BB.Q Chicken

Instagram Post 2/14/2020

KTown, Part Three.

BB.Q (aka Best of the Best Quality) Chicken is a bewildering South Korean franchise. It established a “Chicken University” (look out, McDonald’s) complete with auditoriums, seminar rooms, and training areas plus an R&D center staffed by Ph.D. level researchers, all dedicated to creating unexcelled fried chicken for their thousands of locations. They take particular pride in their use of costly 100% EVOO for frying because they believe it’s healthier and tastes better.

So why do I find it bewildering? Because for all their culinary and marketing bona fides, I found their chicken disappointing.

Upstairs at the 25 West 32nd St location in Manhattan’s Koreatown, the “Grab & Go” area is a model of efficiency. Mini buckets of a number of chicken varieties – many unusual – perch patiently in a warming cabinet; take a tray, load it up, bring it to the cashier, find a table, and chow down.

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This is boneless Galbi Chicken, “smoky, sweet and savory; marinated Korean Barbeque flavor” (unlike any galbi I’ve ever tasted BTW).

Boneless Surpfried Chicken, “a new kind of fried Chicken that never existed before! Crispy fried chicken with a hidden layer of caramelized onion sauce.”

Both were extremely dry, partially the result, I suspect, of sitting uncovered in the warming cabinet for an unspecified amount of time. Had they been covered, of course, they would have steamed and lost any crispness they may have started with. Further, it seemed like every unhappy bite was white meat, dry by definition.

All this is in stark contrast to my last post from Pelicana Chicken where there’s a sign informing customers to anticipate 10 minutes cooking time for boneless and 14 for drumsticks and wings.

Now, maybe I “did it wrong” and someone out there has had a better experience than I. Should I have ventured downstairs to the chimaek (fried chicken and beer) seating area, perhaps to consume equal quantities of chicken and draft beer or soju? Is the chicken prepared to order down there? Should I have chosen a variety that was less “creative”? Let me know. Seriously. I’ll go back for Round Two if you make a good case for it.

Pelicana Chicken

Instagram Post 2/11/2020

Part Two: More from Koreatown and Food Gallery 32 (11 West 32nd St).

Roosting on the third floor, there’s an outpost of Pelicana Chicken, a chain of Korean Fried Chicken restaurants along the East Coast. Available styles here are Boneless Chicken, Drumsticks, and Wings which can be ordered with any of ten different sauces, either in regular or crispy versions. Pelicana has a reputation for being one of the definitive KFC venues and I’d have to agree. (BTW, remember when KFC meant Kentucky Fried Chicken?)

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I actually thought the boneless version had the edge; although equally delicious, it was crisper than the wings (in both cases I ordered the “regular” to keep the playing field level). Since the pieces are far from uniform, there’s more opportunity for craggy crevices, hence crispy crunch.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like the wings; of course I did. When it comes to wings, size matters: too small and they’re not meaty enough, hence unfulfilling; too large and any subtle nuances of the coating get lost in the mass of meat, hence overpowering. These were juuust riiight. Goldilocks would have basked in the afterglow.

The chicken recipe itself isn’t spicy; the kick comes from the sauces, so order them on the side if you want to regulate the heat. That day’s sauces of choice were Pelicana Signature (spicy) – a must-do IMO – and Honey Garlic (the yellow one), also great. I didn’t do any beer that day, but “chimaek” (치맥) a portmanteau of “chikin” (Korean for fried chicken) and maekju (beer) is a thing at Pelicana and elsewhere. Next time – with friends.

Doshirak Box

Instagram Post 6/9/2019

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Dosirak (도시락), in Korea, denotes a lunchbox kind of meal, packed up and ready to travel, their often compartmentalized grab-n-go version of Japanese bento boxes. Doshirak Box, in Flushing, is the name of a shiny new Korean place at 136-31 Roosevelt Ave suitable for a quick snack or takeout. (The syllable “si 시” is pronounced “shi” in Korean.) I landed there on the first day of their soft opening – that’s code for they didn’t yet have everything on their incredibly extensive menu of about 75 items. After striking out a couple of times, I went for the kimbap (김밥), Korea’s version of Japanese maki; kim (you might see gim) refers to the nori wrapper and bap means cooked rice.

I’ve always been a fan of kimbap – to my mind there’s something picnicky and informal about it. I chose the Spicy Tuna with Perilla Leaves: pickled daikon, carrots, perilla leaves (akin to shiso leaves popular in Japanese cuisine), and spicy tuna salad. In my experience, tuna kimbap is always made with canned tuna, not the raw, chopped, kicked-up tuna you may know from similar Japanese rolls, and this one is true to form. Maybe that’s why it seems picnicky and informal to me.

Hobak Chaltteok

Instagram Post 2/23/2019

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For an abundance of Korean supermarkets far beyond the handful that Manhattan has to offer, head out to Northern Boulevard in Flushing. One such business, Hanyang Mart, aka H&Y Marketplace, 150-51 Northern Boulevard, is brimming with Korean staples, produce, fresh fish and meats as well as homemade ready-to-eat fare.

