There is something so wise and moving about Su Scott’s Rice Table. Born and raised in Seoul, Scott moved to London as a 20-year-old, is married to an Englishman, and their daughter was born in 2015. Having a child is a momentous and wonderful thing, but it also exposes great vulnerability and this was Su Scott’s experience: it exposed the loneliness of the immigrant experience, the isolation of being so separated from the family and land she came from, and engendered a homesickness that could only be salved by eating the food of home. Being a new mother can trigger all sorts of questions about identity, and generally does, but this was particularly complicated in Scott’s case: “It was becoming a mother”, she writes, “that had made me realise the importance of continuing to cook dishes that connect me deeply to my roots, allowing me to restore my sense of a Korean heritage. After all, it is my daughter’s birthright, and it is my duty to share the recipes from my family and traditions, ensuring she is entirely familiar with them and rooted in both sides of the cultures she has inherited.” It is an act of grace and generosity that Scott has shared these recipes with us.
And what gorgeous recipes they are. And as Scott says “There is a common misconception that Korean cooking is difficult, but I think when we talk about particular cuisines being difficult, it often simply reflects a lack of familiarity.” Rice Table offers not just recipes, but introduces the flavours, ingredients and ways of cooking with them that underpin Korean food. Nothing is daunting or complicated: it’s home food from the heart. And it’s food my home needs, too.
I always like to tell you about a few of the recipes in any book I’m reviewing, but of course any selection can give only a partial understanding, and one that’s very much tilted towards my own palate and preferences, but how could it be otherwise? And so let me begin telling you about the food I so long to eat. First off, the King Oyster Mushrooms with Doenjang Butter sauce, doenjang being the intense Korean counterpart to Japanese miso; then Charred Cabbage in warm Gochujang Vinaigrette (gochujang is a favourite ingredient of mine, providing heat, sweetness, richness and deep umami); Old-School Pork Cutlet, which is not the more familiar Japanese Pork Tonkatsu, but might be recognisable to fans of that, pork bashed out to thinness, covered in panko before being fried till crisp and crunchy, with a thick brown tangy sauce; Soy Sauce Beef with Jammy Egg; a clutch of kimchi; irresistible Korean Fried Chicken; Poached Pork Belly Wraps; Grilled Salt+Sugar-Cured Mackerel, which has my name written all over it; Grilled Clams with Doenjang Vinaigrette (ditto); Spicy Squid Salad; Curried Pot Rice, which so very nearly was the recipe I shared with you today; Spicy Cold Noodles; and Hand-Torn Noodles in Clam Broth. And this is me trying to restrain myself: there is so much more I’ve marked to cook. I have a couple of desserts to tell you about, too: namely the Peanut Butter Cream Bun and the Honey Semifreddo with Instant Coffee Caramel.
As I said, I so nearly chose the Curried Pot Rice to share with you today, but in the end could not tear myself away from the Chicken Skewers with Sesame Chicken Skin Crumbs — and yes, I did say Sesame Chicken Skin Crumbs, and I never want to stop saying it!
The Rice Table by Su Scott (£27, Quadrille).
Photography by Toby Scott.