Pork and cabbage instinctively go together. It’s one of those universal combinations that seems to reappear in cultures throughout the world (with the notable exception of those that forbid pork in their diet). From the many iterations of pork and cabbage in Europe—an infinite variety of sausages and roast pork paired with sauerkraut or braised cabbage, and the all-in-one combo: stuffed cabbage—to the barbeque pulled-pork and coleslaw of the American South, there’s something about the slightly acidic tang of cabbage that highlights the subtle flavors of pork. My personal favorite variation on the pork and cabbage theme is daeji bulgogi and kimchi from Korea.
Daeji bulgogi is spicy, marinated pork (its cousin, bulgogi, is non-spicy, marinated beef) that’s barbequed and serves as the inspiration for my take on pork and kimchi. While my version is far from authentic, I’m able to incorporate my own home-made kimchi in the dish without overwhelming the pork flavor. I start with a nice piece of pork loin from Bluescreek Farm Meats in the North Market, which I thinly slice. I then marinate the pork slices in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, gochujang (a spicy/sweet fermented Korean chili paste), and a little brown sugar for about an hour. I’ve mulled adding kimchi to the marinade but have deferred, as I like the combination of the sweet and salty notes of the marinated pork with the spiciness and sourness of the kimchi. Adding the kimchi to the marinade, I’m afraid, might throw off that balance.
For the kimchi, I incorporated some small adjustments to my original kimchi post to create a new batch of stinky, fermented goodness. The first alteration I made (and have since changed the recipe on the original post) was to reduce the amount of salt; even though I rinsed after brining, the final product was too salty, even for my taste. (That being said, I would advise against cutting the salt too much as it is the salt that helps arrest bad bacteria growth, allowing the good bacteria to get a jump on things.) I also increased the amount of garlic and ginger from the original recipe and did what I should’ve done in the first round: take the extra time to blend the peppers, garlic, and ginger into a paste. This not only resulted in a more traditional-looking kimchi, but helped infuse the heat of the peppers, as well as the garlic and ginger flavor, throughout the kimchi. For fermentation, I followed the same procedure as before: leave the open jar (covered with a damp towel) on the counter for about three days, then transfer to the refrigerator.
When the pork is finished marinating, I add a little sesame oil to a wok; add the pork, a good-helping of kimchi, and sliced onions to the hot wok; and stir fry until pork is done. I serve with a side of rice and top with sesame seeds. Pretty simple, but delicious (if I do say so myself).
While my pork and kimchi is quite tasty, I still feel compelled to make my requisite visits to Diaspora in order to obtain the traditional version. Their daeji bulgogi is not only my favorite menu item (when I visit, they always seem to know what I’m going to order), but it is accompanied by a never-ending array of banchan—small side dishes that accompany Korean meals.
Fermented cabbage, whether in the form of sauerkraut or kimchi, is the perfect companion to pork. If you’re a pork and cabbage fan and haven’t tried the Korean version, daeji bulgogi and kimchi offer a spicy take on this quintessential food combination.