While wandering through the store, I noticed this hobak chaltteok; it looked tempting, so I was compelled to purchase it. When you see tteok (sometimes dduk) 떡 on a Korean menu or label, it refers to Korean rice cake. Hobak (호박) means pumpkin, chaltteok (찰떡) means glutinous rice cake; pumpkin seeds usually figure into this #snack for a little texture. Steam to soften (or microwave if you’re careful not to overdo it) and you’ve got what I suspect is a healthy snack: not too sweet with a satisfying chew that should keep you busy for a while.

Her Name is Han

Instagram Post 1/10/2019

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Four of us went to Her Name is Han, 17 E 31st St in Manhattan, for the delightful lunch special in which several types of bapsang are offered. Bapsang comprises the words for rice (밥 bap) and table (상 sang) and has a well-defined structure that varies primarily with the number of dishes served. Expect rice, soup, small plates of a seasoned vegetable or salad, kimchi, additional banchan (side dishes are where the number can vary), plus a protein like chicken, beef, pork or fish; sometimes, the dominant item is jjigae, a rich soup or stew. Because only the featured dish varied in our selections, it was particularly easy to share, especially since the company was so convivial. In this set, the focus is Grilled Garlic Chicken; absolutely delicious.

[2] A close-up of Boodae Jjigae, spicy beef broth with three kinds of ham, rice cakes, kimchi, noodles and vegetables

[3] Grilled Hokke (mackerel)

[4] Fire Grilled Pork Barbecue which was everything one could hope for. Definitely warrants a return visit for dinner!

The World’s Fare – Forward Roots

Instagram Post 5/11/2018

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Forward Roots bought us two top notch entries at April’s World’s Fare event:
1) Chilled buckwheat bibim noodles with fresh vegetables and kimchi, and
2) A tteokbokki 떡볶이 sampler bowl featuring fingers of Korean chewy rice sticks, boiled then fried for crispness and served up two ways (love that sweet, spicy gochujang sauce!), a flap of fish cake and a pair of kimchi fritters in a spicy aioli sauce. I should have gone back for more!

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of…Fish?

You’ve undoubtedly seen these if you shop at Asian markets whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Southeast Asian because they’re a favorite everywhere in that part of the world. (Scandinavia has its own variant, but we’re not going to venture that far north this time.) There are even fish cake emoji like 🍥 (narutomaki) and 🍢 (oden). In local Asian markets, you’ll find fish balls and fish cakes in the freezer case packaged in bags or plastic wrapped in a small tray, but if you’re lucky they’ll also have bins of loose assorted varieties where you can cherry-pick as many or as few of whichever ones suit your fancy – my style of shopping, of course.

At their most basic, fish balls are made of fish paste: finely ground fish (pulverized and pounded), egg white, starch, plus a little seasoning. You may have also encountered fish paste as Japanese surimi which is used to make imitation shellfish like the crab stick you see in those ubiquitous California rolls. Incidentally, you can often purchase a few types of fish paste by the pound at the larger markets in the fresh fish/meat department. These are generally the stores’ own blends and are worth trying, but they’re easier to work with as filling for a dumpling or stuffing a vegetable, dim sum style, rather than for rolling your own fish balls, so I strongly recommend getting the ready-to-go frozen ones as an entry level fishy requisite.

Anyway, I was shopping at Jmart (136-20 Roosevelt Avenue in the New World Mall in Flushing, Queens) and fortuitously happened upon one such bin – fortuitously because I had just made a savory Chinese duck soup from a pair of carcasses that contributed their meat to a Thai duck salad I crafted and I had been trying to decide whether to put noodles or dumplings in it. This bounty made the choice easy – and now I had the perfect excuse to buy a few of each kind.

It’s difficult to rate them on some sort of 1 to 10 scale because they’re all quite good but the cuttlefish balls and all of the filled varieties were especially tasty; the shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber and the fish ball with pork filling were excellent. By way of identification, from left to right in the photo above:

Row 1: shrimp ball, fish tofu, imitation lobster ball, Chinese brand mini bite sausage

Row 2: beef tendon ball, fish dumpling with lobster flavored filling, fish ball with fish roe filling, cuttlefish ball

Row 3: fish tofu with shrimp filling, fish ball with pork filling, pork and chicken patty ball with pork filling, shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber

Preparing them is a piece of cake (no, not fish cake) because they’re already cooked. The easiest method is to simply drop them into boiling soup/water; they’ll float to the top when they’re good to go. Alternatively, they can be fried and served with just about any Asian dipping sauce; you’ll find them on skewers at some food trucks, and I’ve seen them served with a curry sauce as well. Obviously, they’re incredibly versatile.

The flavor is mildly fish-like (except for the ones made from meat which are mildly beefy or mildly porky) which partly accounts for their affinity for various dipping sauces and also for their adaptability in combining with other ingredients. The texture is tender and frankly springy/bouncy, but in a happy way.

The final photo was taken just before adding more soup since it would have completely covered them up; there are some greens in there for good measure.

So I’m curious: let me know if or how you’ve used these little wonders in the “Leave a Reply” box below! (If you don’t see it, click the reply button next to the title of this post.)