Adaptive Jook

jookWell, insomuch as my efforts to sleep in recent hours were only modestly successful, there’s only one thing to do: post a photo of last night’s dinner with an explanation. What you see in the photo is bastardized adaptive jook. Let me explain. Jook (AKA juk) is the Korean name for what the Chinese (and I) call congee. It is a porridge of rice cooked so long in liquid that the individual kernels of rice have  broken down.  In the Korean version I adapted for last night’s meal, I cooked a ham bone and turkey carcass along with the rice. After a few hours, the I stripped the bone and carcass of meat and returned the meat to cook some more. I adapted by using a chicken carcass, due to the unavailability of dead turkeys. I further adapted after the meal was cooked by bastardizing my bowl of adaptive jook with the addition of soy sauce and sambal oelek, two garnishes that prove the inauthenticity of any congee or jook made in my house. Neither garnish is called for in recipes for Asian rice porridge, but behind my doors’ threshold, Asian rice porridge does not have the same appeal without them.

I’ve probably written about my opinions about “authenticity,” when it comes to ethnic cooking. I know I have strong opinions on the matter, which almost always translates into having written about them. Regardless, here goes: the only authenticity one ought to be concerned with with respect to foods is the base, underlying flavor profiles. If one were to visit the homes of a dozen people from any given culture outside the U.S. and ask the host to prepare a dish common to that culture, more often than not there would be variance between the dishes. They might have a fundamental similarity in underlying flavor, but each would be unique. So, which one is authentic? Every one of them. Transferring the recipes to the U.S., some ingredients might not be readily available; but if those hosts came home with me and prepared the same dishes, using available ingredients to mimic flavor profiles, the dish would be authentic, in my view.

That having been said, I would not be surprised to learn that my bastardized adaptive jook is a far cry from jook I might find in a home in Seoul. The recipe from which I created and bastardized my meal may have been an adapted recipe. The ingredients I used may be only distantly related to the ones used in the household in Seoul. But I enjoyed making it and I enjoyed eating it. So, my meal may have been authentic only in the sense that the core ingredients were related and the method of cooking resembled that used in Korea. So, did I eat a Korean meal last night? Hell if I know. If I did, I have to admit that I prefer a Chinese version I make in which the primary flavor enhancer is ground pork, rather than ham bone and chicken carcass. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to have made jook (also spelled juk). By the way, my limited research into jook (or congee) suggests that the dish is the same from Asian culture to Asian culture, with minor modifications to ingredients and to linguistic roots describing it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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