Culinary Nostalgia: Rediscovering Donkkaseu, the Timeless Korean Pork Chop Delight

Culinary Journey Through Seoul: Su Scott's Nostalgic Encounter with Donkkaseu

In the vibrant pages of her recently released cookbook, "Rice Table: Korean Recipes and Stories to Feed the Soul," acclaimed author Su Scott warmly invites readers into the heart of South Korean nostalgia with her cherished recipe for donkkaseu—an iconic crispy golden pork loin crowned with a luscious brown glaze.

Scott's culinary journey down memory lane is intricately woven with the flavors of her first encounter with donkkaseu, a delicacy defined by thin slices of lean pork, expertly breaded and crisped to perfection in bubbling hot oil. The golden masterpiece is then adorned with a savory brown sauce, reminiscent of a French demi-glace, offering the ideal blend of richness and subtle acidity.

This South Korean culinary gem, often likened to the Japanese tonkatsu, distinguishes itself by being served whole, a testament to its unique character. Scott vividly recalls her inaugural experience, the donkkaseu resting beneath a "thick, rich brown sauce," a culinary creation loosely inspired by the classic demi-glace tradition. Paired with a side of cold macaroni salad and shredded cabbage embellished with a tangy swirl of ketchup and mayonnaise, the dish unfolded as a symphony of flavors and textures.

The roots of Scott's love affair with donkkaseu trace back to her childhood in Seoul, where weekend dinners at gyeongyangsiks, popular establishments in the 1970s and 1980s blending Korean cuisine with Western influences, became a cherished family tradition. At one such establishment, the magic of the crispy pork cutlet left an indelible mark on young Scott. Although the restaurant has faded into the past, the memories endure, inspiring Scott to recreate the beloved dish in her own kitchen.

While donkkaseu continues to grace the tables of South Korean restaurants, Scott generously shares her take on the timeless classic in her cookbook, aptly named "Old-School Pork Cutlet." The recipe, a delightful fusion of tradition and innovation, pays homage to the flavors that shaped Scott's culinary journey. Her culinary expertise, ignited in London in 2000 and further fueled by a prestigious Observer Food Monthly Award in 2019, continues to captivate enthusiasts seeking a taste of the past woven into the present.

"In that period, I grappled with an identity crisis and battled through post-natal depression following the birth of my daughter. It was this dish that served as the gateway, bringing back the flavors of home that I sorely missed. The recipe held a deeply personal significance, laden with layers of emotion that became my driving force to delve into my heritage through the prism of taste," shared Scott.

The genesis of "Rice Table" was rooted in Scott's struggle with the weighty responsibility of being the sole bearer of Korean culture for her daughter of mixed heritage. Fueled by the inspiration drawn from dishes like donkkaseu from her formative years, Scott poured her heart into the writing process. "Amidst the busyness and eagerness to integrate into the city I had fallen madly in love with, I inadvertently lost touch with my Koreanness, including fluency in my mother tongue. Cooking the dishes of my childhood became my path to reconnect and reconstruct my Korean heritage," she explained.

Within the pages of "Rice Table," Scott unfolds a culinary journey through a collection of bapsang recipes—a reflection of the ordinary, daily home-cooked meals that weave the fabric of sustenance. "I aimed to celebrate the transformative power of food, connecting fragments to make us feel whole," she added.

Among the showcased dishes, donkkaseu takes a prominent place, its origins dating back to the 1930s during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Drawing inspiration from European classics like Italian veal Milanese, French escalope, and Austrian and German schnitzel, donkkaseu was initially a luxury enjoyed exclusively by the affluent in Korea. The dish was a testament to the high cost of pork and the extensive amount of oil required for frying. Today, South Korea savors two versions—the thin cutlet popularized by gyeongyangsik restaurants and a thicker iteration introduced by American soldiers post-Korean War in the 1980s. The evolving narrative of donkkaseu mirrors not only shifts in culinary preferences but also the cultural and historical tapestry of South Korea.

Savoring Tradition: Su Scott's Time-Honored Old-School Pork Cutlet Recipe

Su Scott's rendition of the classic old-school pork cutlet is a delightful journey into simplicity and comfort. Despite the need for deep-frying, this dish unfolds with ease, taking a mere four minutes of cooking time after a 30-minute marination in the fridge. The key to tenderizing the pork lies in Scott's recommendation to use a meat mallet or a needle-bladed tenderizer, ensuring the meat is perfectly flattened. In a pinch, a rolling pin or the back of a knife can serve the purpose.

Scott emphasizes the importance of precision in following each step of the recipe to recreate the dish exactly as it was in her cherished memories. Once the pork is expertly pounded, it luxuriates in a marinade comprising a blitzed mixture of milk, onion, garlic powder, and salt—a combination that not only seasons the meat but also contributes to its tenderness. The pork is then coated in flour, beaten eggs, and panko breadcrumbs, setting the stage for a perfectly crispy finish.

As the pork undergoes its marinade transformation, a simple yet sublime sauce is crafted, achieving a delicate equilibrium of sweet, savory, bitter, spicy, and acidic notes. This flavorful elixir is generously poured over the pork, creating a harmonious pairing that harks back to Scott's initial donkkaseu experience. To complete the homage to her culinary roots, the dish is served with a side of shredded cabbage salad, mirroring the accompaniment that adorned Scott's inaugural donkkaseu.

Scott's meticulous Old-School Pork Cutlet recipe, crafted with love and an unwavering commitment to authenticity, beckons home cooks to embark on a journey of flavor, tradition, and the joy of recreating a cherished culinary memory. Each bite is a tribute to the electric magic that resides in the simplicity of a well-prepared dish—one that transcends the realms of food, evoking a sense of being part of something entirely new and profoundly special.

