My earliest memory of my mom’s cooking was turning it away. It was the early eighties, when Korean cuisine wasn’t as popular as it is now, and while everyone else at school was bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, and ham sandwiches, my mom would send me to school with kimbap (rice and assorted pickled vegetables, and sometimes meat, all wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed), bulgogi with rice, red-bean dduk (sort of a Korean-style mochi), and sometimes fried rice with an egg omelet. It was the last thing I wanted. In elementary school in Long Island, all I wanted was to be like everyone else.
Decades later, I regret ever turning down her lunches. My mom loves to cook, and especially loves cooking for her family. She takes great care and time into the preparation and the process of cooking, and whether she’s making broth from scratch or picking cabbages for kimchi, she never skimps, either on ingredients or the process itself. A typical meal at home involves a hot soup, usually vegetable-based, a protein—sometimes a simple grilled fish or tofu—a bowl of rice, always, and a few side dishes to complement everything. An easy weekend meal might also be a simple noodle dish garnished with vegetables and/or a braised beef, or a soy-based sauce. Now when I’m visiting home, she’ll wrap kimbap for me to hit the road with.
Since she semi-retired, my mom is experimenting with cooking more than she ever has before, tweaking old recipes and getting inspiration from new ones, with my family and me as her taste-testers. Her contemporary takes on traditional Korean dishes are something of a reflection of her life: transitioning from one country to another, learning to adapt, and ultimately finding home.
My mom developed this chicken wing recipe a few years ago. She wanted to make something for the family that departed from the time-consuming stews and pickles she always made. It was a dish my brother always asked for. Then, one Thanksgiving dinner, we swapped the turkey for these chicken wings. Now, these wings are the most requested at every family gathering. It’s like a potato chip—you can’t have just one. —Jennifer Kim
When and where were you born?
I was born in the late fifties in Seoul, Korea. I was your typical girl: I loved the arts, cooking, and making things. After I married and had you, we moved to New York. We started our life in New York in Brooklyn, then moved to Long Island. When we moved to New York, the first few years, I cooked a lot. I think it was my way of retaining my culture and surrounding myself in the comforts of Korean cuisine. It was my way of keeping connected to my homeland.
What is your earliest childhood memory involving food?
During elementary school, when my own mother would ask me to come home after school to help her with the cooking. I would help her make mandu (Korean dumplings), all sorts of jeons (Korean style pancakes), dduk—It varied all the time. Growing up in a family of six, she could use all the help she could get, and she wasn’t afraid to ask.
What’s the story behind this dish?
My son inspired me to create this dish. He was constantly going out for the now-popular Bonchon, Mad for Chicken, and KyoChon chicken.
I wanted to make something he would stay home for. I started experimenting with the ingredients and wanted to make something a bit more rich and savory in flavor. The malt adds a nice texture and sweetness that complements the soy sauce and the garlic. Now instead of going out, my son is inviting his friends over to my house. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, fried chicken wasn’t popular in Korea like it is today. My first experience with fried chicken was probably a bucket of KFC in the early eighties, when I moved to New York. It’s definitely a more contemporary dish than what my mother made when I was growing up.
Who did the cooking in your house?
My mom always did the cooking when I was growing up. She was a stay at home mom, typical of that generation. She wasn’t a great cook, day to day. But when she entertained, she pulled out all the stops. My siblings and I became her sous chefs. I learned how to cook from observation and constantly helping her around the kitchen.
Do you like cooking?
I love to cook for my family. Seeing them enjoy something I make from scratch makes me happy, and knowing it’s nourishing makes me even happier.
Any challenges cooking at home?
My husband and kids all have very different, but acute, preferences. One prefers spicy, the other mild; one likes seafood, the other prefers poultry—it’s always difficult trying to please everyone. Luckily, my husband always sides with me.