▲ The three foot long Galchi fish is a delicious seasonal dish that can be found at any number of Jeju traditional restaurants or can be easily prepared with no fuss from the comfort of home. Photo courtesy Agricultural Research and Extension Services of Jeju Provincial Govt.
Galchi, or hairtail fish as the name is commonly translated, are a type of fish found in the waters around Jeju. Ranging from one to three feet long, Galchi are only about as thick as the palm of a hand and only five inches across. The eel-like fish boasts an amazing solid silver color that reflects sunlight as though mirrored and makes the fish look like a finely polished sword.
Galchi frequent the waters around Jeju in the autumn from August to December. Although Galchi is commonly fished and served in other regions of Korea, Jeju Galchi is generally preferred. On the mainland the Galchi is fished off the coast with large nets that leave the fish stranded within a confined space for long periods of time. This often results in damage to Galchi’s appearance with gashes and cuts along the body from struggling to escape. Jeju Galchi, on the other hand is caught with the use of a fishing pole, leaving the Galchi in pristine condition for unparalleled beauty and flavor.
Until recently, most women in Jeju were responsible for all the house work, the child rearing, and catching the evening meal from the sea. Due to their demanding responsibilities, traditional Jeju cuisine is rather simple in its preparations and cooking methods. This is especially true for fresh seafood, in which the natural flavors are preserved by serving it raw or by quickly cooking the dish with fresh vegetables. This makes traditional Jeju cuisine not only delicious and healthy, but possible to recreate at home.
Two of the traditional ways to prepare the unmarred flesh of Jeju Galchi are Galchi Hwey (raw) and Galchi Hobak Guk, a special Galchi pumpkin soup served only in Jeju. The mainland Galchi that sits in a net develops a strong and distinctive fishy odor, not amenable to soup or sushi. Fresh Jeju Galchi lends itself very well to being served fresh, raw, thinly sliced or in a simple traditional soup.
To make the Galchi pumpkin soup, the fish is cleaned, the scales are removed and the whole fish is chopped in to five inch sections. Pumpkin, cabbage, green onion, and red hot peppers are added to boiling water along with the fish pieces and cooked for 10 minutes. The fish is seasoned only with a little salt and a few sesame seeds, so the flavor of the fresh fish and its beautiful color can shine in the simple, clear broth. This soup is a seasonal favorite during the autumn months when the Galchi and pumpkin are at their peak.
Galchi is also served salt grilled and broiled; two methods that don’t require fresh Galchi and are common on the mainland. Salt grilled Galchi is straightforward, consisting only of cleaned scale-less Galchi, rubbed with salt and grilled over a flame or cooked in an oven for 10 minutes. Served on a small cast iron plate, the sizzling fish has a crispy outside with a soft, white, flakey flesh over easily avoidable bones. It is not strongly flavored or uniquely textured, but has a clean, fresh taste and a satisfying bite.
Broiled Galchi is a little more complex as it is coated with a sauce before being placed under a broiler for 15-20 minutes. The basic ingredients for the sauce are gochu hot pepper powder, sweet rice syrup, soy sauce and water. Each chef adds their own twist to this base, never revealing their secret ingredient. The fish is accompanied by white radish and potatoes broiled in the same sauce.
Galchi can be found during the fall at most restaurants that serve Jeju traditional food. The Do-ra-ji chain of Jeju traditional restaurants offers the soup, salt grilled and the broiled Galchi at both of their Jeju-si locations in Shi Cheong and just outside of Shin Jeju. One can also purchase Galchi at the supermarket or the Five Day Market. Don’t miss the season of the delicious flashy silver Galchi.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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