expansion tank in my parents' basement. what are the odds both furnaces needing repairs the week before christmas? when asked what he was doing next, xiaowu said he was meeting his son for lunch.

my parents were closing early today, and i was supposed to go to their place and make yukgaejang (육개장 spicy korean beef and vegetable soup). originally i was going to make it tomorrow, but my sister pre-empted my plan when she said she was going to be making something on saturday. i was going to go by bike - but my mother called around noontime and said my sister could come and give me a ride around 2pm. for lunch i had a microwaved hot pocket. i'd soaked the fernbrake overnight, now they were very well reconstituted. i drained the water and packed the gosari in a ziploc bag.

yukgaejang (육개장)
(8-10 serving)

beef broth

1.6 lbs. beef brisket
4 dried shitake mushrooms
1 onion, halved
7 scallions
7 garlic cloves, smashed
10 oz. daikon radish
1 tsp peppercorn
10 cups water (pressure cook)


12 oz. bean sprouts
2 large leek, chopped
7 oz. gosari (25g dried)*
8 cloves garlic, minced

enoki mushrooms


4 tbsp gochugaru
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp gochujang
1 tsp doenjang

remove fat and cut brisket into large chunks (with grain). soak in cold water 30 minutes to remove blood. add brisket and beef broth ingredients to instant pot. cook high pressure 30 minutes, then natural release 10 minutes. keep broth, brisket, shitake, discard rest. mix sauce then combine with vegetable ingredients (minus enoki). add combined sauce vegetables to broth sautee in instant pot for 20 minutes. shred brisket and slice shitake, add to broth with enoki for additional 10 minutes.

* reconstitute dried gosari (bracken fern) by boiling for 30 minutes, let cool 3 hours, then soak overnight in cold water, changing the water 2-3 times.

i started the yukgaejang. i looked up a bunch of recipes online (maangchi, korean bapsang, my korean kitchen, seonkyoung longest (video), future neighbor) but followed the maangchi one because it was the easiest and made the most sense cooking-wise. there are 3 parts to the recipe: creating the broth, preparing the vegetable ingredients, and creating the sauce that mixes with the vegetables before they cook in the finished broth.

i started by soaking the brisket in cold water for 30 minutes, to get rid of the blood. in hindsight this seems like an unnecessary step, since there's still blood inside of the meat. if i were to do it again, i'd just trim off the fat, cut the brisket into chunks, and put them directly into the pressure cooker.

there are also some vegetable ingredients that go in with the beef to give the broth some flavor: daikon radish (i halved and peeled one, came out to 10oz), some scallions, an onion, some garlic. recipe also asked for a few dried shitake mushrooms, so they can be reconstituted in the broth, but my mother already soaked some in a jar earlier, so they didn't need to be soaked again. the broth calls for no salt, which i thought was weird, but salt can always be added later. i added peppercorns because i saw some recipes incorporated them. i also wanted to add some dried anchovies or dried seaweed, but from what i've read, those umani ingredients should only be added in the beginning and taken out, otherwise they might infuse a bitter taste to the broth. i don't know if it's true or not, but since i can't open the pressure cooker once it gets started, i decided not to add the anchovy/seaweed.

it helps that my parents have an 8qt instant pot. when they first got it, it seemed like overly large, and they rarely used it, never having a reason to cook that much food. however, a 8qt instant pot is perfect for making hearty soups, since you can really maximize the amount of ingredients. traditionally this soup is made over the stove, and requires a few hours of simmering to make the broth, but doing it in the instant pot is a shortcut. however, i don't know if that's really true, because the thing they never tell you about pressure cookers is that it takes them a while to come to pressure. so even though the broth only needed 30 minutes of high pressure cooking, it took the instant pot 30 minutes just to build up the pressure, so the whole process took more than an hour.

so while the beef was cooking, i prepared the additional vegetable ingredients. i had 14 oz. of gosari, but that seemed like way too much, as most recipes only call for 6 oz. so i ended up just using half, 7 oz. i chopped up 2 large leeks. various recipes kept telling me that they use special large korean scallions, which are not regular scallions and not regular leeks, but to me they looked like leeks, so that's what i used. i've never used leeks before, it found it very tough and fibrous, almost difficult to cut. it made me worried that they wouldn't break down in the soup and be hard to eat. i cut the reconstituted shitake mushrooms into slices, and i trimmed off the "roots" of the enoki mushrooms. the mushrooms go into the broth last, along with the beef.

next i made the sauce, which is key to the flavors. i followed the portions in the recipe, but the sauce still seemed dry. manngchi doesn't roast her sauce like some other recipes, i might try that next time, or add more liquid ingredients. i also additional teaspoons of gochujang and doenjang for added flavor.

once the vegetables were chopped and the sauce made, i combined the two. i wore one glove for easier mixing. it felt like i was making kimchi.

once the broth was done (leaving it to cool down naturally for 10 minutes before releasing the pressure, which in itself took a few additional minutes), i removed all the ingredients. the brisket i saved, the vegetable ingredients were destined to be thrown out (which seemed like a waste). removing the peppercorns was a little more difficult without straining (which i didn't bother doing), next time i don't think i'll add them, too much hassle.

i added the flavored raw vegetables into the broth. i also added the broth vegetables since it seemed like a waste to throw them out and they were already close to dissolving. i then set the instant pot to sautee, first on medium, then reduced it to low when it looked like it was bubbling too much. during that time, i shredded the brisket by hand (easy with the glove, the beef was already tender from being pressure cooked). after 20 minutes, i added the brisket and mushrooms and cooked for an additional 10 minutes.

my sister prepared some soybean sprout banchan. we cooked up some potato thread noodles that'd been soaking for 30 minutes. we added some noodles to the bottom of the bowl before fillng up with yukgaejang. the soup was a little bland, so we added some more salt to taste.

i was worried about the leek for nothing: 30 minutes of cooking they were tender to the point of dissolving. i couldn't really taste the gosari, there was so many else going on, they seemed to disappear. they don't really have a taste, more of a crunchy texture. i could've added all of it, didn't need to split it in two. the texture reminded me of lily flower buds used in hot & sour soup. if i was making this again, i'd used lily buds instead because they're easier to find (all chinese supermarkets carry them) and their cheaper, and texture-wise they're about the same. there was a sweetest to the yukgaejang, i think that's from both the leek, the daikon radishes, and the onion. next time i might exclude the daikon and onion, as the recipe recommended.

afterwards my sister gave me a ride back to cambridge.