Monday, January 23, 2012

육개장 - Yukgaejang

Yukgaejang is a spicy Korean soup. What makes it different from any other Korean spicy soup are a few particular ingredients: shredded beef, scallions, and glass noodles. It's so good on a cold winter day.

The thing I don't like about ordering yukgaejang in restaurants is that there are (usually) two other traditional ingredients, 토란대 (torandae, dried taro stems) and 고사리 (gosari, bracken) which I don't care for. Both remind me of worms and I'm not a fan of the texture (fibrous and hard to swallow). I don't like the shredded beef either. Usually, it's tough and chewy and I avoid eating it. That's why making food at home is so much better! You can cater to your personal tastes and create the perfect dish.

Here's my recipe (which serves 4):

4 Korean short ribs (the kind used for kalbi jjim) or you could use 1/2-lb beef brisket
10 cups of water
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons Korean hot red pepper flake
1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Korean hot peppers, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/2 cup chopped white radish (Korean kind is preferable but daikon is a perfectly fine)
handful of glass noodles
1 bunch of scallions
1 egg

optional ingredients:
torandae, a.k.a. dried taro stems: if you want to add these, soak them overnight in water to rehydrate them
gosari, a.k.a. dried fern braken
bean sprouts (I would've added these but I didn't have any)
onion (I'm not a big fan of onion in soups because they get all mushy and I don't like the texture)

Typically, the soup is made using beef brisket which is boiled and then shredded but I opted to use short ribs because they get really tender when cooked properly, and it's much yummier. It takes a little more time because the stock needs some time to cook, but the reward is worth the wait.

I started by making the stock. I added the garlic and short ribs to a big pot of water and brought it to a boil.
Once the water came to a boil, I reduced the heat and let the stock simmer with the lid on for about an hour. Then I skimmed off the foam and grease that was floating on the top, put the lid back on, and let the stock continue simmering for another hour. I knew the stock was ready when I poked the meat with a fork and it was fall-apart-tender. And by then, most of the water had boiled off so that I was left with about half the liquid I had started with.

Then, in a completely different pot, I got started on the spicy base of the soup. I added oil to the pot and put it on low heat. Then I added in the hot pepper flakes and hot peppers to the oil and let them sizzle for about 20 seconds (until the oil turned bright red).
This is the same technique I used
when making the soon tofu soup, remember?

As soon as the oil was sizzle-y and red, I added in all of the stock and beef pieces so that the hot pepper flakes wouldn't burn and turn black. If they turn black before you add the stock you'll have to start over. If you're using brisket, you should add just the stock and pull out the brisket and let it cool before you shred it.
Once the liquid was added, I turned the heat up to medium high and got the radish ready. I sliced it into 1/4 inch thick rounds and then chopped those up into smaller bite-sized pieces.
Then I added the radish to the hot pot immediately since they needed time to get tender. This is when you could also add the gosari and/or torandae and/or sliced onion if you wanted.
While the radishes got a head start cooking, I got the rest of the ingredients ready. I grabbed a handful of vermicelli-style glass noodles (made from sweet potato starch) and ran the noodles under cold running water to pre-moisten them. I did this so they'd be a bit more malleable and easier to add to the pot. You have to be wary because these noodles will turn into styrofoam-y noodles if they are exposed to high heat, which can happen if they're sticking out of the pot. If you want to try a little experiment, heat up a little bit of oil in a frying pan and add a few of these noodles to the oil and see what happens.

I rinsed the scallions in icy cold water (to keep them stiff and fresh), trimmed off the roots and then cut them up into 3-inch pieces.

And lastly, I beat up one egg using a fork.

I added in the egg first; I slowly poured it into the hot soup while stirring the pot to make sure the egg would congeal into little stringy pieces (kind of like egg drop soup).
Then I added in the glass noodles. I let the pot boil for about 5 minutes before checking the noodles to make sure they were cooked through. Then I added in the salt and pepper and gave it a good stir. And of course, I gave it a quick taste to make sure the seasoning was right.
Then at the last minute, just before serving, I added in the scallions (and a few more hot peppers for added kick). And if we'd had bean sprouts at home, I would've thrown them in along with the scallions.
And serve!
A little tip for serving: use tongs or chop sticks to grab some noodles (since they're long and hard to grab with a ladle) and add them to the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup and veggies.

Serve with rice for the perfect cold weather meal.

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