Culinary Symphony: Crafting Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet

Embark on a culinary adventure with Su Scott's meticulously crafted Old-School Pork Cutlet, where each step is a symphony of flavors and textures. This time-honored recipe promises a comforting journey from tenderizing the pork to creating a delectable sauce and assembling the perfect crispy cutlet.

3 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour1 egg, whisked with a pinch of salt100g (3½oz/2 cups) panko breadcrumbsVegetable oil, for frying120g (4oz) white cabbage, shreddedGenerous splash of Worcestershire sauceGenerous splash of extra-virgin olive oilGood pinch of salt and pepperMethod:

Step 1: Begin by preparing the pork slices—meticulously flattening and tenderizing them to achieve a thickness of about 1cm (¾in). Utilize a meat mallet or needle-bladed tenderizer, employing clingfilm or a reusable bag to protect the pork flesh during the flattening process.

Step 2: In a food processor, blend the onion and milk until smooth. Stir in garlic powder and salt, creating a flavorful marinade. Pour this over the tenderized pork and let it marinate in the refrigerator for a blissful 30 minutes.

Step 3: While the pork marinates, let's craft the sauce. Combine sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and English mustard in a bowl. Mix this concoction thoroughly, setting it aside for later use.

Step 4: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter and add flour, cooking over medium-low heat until the mixture takes on a toffee-brown hue—ensuring it doesn't burn. Gradually pour in water while whisking constantly to maintain a smooth consistency. Integrate the ketchup mixture, season with black pepper, and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to achieve a rich, thickened sauce.

Step 5: Stir milk into the sauce, seasoning with a pinch of salt if necessary. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes to achieve the perfect pourable consistency. Keep this luscious sauce warm until it takes its place alongside the pork cutlet.

Step 6: Retrieve the marinated pork from the fridge. Scrape off excess marinade and pat the meat dry. Set up three trays—one with flour, one with whisked egg, and the last with panko breadcrumbs. Moisten the breadcrumbs slightly with water.

Step 7: With a hand dedicated to the egg and the other kept dry for flour and breadcrumbs, embark on the final assembly. Lightly dust the pork with flour, dip into the egg, and then gently press into the breadcrumbs until evenly coated. Repeat this process for the second piece and set aside.

With each step, you're inching closer to recreating a dish that transcends time—an Old-School Pork Cutlet that embodies the art of culinary craftsmanship. Get ready to savor the results of your efforts—an exquisite blend of crispiness, tenderness, and a symphony of flavors reminiscent of Su Scott's cherished culinary memories.

Culinary Finale: Presenting Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet Masterpiece

As we approach the culinary crescendo, Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet reveals its final act—a symphony of flavors and textures expertly orchestrated. Follow these last steps to bring forth a dish that transcends the ordinary, embodying the essence of Su Scott's culinary memories.

Step 8: Prepare a cooling rack set over a roasting tray, creating the stage for your culinary masterpiece. In a large, heavy-based saucepan or a deep-frying suitable skillet, fill it with vegetable oil. The ideal depth should submerge the pork cutlets entirely, ensuring even cooking. If not, flip the cutlets halfway through the frying process. Heat the oil to a precise 160C/320F. With precision, add the cutlets one by one, allowing them to fry for a glorious 4 minutes or until they achieve the golden perfection of a symphony in culinary mastery. As they emerge, transfer them to the cooling rack, letting any excess oil gracefully drip away.

Step 9: The grand finale beckons as you toss the shredded cabbage in a bowl, generously drizzling it with Worcestershire sauce and olive oil. Season this supporting ensemble with a pinch of salt and pepper, harmonizing the flavors. On individual plates, without slicing, present the pork cutlets with a flourish. Pour the warm brown sauce generously over the top—a decadent crescendo to your culinary performance. Accompany this masterpiece with the vibrant shredded cabbage salad, completing the culinary composition.

With these final steps, Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet takes its place as the centerpiece on your dining stage. The warm aroma, the crispy texture, and the medley of flavors pay homage to Scott's cherished memories and bring the essence of Korea's culinary heritage to your table. As you savor this dish, you partake in a tradition that transcends time and invites you to create your own culinary memories. (Recipe excerpted from "Rice Kitchen" by Su Scott (Quadrille). Copyright © 2023.)

As BBC.com's World's Table continues to revolutionize the way the world perceives food, let the flavors of Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet be a testament to the enduring magic of culinary storytelling. Join the gastronomic journey, breaking barriers and inviting a world of possibilities to your plate.

In conclusion, Su Scott's Old-School Pork Cutlet unfolds as a culinary masterpiece, weaving together the rich tapestry of flavors, textures, and personal memories. As the final act of this gastronomic symphony, the careful orchestration of deep-frying, marinating, and saucing brings forth a dish that not only pays homage to Korean culinary heritage but also invites a new chapter of culinary memories to your table.

The crispy perfection of the pork cutlet, generously bathed in a warm brown sauce, mirrors Su Scott's cherished experiences and the essence of her Korean roots. With the accompaniment of a vibrant shredded cabbage salad, the dish becomes a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation—a timeless creation that transcends the ordinary.

As BBC.com's World's Table continues to redefine our global culinary perspective, Su Scott's recipe stands as a testament to the power of storytelling through food. It invites us to break barriers, embrace diverse flavors, and create our own culinary narratives. So, let the aroma and taste of the Old-School Pork Cutlet be a reminder that each dish is not just a meal but a journey—an exploration of culture, heritage, and the boundless possibilities that await in the world of food.