Friday, January 27, 2012

KOREAN RECIPE: Royal Rice Cake Sticks

궁중 떡볶이 (Gungjung Ddeokboggi)

Royal Rice Cake Sticks (Gungjung Ddeokboggi)

Click HERE for the Hot & Spicy Ddeokboggi (매운 떡볶이recipe 

Rice (especially white rice) used to be hard to get in Korea, long, long time ago.  Commoners rarely had a chance to have even a single bowl of rice.  It was only for the royals and nobles.  Instead of rice, they had millet, buckwheat, corn, potatoes, or sweet potatoes in their bowls as staple foods.  Therefore, rice cakes were simply too fancy and luxurious for commoners to even dream of. (Click HERE for more details.)  During Seol period (from the first day of lunar New Year through the fifteenth), however, even commoners managed to consume garae ddeokOval-shaped garae ddeok slices were used in ddeokguk, rice cake soup, and long, cylindrical garae ddeok sticks were in ddeokjjim, braised rice cake sticks.  It’s been widely accepted ddeokboggi evolved from ddeokjjim.  Both ddeokboggi and ddeokjjim are considered a near-perfect food in Korea as they are cooked together with fresh herbs, dried herbs, vegetables, beef, and soy sauce.

Gungjung ddeokboggi literally means “Royal Court ddeokboggi” and is just simply called ganjang ddeokboggi (soy sauce ddeokboggi) as it is braised in soy sauce.  Needless to say, the royal Korean table was not freely open to everyone and prepared using only the best quality ingredients that had been presented to the king from every corner of the country.  Even though royal court foods were made less salty and spicy than other foods outside the court and it was pretty much the only difference, ddeokboggi was only for the royals and nobles.  Rice cakes were that much special in Ancient Korea.  There are two hypotheses on the origin of ddeokboggi:  (1) when a king lost his appetite for food, a lady of a jonga1 created a rice cake recipe and presented the food to him and it stimulated his taste buds.  The food had become popular among the nobles since then; and (2) a royal court chef created a recipe to use stale garae ddeok.  It was not until the 1950s that people began to use gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) to make hot and spicy ddeokboggi (Click here for the recipe). 

1.  Jonga (종가, which literally means “the head family”) is a family of past, present, and possibly future generations of first-born sons.
On lunar New Year’s Day (Jan. 23), I cooked ddeokboggi for lunch since we had already eaten ddeokguk on Jan. 1, and nobody wanted to get yet another year older! (Ddeokguk and Korean age)  My son, Caleb, loves both kinds – hot and spicy and gungjung – but his order of the day was non-spicy version.  So I cooked both.  Whenever I cook ddeokboggi, I use plenty of different colored vegetables such as carrots, onion, green onion, celery sticks, cabbage leaves, or mushrooms.  On our table, mushrooms are an excellent substitute for beef but Caleb loves to eat only wood ear mushrooms (mogi, 목이), so I used a generous amount of them in his dish.

INGREDIENTS (1 Serving): 

● 8 oz rice cake sticks,* soaked in water at least for an hour
● ½~1 TBSP dried mogi (Korean wood ear) mushrooms, soaked in warm water at least for an hour
● ½ cup baby carrots, halved lengthwise, or 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips
● ¼ medium size onions, thinly sliced
● 1 green onions, cut into diagonal slices
● ½ TBSP grape seed oil or canola oil
● ½ TBSP sesame oil
● ½ TBSP sesame seeds, toasted
● ½ TBSP perilla seed powder**

[Almost Vegetarian]
● 1½ cups water
● ½ TBSP dried Korean anchovy powder**
● ½ TBSP dried pyogo (shiitake) powder**
● ½ TBSP dried dasima (sea tangle) powder**
● 1tsp garlic, minced
● 1 tsp ganjang* (Korean soy sauce)
● 1 TBSP red or white wine
 ½~1 TBSP jocheong (aka ssalyeot, fermented Korean rice syrup),** or cane sugar

If you prefer clean sauce, use the ingredients with double asterisk as is. 
For this recipe, you’ll need 2 degutted and/or boned dried anchovies, one
dried pyogo, and one 2x2 inch dasima.  Just don’t forget to remove these
ingredients from the broth after simmering for 10~15 minutes until it
makes 3 cups of broth.

● If you want to make vegetarian hot and spicy rice cake sticks, minus
the anchovies and add one more 2x2 inch dasima squares and add ¼
medium size onion for the broth instead.

[Meat Lovers]
● If you prefer, you can substitute beef or chicken stock for anchovy-
pyogo-dasima mixture stock.  In this case, add two more cups of water
in the pot and simmer 4 oz chicken breast or beef tenderloin for an hour
over medium heat, and remove the meat from the broth. 

*You can find rice cake sticks, ganjang, and gochujang in your local Korean markets.  Brown rice cake sticks can be substituted for white ones as brown rice is a delicious and healthy alternative to white rice.

**You can find dried Korean anchovies, dried pyogo, and dried dasima in your local Korean markets.  I always have these ingredients handy in my freezer to make MSG-free soup anytime I want.  Most of the anchovies, pyogo, and dasima are ground separately in a blender and stored separately in a jar.  Some are stored in zipper bags as is. (Picture)

1. Soak rice cake ovals in water overnight or at least for an hour before cooking.  Otherwise, your soup will turn out super sticky and thick.  Drain the rice cake sticks through a strainer.

Dried and frozen rice sticks need reconstituting.

2.  Soak mogi (Korean wood ear mushrooms) in cold water at least for an hour before cooking.  Drain the mushrooms through a strainer.  Don't use warm or hot water, or the flavor and taste will diminish.  If you’re in a hurry, add a spoonful or two of sugar in water.  This will shorten the reconstituting time and preserve the flavor and taste.

Dried mogi mushrooms need reconstituting, too.
Vegetable cut-ups 

3. Mix all ingredients together for hot and spicy sauce in a bowl.  If you choose to use anchovies, pyogo, and dasima as is, not powdered, or to use meat, make a broth and substitute for water.)

4. Heat grape seed and sesame oil (½ TBSP each) in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add minced garlic and then rice cake sticks into the pan and stir fry about a minute.  Pour the hot and spicy sauce over the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.  Sauté until the rice cake sticks are softened. 

5. Add vegetables into the pan.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the vegetables are tender but still crunchy and crispy.

Steps 4-5: Caleb wouldn’t eat too crunchy veggies
so I stir-fried them first then the rice cake sticks.

6. Remove from the heat immediately and mix in the Korean perilla powder and sesame seeds thoroughly.

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