Truly, I don’t know how it is that I had never had rice cakes. Indicating how much I have overlooked them is my total lack of memory of having ever seen them on a menu. My curiosity was finally peaked at the excitement that one of my dining companions at Momofuku had at their appearance on our slim paper menu. What arrived looked like gnocchi coated in a red sauce with a texture akin to ketchup, but with a heat that set my nose tingling even from the distance of the tabletop. These red cloaked, rice-gnocchi-looking-pillows were tossed with sesame seeds and sprinkled with scallions. It was truly love at first bite. The rice cakes were a little crispy on the outside and creamy clouds of slightly sweet smooth slightly chewy white rice in the middle. The spicy red dragon sauce’s sting nicely offset the sweet, a sting that continued to build forcing a break between every third rice cake. My first taste of dragon sauce resulted in the wonderful thought that I would never have to buy ketchup again.
When I got the Momofuku cookbook, I was delighted to find the recipe for this lovely snack/appetizer in it. I promptly wrote my list of ingredients and headed to the closest Korean mart, which luckily for me is walking distance. I don’t speak or read Korean and when you are in a real Korean store not all labels are translated. However, most imported foods have an ingredient and nutrition label in English and sometimes if you get lucky a brief translation of the actual label itself. My search for ssamjang was
fueled by the cookbook telling me it was a chili and fermented bean sauce and not much else. When I finally did find a container that said chili and bean paste in teeny tiny letters I then looked for the ssamjang that was the right color and grabbed it. Because of course ssamjang’s come in different flavors. Yea, yea, I know, I could have looked it up online before I went to the store, but I was excited and kind of got ahead of myself. I was lucky and they had some already defrosted rice cakes. If you can only find frozen ones thaw them before making this dish. These are quite rich and spicy and honestly I think a serving of 5 or 6 cakes per person is enough for an appetizer.
Both of these recipes are straight from the Momofuku cookbook, it’s all Chang all the way.
Korean Red Dragon Sauce
Makes about 1 ½ cups
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
¾ cup ssamjang
2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce, which means in taste not in color, I was confused my first time trying to find it)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Bring the water and sugar to boil in a small saucepan stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes then stir in the ssamjang until it dissolves, it has the consistency nearly of a tomato paste. Stir in the soy, vinegar and sesame oil, you can add more of any of these to taste.
Roasted Rice Cakes
¼ mirin (rice cooking wine)
¼ cup Ramen Broth (I did not have his Ramen broth made and used a pork stock I had on hand, obviously to make this dish entirely vegetarian just use a veggie stock )
½ cup Korean Red Dragon Sauce
¼ cup roasted onions
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
6 long rice cake sticks (mine were cut into two-inch pieces and came in a 2 lb bag, I used ¾ of a pound for this recipe)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
½ cup sliced scallions (greens and whites)
Combine the mirin and broth in a saucepan that is large enough to accommodate the sauce and the rice cakes, turn the heat up to high. Boil to reduce until slightly thickened about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the dragon sauce and turn the heat down to medium reducing the sauce until is had a glossy consistency about 5 minutes. Stir in the roasted onion. Cover and keep warm over minimum heat until the rice cakes are cooked.
Heat a 12 inch skillet over a medium high heat until hot. Add the oil to the pan and just before the smoking point add the rice cakes. The should sizzle when they hit the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and sear the cakes for about 2 minutes per side you do want them a light brown but if you overdo it they will dry out. I found that once the skin started to bubble on the outside before they turned brown they were done. If you are using sticks cut them into 1 inch pieces.
Bring the sauce back to a boil and toss the cakes in the sauce until coated, just a few seconds. Sprinkle them with sesame seeds and toss again. Serve with a few large pinches of scallions and serve them as quickly as you can.
There were two pieces of good food news this week.
The USDA finally ruled that slaughter houses must euthanize downer cows, (finally) which are those cows that mysteriously fall over and die of unknown diseases (madcow in my opinion) and have still ended up on our plates. This is a step in the right direction, however the enforcement of this will be difficult at best.
The good news is that Chung Po Liu who illegally imported honey to the United States that was contaminated with antibiotics will serve some jail time and has to pay 400,000 dollars in restitution, the bad news is he is 70 years old.