The fondest memories I have of my grandmother is helping her with her yearly food preparations. 생태 식해 (Saengtae Sikhae, Spicy fermented pollock) was one of my father’s favorite dishes so of course, my grandmother made it every year.
She would usually go to a fish market to get the freshest pollock early in the winter as that is the season they are of the best quality. She would never use a fish that was ever frozen as that affects the taste. She then washed and cleaned them thoroughly and salted them for several days. After a number of days, they would be cut into smaller fishes then put in the traditional Korean pot with spicy pepper powder, cooked millet, and shredded radish. The dish was ready to eat after a week or two. As Korean winters are fairly cold, Sikhae would last a fairly long time just outside in the pot. But often, we would put it in the refrigerator to make it last longer.
Sikhae is often made with many different kinds of fish, but my grandmother only used pollock as that was the one she thought that was the most quality fish. So every year, preparation of Sikhae was one of the early winter rituals we went through. The day fish was prepped, we would usually make spicy fish soup with the leftover parts of the fish. I would sometimes help her clean the fish or prep them for salting. For some strange reason, her Sikhae always tasted so much better than the ones that were store bought. I am not sure what secret ingredient she put in as I don’t think there was anything out of ordinary. It is probably that she only used the best and freshest fish, and used her own prepared red pepper.