A Korean living in the UK, Su Scott was thrown into a crisis of identity when motherhood dawned, one which she only found her way out of by cooking the dishes of her Korean childhood, seeking out the flavours and textures of memories that she hopes to pass on to her daughter.
Her resulting cookbook, Rice Table, is a loved letter from mother to daughter woven together by food. She tells Sous Chef what it was like to revisit treasured recipes and which dishes she comes back to again and again.
Recipe taken from Rice Table by Su Scott (Quadrille, £27), Photography by Toby Scott.
MUST TRY: Su's recipe for Korean Fried Chicken
How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?
I think it is important to be interested in the culture of cuisine I adopt into my kitchen, to have an insight of why such is processed in such ways traditionally. Once I gain better understanding of the culture and history that surrounds the tradition, I then feel more comfortable and confident to explore how I can adapt to suit the modern living while maintaining the respect to the origin of dish.
Traditions do constantly evolve in some ways, as we and the society we live in continuously moves forward. In order for the traditions to continue, I think it is important to be open minded and to allow a room for new ideas in a way it helps to preserve them.
What's the best thing you've eaten recently?
A good friend of mine made me a smoked mackerel dish on our New Year’s Eve gathering last year, of which if I remember it correctly, was wrapped in foil and layered with beautifully fragrant spicy paste on the flesh. I think it was Indonesian dish, or with an influence of it. It was packed with bold flavours that were completely new to me; it was wonderful.
What ingredients are always stocked in your pantry?
What new tips, tricks or ideas have you learned while writing the book?
Writing my book, Rice Table was an incredibly emotional experience, mainly because I had to rely on the memories of taste to recreate the dishes and to arrive at final recipes. It really pushed me dig deep to recall the small details, right from the very beginning of my childhood.
The process has taught me that what appears to be seemingly ordinary and mundane days or our lives and the memories that surrounds the taste, are in fact what sustains and shapes us the way we are. I’ve leant to appreciate the everydayness.
What are the components of a fantastic meal for you?
I like simple food that you can relax into; ideally something seasonal with plenty of vegetables, maybe some piece of fish or meat and plenty of carb. I would like to share it with a small group of people I love, and with a good flow of decent wine.
What dish do you make most often?
I make rolled omelette (gyeranmari) from Rice Table frequently, albeit with different choice of filling. It is such a versatile recipe that works as breakfast, lunch or dinner. Great served on its own or with rice, but always with tomato ketchup!
What is one recipe everyone should try from the book?
I have a real soft spot for my poached pork belly wrap (bossam). It was something that my mother cooked quite often and I still remember the intoxicatingly fragrant smell of cinnamon bark and coffee in my mother’s poaching liquid so vividly. Whilst I wanted to recreate the dish like hers from my memories, I also wanted to embellish it with a little bit of me and my own kitchen in London for my daughter, and I think the dish maintains the good balance.
The fatty layers of pork are rendered gently to keep the meat juicy and gorgeously tender. It is then wrapped in pliable seasonal leaves and eaten with a dollop of salty sweet and spicy ssam sauce to bolster everything together. It is a real explosion of flavours in one mouthful.
What will surprise people in your book?
Korean food cooked in ordinary home kitchens daily are so much more diverse than small ranges of dishes we are familiar with such as Korean fried chicken, bulgogi or bibimbap, which of course are all great and delicious. I really wanted to champion the rich and vibrant culture of Korean home cooking and celebrate the extraordinary beauty and chaos of maternally lead kitchens I grew up in.
There is often a common misconception that people think Korean food requires specialist ingredients and is difficult to cook at home but actually, it can be really simple and doable. I think people will be pleasantly surprised how accessible it is; once you have few basic building blocks ready, you are good to go. Banchan chapter for example, is so full of great small plate dishes you can easily weave into your weekly cooking repertoire - so many easy vegetable focused dishes to batch prepare to see you through the week.
How did you decide what recipes you were going to include - and which to exclude?
Rice Table explores how immigration and motherhood impacted my identity as woman, using food and food memories as a medium which have been such an integral part of my journey of reconnecting to my Korean heritage. The recipes included in the book are the dishes that helped me connect the dots to rebuild my Korean identity. I wanted the recipes to carry personal meanings and stories, in hope to pass on to my daughter.
Where do you find inspiration?
Markets and local supermarkets near and far, especially on holidays when I am more relaxed, and people in it inspire me in a great deal. I often imagine a story around people and the dishes I eat, so I can remember the moment as a source of inspiration. It is often the small details - especially the feelings - that stays with me. And of course, Instagram - there are so many talented people in food right now!