Hongeo samhap, hongeohoe (foreground) served with kimchi and bossam
Hongeohoe, or hongeo, is a type of fermented fish dish from Korea's Jeolla province. Hongeohoe is made from skate and emits a very strong, characteristic ammonia-like odor that has been described as being "reminiscent of an outhouse".
Skates are cartilaginous fish that excrete uric acid through the skin, rather than by urinating as other animals do. As they ferment, ammonia is produced which helps preserve the flesh and gives the fish its distinctive, powerful odor.
This natural preservative effect of the fermentation process on skate meat was noted by Korean fishermen in the days before refrigeration became commonplace. It was found that skates were the only fish that could be transported over long distances or stored for extended periods without rotting, even in the absence of salt.
Originally, the skates used in the production of hongeohoe were harvested locally from the waters around Heuksando, an island off the southwestern coast of Korea. In more recent years, a larger proportion has been made with less expensive imported fish, mainly from Chile, although skate from Heuksando still retains a reputation for superior quality.
Specific production techniques vary from shop to shop. The traditional process involves sandwiching the fish between layers of hay in a clay pot and leaving it to ferment. According to one modern method, the fish undergo fermentation in a walk-in refrigerator for as much as 15 days at 2.5 °C, and then for approximately 15 more days at 1 °C.
After fermentation, the preserved skates are sliced into small pieces and packed into boxes for shipment.
Jeolla natives claim that hongeohoe should be consumed plain. However, the dish is often eaten together with bossam and kimchi, a combination known as hongeo samhap. It may also be served with the Korean alcoholic beverage makgeolli, which could help diners cope with the pungency of the fermented dish.
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