|Jerky brand Jung Yook Po is leading a new culinary trend in Korea. Korea Times photo by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min|
By Dong Sun-hwa
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
Beef jerky is rising as a new culinary trend in Korea, with the brand Jung Yook Po leading it by sticking to a time-consuming traditional recipe.
Ironically, it is urbane-looking former brand promoter Kim Ji-yoon who leads the "tradition-bound" Jung Yook Po (meaning "proper beef jerky" in Korean.) Behind her 20-month-old venture is Kim Jeong-ja, her mother, who has catered to select customers for Korean delicacies ― jerky included ― for more than 30 years. Kim's motto is to follow established recipes without cutting corners.
The mother-daughter team's product is made, according to Ji-yoon, first by drying beef naturally and slowly in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province ― site of the 2018 Winter Olympics ― the mountainous region northeast of Seoul.
"We dry beef strips by sunlight and wind, with a temperature of 0-15 degrees Celsius," she said during a recent interview with The Korea Times in Ichon-dong, Seoul. "So this is virtually a drying process without artificial heat. It is the same method as our ancestors employed, in a way succumbing to the mercy of nature. Other countries usually use high-temperature ovens, which can deprive the jerky of tenderness."
The second distinguishing feature is that the brand's jerky is soy sauce-based. While many Western countries dry the meat first and then add salt to preserve it longer, Jung Yook Po uses a different technique.
But here are some twists that give a sense of modernity to the old foodstuff.
"Our jerky is not just for preserving but for more immediate consumption," the CEO said. "Hence, we season beef with soy sauce in advance and then dehydrate it. This makes our jerky a ready-to-go ingredient for sandwiches and pasta, among others."
Her mother joined in. "I actually mix soy sauce and sugar for seasoning," she said. "What's crucial is the ratio of the two. When I first began making jerky about 30 years ago, Koreans didn't prefer a sweet flavor a lot, but their taste has changed over time. In the past, the proportion of soy sauce to sugar was 1:0.5, but now I put in more sugar than the sauce."
Ji-yoon says: "People use eye of round for jerky, but I'm personally not fond of that part. So I made a suggestion to my mom to use sirloin and tenderloin instead."
Jung Yook Po also shares ingenious recipes utilizing jerky. "Jerky Gimbap (Korean seaweed roll)," "Cheese Toast with Traditional Jerky" and "Jerky Pasta with Rucola" are just a few. Kim said one of her employees has contributed to the development of menus.
"He has a greater affection for food than me and always seeks the best ways for a frugal and savory use of ingredients," she said. "I also got ideas from my 10 years of overseas experience. Since I am accustomed to Western meals, I could easily relate them to jerky and come up with fusion dishes. For instance, there is a popular salad that includes prosciutto and dried fig. I replaced prosciutto with our jerky, used dried persimmon instead of fig and added some walnuts to create a fresh recipe 'Walnut-Persimmon Wrap with Jerky.'"
|Jung Yook Po's beef jerky. Korea Times photo by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min|
So is it only for gourmets? No, according to Ji-yoon. Jung Yook Po's biggest seller is "One-bite Jerky," a small pack of sliced jerky.
"We finely slice the jerky and vacuum-pack it," she said. "Our ultimate goal is to have people relish jerky every day. Thus, we made our product in a simpler way and this has helped us lure more consumers."
She added: "Nowadays, it seems people merely consume the meat without enjoying it. Through various recipes and dishes we offer, we hope more of them can learn the true joy of tasting the meat."
But Jung Yook Po still has a way to go. It only has three workers, including Ji-yoon and her mother. It also doesn't have shops or restaurants, so most consumers order products online through social media.
"We are only three, but are able to meet the consumer demand as of now," Ji-yoon said. "We work like a family. Of course, I frequently have clashes with my mom, who wants to stick to her way of cooking instead of accepting changes. But she is mostly open-minded, so our conflicts don't last for long."
She revealed the pair also shares a similar vision, saying: "We know we only have each other for a partner to reach our future goal ― the globalization of our jerky."
Kim Jeong-ja said: "I want to appreciate my daughter for establishing a brand for my jerky. I have never thought about such a plan for myself. I personally don't have any discontent about teaming up with her because we mostly don't cross the line ― I don't interfere with marketing and Ji-yoon doesn't meddle in my jerky-making process."
The brand also might open an offline store or eatery too.
"Then we can captivate the taste buds of more people with our products," Ji-yoon said.