Monday, August 8, 2011

Korean Soju Is Made for Infusing

Carrots, kumquats, Asian pears, and persimmons turn soju into easily sippable dinner accompaniments.

We’ve been infusing spirits for years with ripe fruit, fresh vegetables, and piquant herbs and spices. Now it’s all the rage. Recently, we taught ourselves how to prepare a bunch of Korean dishes and, looking for a perfect pairing, decided that soju would be the ideal partner. Soju is a Korean slightly sweet vodka-like beverage that is usually distilled from rice, although today, it can be distilled from other grains such as barley and wheat, to a host of starchy tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even cassava, from which we get tapioca. Most sojus hover around 20% abv, though they can range from 18.5% to 45% abv.

When you buy soju, try to get the 20% variety with as little flavoring and sweetening as possible. If you can find a big green cheap plastic bottle of the stuff, do, because this will be perfect for your infusions. Pick comestibles that you are fond of and that you think might go with Korean food (or whatever style of cuisine you are creating). We decided on three that were in season: kumquats, Asian pears, and persimmons, and also the ubiquitous carrot.

Make sure you have several clean jars with lids. Now it’s time to separate your washed and scrubbed edibles into the different jars. You can leave them whole if you wish, or you can cut them into pieces or crush them. Use as much as you’d like. The choice is yours. Fill the jars with soju so that the food is all covered (some of it, such as kumquats, will float, but do not worry about this). Cover with the lid, and give a good shake or swish. You will be shaking and swishing daily until the soju achieves your desired flavor. (You should taste frequently—herbs and spices sometimes only take one to a few days to infuse.) Since we were using only fruits and vegetables, we left ours in for over a month in order for the soju to develop deep, complex flavors. We can’t decide which is our favorite—they’re all so amazingly satisfying. And paired with a Korean Barbecue Grilled Sea Bass with a side of rice and kimchi, plus a helping of sautéed spinach and various pickled vegetables, you’re good to go.

Seng Sun Bulgogi, or sea bass first grilled skin-side down, is bathed in gochu jang paste. Serve it with sides of pickled vegetables, rice, sauteed spinach, and a glass of chilled infused soju. But remember, no Korean meal is complete without kimchi.

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