In Honor of the Korean Martyrs

Note: Since I’m posting this before the feast, the pictures will be added later! But don’t let that stop you from enjoying some of these yummy recipes honoring the Saints of Korea! (ETA: Pictures added!)

This Saturday, we commemorate the Korean Martyrs –Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and their Companions. Because of our two little Korean boys, these Saints have come to have a very special meaning for our family.

Catholics comprise only about 10% of the population in Korea, but they have an inspiring faith history! They boast one of the largest numbers of canonized saints (103!) of any country in the world.

An interesting note about the history of Catholicism in Korea, as I understand it: Our Faith came to Korea, not from missionaries, but rather through the study of some scholars, who were investigating Christianity for themselves. They were so taken with the truth they found in their study of Catholicism that they began its practice all on their own. In fact, they were celebrating their own Mass for many years, until finally a missionary was able to come from China, and informed them that they needed an ordained priest for the celebration to be valid!

St. Andrew Kim Taegon was the first native-born Korean to become a priest, and provided an heroic example for others to follow. Paul Chong Hasang, aptly named!, was a great lay apostle for the faith. For centuries, the Korean dynasties were actively resisting influences from outside their country which they felt threatened the integrity of their native culture. In the face of severe persecution, Paul Chong Hasang wrote an important letter to his emperor explaining that the Catholic faith posed no threat to his rule. For over 100 years, however, Catholics were horribly persecuted, and thousands lost their lives for their faith. All of the 103 saints commemorated on September 20 were martyred, many facing unspeakable torture prior to their deaths.

Our family is proud to honor these great Saints. Both our sons have middle names honoring them, and in turn, we honor our sons and the culture into which they were born, in our celebration of this feast.

Our favorite Korean dish is Pork Bulgogi, a delicious and spicy Korean barbecue. (It’s a very widespread Korean dish—I once heard it referred to as “The National Dish of Korea!” Once we stopped for a picnic along the NYS Thruway during a long trip, and a Korean family was cooking up some bulgogi on the grill at the next table!) What follows here is my own version—we like to call it “Eileen’s Irish Pork Bulgogi”—but the flavor is pretty authentic. What I’m most proud of, in addition to it being very tasty and easy to pull off, is that it is created from ingredients readily available at our local grocery store, here in the middle of nowhere!

The most fun thing about Bulgogi is the way it’s eaten. Once you prepare the meat from the recipe below (or a more authentic one – try this one (for a less spicy beef) from a recent Food Network show, or from the book, Cooking the Korean Way, if you like!), you’ll need the following for each serving:

  • 1 leaf Romaine lettuce (or any large green leaf lettuce other than iceberg), with the hard core cut out

  • 1 clove of fresh garlic (I usually halve or quarter them, depending on the size)
  • 1 (1/2" or so) piece of green pepper
  • 1-2 T boiled white rice
  • a few pieces of prepared Bulgogi
  • Yangnyum Kangang Sauce (spicy and delicious -- recipe follows!), to taste, as a seasoning or for dipping

Place everything in a small mound on the bottom third of the lettuce leaf, being careful not to overstuff. Wrap and roll the lettuce leaf into a small package – sort of like a 2-3” soft taco. If you can, pop the whole thing into your mouth at once, for full flavor (I usually end up taking bites, but then you end up with all of the garlic on half, and none on the rest. Either way: Mmmmmm!)

So now that I’ve (hopefully!) got you wanting to try this for yourself--and with apologies to anyone who has "real" Korean cooking skills!--here’s how I make it!

Easy Pork Bulgogi

  • 2 lb boneless pork tenderloin, sliced thinkly as for stir fry

  • 3-4 T Hot Chili Garlic Sauce (Sun Luck brand is the only kind our grocery sells, and the closest thing to chili paste that I could find)
  • 3 t cooking oil

  • 1/2 to 1 t finely-chopped ginger (we use jarred, but fresh is great)

  • 1-2 T honey

  • 2-4 T low-salt soy sauce

(I usually double the marinade recipe above, and use it as described in the instructions below.)

Mix all ingredients except pork in a small bowl—go easy on each ingredient so you can adjust the flavor to taste (more honey if it seems too salty; more soy if it seems too sweet, more heat from the chili garlic sauce, etc. I’ve found that the heat increases in cooking, so keep that in mind, too.) Add the pork, being sure to coat the pieces evenly; allow to marinate for about 15 minutes or so (you can marinate it much longer, even overnight, if you want—we usually don’t).

Cook in a single layer over a grill (on foil, or a very narrow grill grid), or in a frying pan, over medium-high heat; or under the broiler. Carmelization is key, but you don’t want to burn it! It should only take a few minutes per side. When all the meat is cooked, bring the remaining sauce to a full boil in a saucepan, and continue to boil for at least one full minute; toss with the cooked meat and serve.

Yangnyum Kangang Sauce

  • 1/4 c low-salt soy sauce

  • 2 T water

  • 1 T rice wine vinegar

  • 2 t hot chili garlic sauce

  • 1-1/2 t toasted sesame seeds, ground

Mix all ingredients together. You can divide the sauce among several small individual dishes, or pass to serve (American style). We usually spoon a small amount over the filling before wrapping up the lettuce, but you could also dip the finished wrap into the sauce.

If you really want to be authentic, you’ll want to serve Kim Chi on the side. Kim Chi is a spicy fermented cabbage dish, which I have not yet tried to make. At this Irish-German-Korean home, we pair up Bulgogi with one (or both!) of the following tasty side dishes: Colcannon—a cabbage and mashed potato staple in Irish homes, which we “kick up a notch” by adding crumbled bacon and onion; and Creamy Coleslaw.

(We’re a very multi-cultural family, what can I say?) :)

The coleslaw in particular is a terrific complement to the spicy pork, at least to this American palate. At our home, at least, our little Korean men give this collection of dishes “Two Thumbs Up.” We hope you will, too!

Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions, Pray for us!
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  1. You are a very multi-cultural family! Thank you for sharing this. I think it is so neat that you have a personal connection to this culture and these saints. Your enthusiasm is contagious and I look forward to giving this a try.

  2. Ahh...that was me commenting under my son's account - sorry about that.