When I was a small child living in the bustling city of Seoul in the early '70s, I was by far the pickiest eater in my neighborhood of Sangdo-dong. When accompanying my grandmother (my halmoni) to the local open air market for our daily dinnertime provisions, I would frown at the vast array of salted seafood, slimy sea cucumbers, tubs of local fish, and mountains and mountains of fresh and dried vegetables. I already knew what I wanted for dinner and nothing my grandmother bought could make me change my mind.
See, I had been dubbed the “egg monster” by the age of five. I would eat them every which way: hard boiled, fried, scrambled, rolled in gyeran mari (Korean rolled omelet). But I especially loved them steamed. It was a dish so easy, I knew exactly how to make it, even at that age: Scramble 6 eggs into a small bowl, whisk in some salt, and add anchovy stock. Transfer the mixture to a ttukbaegi (claypot) and put into a bigger pot with a little water in the bottom. Steam for 20-25 minutes.
One night, Halmoni was making dinner as I did some simple chores in the kitchen. She announced her menu for the evening: doenjang-jigae (soybean paste soup) with dried radish tops, hobak jeon (zucchini fritters), pan fried Corvina, and gyeran jjim (steamed eggs). The last item made my ears perk up—the thought of spooning a mound of steamed eggs onto some white rice (a special treat at the time) made me almost drool. It was by far the best dish of all time to my seven-year-old, impossibly picky self.
I detested any intrusion of sharp flavors like scallions and diced spam, much less salted cured pollack roe, in my delicate steamed eggs. The latter was my grandmother’s favorite, but that night she promised she would not add it to the egg mix. She said she wanted to eat it plain atop her rice. So, I trusted her and went about my business setting the table with chopsticks, spoons, and whatever banchan there was to pull from the fridge.
There was no roe on the table that night, but there has been ever since.
When I eat this dish, I am reminded of how much love my grandmother put into preparing an evening’s meal—how much she cared about me and accommodated my pickiness. How she would laugh and say that eggs and air kept me alive. And now, I chuckle at how much of my love for this dish is actually in the pollack roe, maybe because it reminds me most of her.
Recipe reprinted from Korean Home Cooking by Sohui Kim, with permission by Abrams Books, 2018. —Sohui Kim
lobe or sac seasoned pollack roe, at room temperature (see Note)
minced scallion, white parts only, green parts reserved for garnish (optional)
Master Anchovy Stock
(25 g, about 10) dried anchovies, heads and guts removed
small dried shiitake mushrooms
4-inch (10 cm) piece dashima seaweed (konbu)
In This Recipe
Steamed Eggs with Pollack Roe
Place the eggs, salt, and stock in a 3-cup (720 ml) ttukbaegi or heat-proof baking dish, then squeeze nearly all the roe from the roe sack into the dish. Set some roe aside to use as garnish, and discard the roe sac. Add the scallion whites and gently stir so that everything is mixed together. The scallion will float, and the roe will settle to the bottom.
Gently place the baking dish in a large stockpot, and fill the stockpot with water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and let the baking dish steam until the eggs are set, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Garnish with extra roe and the minced scallion tops if desired, and serve hot or at room temperature in the bowl or baking dish. This should be eaten the day it is made.
Note: Salted pollack roe lobes are sold frozen in a box. To use it, let the block slowly defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then gently split the sacs apart. (Consume any leftovers within a week.) If you can’t find salted pollack roe or don’t want to consume MSG or food coloring, you can use 2 ounces (57 g) fish eggs or caviar.
Master Anchovy Stock
In a dry saucepan over medium-high heat toast the anchovies just until they begin to smell fragrant. (You can skip the step if you want a lightly flavored stock.)
In a pot, combine the anchovies with the remaining ingredients and 5 cups (1.2 L) water.
Bring the water to a low simmer over medium heat and let cook for 30 minutes.
Strain out and discard the solids, reserving the dashima for another use if desired. Store the stock in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks.