Eat My Reads

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Cheeseburger With Kimchi Relish + Duck Fat Fries + Watermelon Soju Spritzer

This is a post originally written on August 3, 2012.

Cloud Atlas is unlike any other book that I’ve read and it’s one my favorite reads this year. This is the only David Mitchell book I’ve read so far but it instantly turned me into a lowly fangirl so much so that after finishing it, I picked up a copy of his The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Unfortunately, I found the latter to be a bit of a struggle mostly because in the first 20 pages, I had to keep track of like, 15 different characters none of which was particularly memorable save for the main one. It will have to hang out in the bookshelf for now.

I think another reason I loved Cloud Atlas so much is that part of it is set in a future where clones form the bottom wrung of a corporatist society and this place is obviously Korea. Indicators include Korean names, mountainous terrain, the Han river… I wonder if widespread cosmetic surgery (called ‘facescaping’ in the book) was also supposed to be a clue. It’s also very obvious that the fast food chain Sonmi-451 (the main character in this vein of the story) works at called Papa Song’s is really a McDonald’s – the “golden arches” were a dead giveaway. These are the factors that led to the dish for this book.

While looking at hamburger recipes online, I found one that claims to be James Beard‘s favorite which instantly intrigued me. I don’t know how much truth there is to the claim but it sure can’t hurt to try it! For a Korean twist, I decided on a kimchi relish. Is there any other dish that has a stronger national (let alone Korean) identity than kimchi? It’s hard to think of one. As for the fries, I just came back from a week-and-a-half trip from Korea and brought home some vacuum-packed smoked duck. It’s insanely delicious. It also renders a lot of fat while it’s heating through. I’m so glad I saved the fat – I hear potatoes and duck fat are a match made in food heaven. Lastly, I found some leftover watermelon in the fridge and thought why not make a beverage with it? To up the K-factor, I decided to spike it with soju.

I made enough of everything to serve about 4. I started with the duck fat fries since I baked them in the oven. I used:

3 smallish potatoes

About 3 T duck fat

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F. Wash the potatoes thoroughly and slice into desired thickness for fries. Fill a medium bowl with water and transfer sliced potatoes. Let sit for about 10 minutes. This will draw out the starch in the potato and make for crispier fries.

2. Blot potatoes in paper towel and transfer to a baking tray. Drizzle duck fat and sprinkle freshly ground black pepper. I didn’t add my salt just yet because my fat was smoked duck fat and I wasn’t sure if the seasoning from the duck was in the fat or not. I’m deathly afraid of over-seasoning stuff. Toss well and pop in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the fries halfway through. When time was up, I found that it needed some more crisping so I cranked up the oven to about 240 C and gave it another 5 minutes.

While the fries were in the oven, I got started on my cheeseburger and kimchi relish. Aside from the kimchi relish, I also made a gochujang dressing for my burger. Oh, and here’s the hamburger recipe I was telling you about. To make cheeseburger with kimchi relish, you’ll need:

2 lbs. ground beef

1 medium onion

1 T heavy cream

1 t salt

freshly ground black pepper

About 2 T duck fat (or some cooking oil with 1 T butter)

a bundle of lettuce

About 1 cup napa cabbage kimchi

2 T perilla oil (available in Korean grocery stores)

sharp cheddar cheese, as needed

hamburger buns, as needed

For the gochujang dressing:

3 heaping T of mayonnaise

1 T gochujang or to taste (available in Korean grocery stores)

3/4 t sugar

1/2 t vinegar

1. Chop the kimchi into small strips.

2. Heat a pan over medium heat and add perilla oil. Perilla oil is widely used in Korea and in my kitchen, it’s interchangeable with sesame oil. Try it with bibimbap next time – fragrant, nutty, and a little different. You can absolutely substitute with sesame oil or even use whatever cooking oil you have in the kitchen as long as it’s not olive oil since that has such a distinct flavor (a very not-Asian flavor, at that). Bring kimchi to the heated pan, juices and all, and sautee until it goes slightly limp and juices have reduced. I only did this to take the edge off the kimchi a little bit but if you prefer it sharp and robust, then by all means skip this step. I would probably squeeze the juices out of the kimchi though. When done, set aside.

3. Transfer the ground beef to a medium bowl. Grate in the onion with a fine grater. It felt like it was taking 5 years but seeing the mushed onion and its juices was worth it. Add in cream, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Knead everything gently just until everything gets incorporated nicely.

4. Take a grill pan to the stove on medium heat and add in duck fat.  Take the ground beef mixture and form them into patties. If you follow the linked recipe, you’ll end up with four ginormous patties bordering on the grotesque but maybe that’s your kind of thing. Place patties on grill pan and cook for about 4 minutes on each side for medium rare, shorter for smaller patties. Don’t forget to let your patties rest once they’re cooked.

5. While the patties were cooking, I made my gochujang dressing by just putting everything in a bowl and mixing.

The watermelon soju spritzer really couldn’t be easier. All I did was toss about 2 heaping cups of seedless watermelon, a can of Sprite and about half a bottle of soju in the blender and give it a good whirl. You can sweeten with sugar or syrup to taste but I found that it wasn’t necessary. I also really liked that my watermelon was yellow. The spritzer looked like happy hour!

To serve, I first assembled the burger. I toasted the hamburger buns and then layered with lettuce, patty, kimchi relish and gochujang dressing. Added a handful of fries. Filled up a pretty glass with the spritzer.

I am sooooo keeping the hamburger recipe – it’s tasty and simple to boot! What is it? The grated onion? I’m also glad I made a dressing for the burger. It would’ve been on the dry side without it plus the creamy spiciness was a nice layer of flavor. Also, kimchi benefits from anything that is creamy or rich. One of my aunts used to make maki rolls with just rice, kimchi and mayonnaise. It’s really good! The duck fat fries fell short of my admittedly over-inflated expectations. The duck fat was fantastic, especially because it was smoked duck fat, but it was the potatoes. I think I should’ve sliced them thicker and the cooking temp needs to be tweaked, too. They also have to be eaten right away. However, my disappointment didn’t last very long. The watermelon soju spritzer is a very refreshing complement to the meal and several glasses were raised to David Mitchell.


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