Tteokbokki - Spicy Korean Rice Cakes
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Tteokbokki - Spicy Korean Rice Cakes
Tteokbokki are rice cakes cooked in a sweet and spicy garlic gochujang sauce until velvety soft. Tteok means "rice cake" and bokki means "fry".
It's a popular Korean dish that I learned to cook as an always-hungry kid.
Was he maybe 11 or 12? After school:
I went straight to the kitchen and threw tteok, sliced onion, a full tablespoon of minced garlic (we keep it in the jar in the fridge), gochujang, sugar, soy sauce, and some water into a pot small to boil while wandering through the snack drawer.
In just 15 minutes, I had chewy, fire-red rice cakes that lasted until dinner. A comfort from my childhood, tteokbokki is all I want to eat at the end of a long day.
It's the perfect snack or main meal served on its own.
This recipe is a slightly more adult version – I added more vegetables like cabbage and scallions and some hard boiled eggs. It's still simple and fast.
What is Teok?
Tteok refers to a broad subsection of foods with seemingly endless varieties, like bread, for example.
It is usually made by cooking a dough made from rice flour and shaping it into all sorts of shapes to eat as is, stir-fry, fry, or add to soups.
You'll find tteok in two sections of most Asian markets:
- The tteok for this recipe can be found frozen or vacuum packed in the cold food aisle. There you'll find two common shapes: a 2 to 2 1/2-inch thin cylinder called a garaetteok (which I used for this recipe) or a flat oval disk used in soups. Both are milky white. It's rare to use an entire bag of tteok at once, unless you're cooking for a large group, then leftovers are to be expected. Tie the bag tightly or transfer the tteok to a ziplock bag and store in the freezer.
- The ready-to-eat prepared food section has tteok that are soft, chewy, and combined with other sweet or savory ingredients like brown sugar, steamed black beans, sesame seeds, or dried persimmon. They are usually sold in small Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic wrap. Some stores don't keep these fresh tteok on hand, as they are considered celebratory gifts worthy of pre-orders for special days like birthdays, Lunar New Year, or Autumn Harvest Festival.
What is Gochujang?
Gochujang, a bold and spicy Korean chili paste, is an essential ingredient in a well-stocked Korean pantry.
It is the backbone of many dishes - pasta is not used on its own, but mixed with sauces, sauces, stews and marinades.
Gochujang paste is almost always sold in a red plastic rectangular tube with a flip-top lid. It will be cheaper at your local Asian market.
If you're shopping online, I recommend one made by Chung Jung One like this one or this one.
You're looking for the paste, not the gochujang sauce, which is milder and is diluted with water, vinegar, soy sauce, and other seasonings.
Gochujang is a fermented product that lasts up to a year in the refrigerator. Keep it tightly covered so it doesn't rust.
Make your family version of Tteokbokki
Tteokbokki always has rice cakes and gochujang, but each family makes it a little differently. Here are some variations:
- While you can substitute gochugaru, Korean red pepper flakes, for gochujang, it becomes a completely different recipe. There are no other suitable substitutes for gochujang. If you prefer it less spicy, add less and adjust the seasoning with soy sauce.
- Garlic is a must, but use equal amounts of carrots, leeks, shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, or bok choy as vegetable substitutes. Cut them about the same size as the garaetteok.
- If you can't find garaetteok, use the rice cakes that look like flat oval discs. They are thinner and cook much faster; reduce cooking time to 5 minutes.
Can I do Tteokbokki ahead?
I would not recommend this. Just as you wouldn't help yourself to a bowl of cereal and milk for later, the tteok will get soggy and mushy the longer it sits in the sauce.
If you want to plan ahead, chop up the vegetables, make the sauce, and store each in separate containers in the fridge until it's time to cook and serve the tteokbokki.
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch half moons
- 3 collard greens, cut into 2-inch squares
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 1 pound (about 3 cups) garaetteok (cylindrical Korean rice cakes)
- 2 scallions, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons gochujang
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons sugar, more to taste
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Boil the eggs:
Fill a medium bowl with ice cold water and set aside. Fill a small pot with 3 inches of water, enough to completely submerge the eggs. Don't add the eggs yet.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
As soon as the water boils, carefully add the eggs. Mine are cold straight out of the fridge. Cook them for 8 minutes.
Using a large spoon, transfer the eggs to the prepared ice water to prevent them from cooking.
When the eggs are cool to the touch, peel them and cut them in half lengthwise. Set them aside.
Cook the vegetables:
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until very hot (rippled but not smoking).
Add the onion, cabbage, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a large spoon, for about 3 minutes.
The vegetables should turn translucent and slightly golden.
Add the tteok and spices:
Add the water, tteok, spring onions, gochujang, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir until the gochujang is completely dissolved in the sauce.
Cook the tteokbokki:
Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Poke the tteok to dip them into the sauce as much as possible.
The sauce will reduce and thicken, and the tteok will turn glossy.
When cooked properly, tteok is a bit chewy, soft but not mushy. You should be able to cut it with a smooth sideways motion of the spoon.
Add sesame oil and season:
Mix the sesame oil. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with more soy sauce or sugar. The sauce should be flavorful and a bit sweet to balance the spiciness.
Serve the tteokbokki:
Transfer the tteokbokki to a plate. Sprinkle sesame seeds all over and serve with hard-boiled eggs.
The perfect bite: Top a tteok with a piece of onion and cabbage. Dip everything in the sauce. Follow with a refreshing bite of egg.
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