Recipe: Dried Pollack and Korean Radish Soup (북어국)

A Korean meal contains rice (밥 – bap – pahp), soup, and side dishes (반찬 – banchan – pahn chahn). There are three kinds of soups in Korean cooking. Guk (국 – guk – kook) are thinner, more clear, and more refreshing. Guk are made with vegetables and a little meat or seafood. Jjigae (찌개 – jjigae – chee gay) are often translated as “stew”. I don’t like that translation because jjigae are not “stewed”; they are cooked for a short time. The difference between jjigae and guk is that less water and more seasonings are used in jjigae. The third kind is tang (탕 – tang – tong), which is derived from the Chinese word that refers to what the Koreans call guk. However, in Korea, tang refers to a few types of soups that are based on animal bone stocks: beef, pork, chicken. Guk and jjigae are the kinds eaten most of the time. Today, I will introduce a very simple, refreshing guk that is my dad’s favorite: dried pollack and Korean radish soup (북어국 – bukeoguk – pook uh gook – “north sea soup”, “bukeo” is a word meaning “dried pollack”, referring to its origin; Koreans invented words for every preparation of pollack. fresh pollack= myeontae, frozen pollack= dongtae, half dried pollack= kodari, fully dried pollack= bukeo, another type of dried pollack= hwangtae). Since the English name is too long, I’ll just call it bukeoguk from now on. Bukeoguk does not take too long to make, and is very common in Korea. There, it is usually used as a hangover cure, but it is great to have when you are sober too. I like the broth the best; you also eat the radish and dried pollack. The dried pollack has an interesting texture that my parents like but not so much for me. It can also have small bones in it, so be careful while eating it!
The ingredient you will need to find is called dried pollack, bukeo (북어 – bukeo – pook uh) in Korean, and you can only get it at a Korean grocery store. (I will put a picture of it here, later) You will also need Korean radish (무 – mu – moo), which every Korean grocery store has. I will allow you to substitute daikon, but if you can find bukeo, you should be able to find Korean radish (which often costs less than daikon at a Korean grocery store). I only allow daikon as a substitute in soups. For uncooked and pickled dishes like kkakdugi, Korean radish stays crispier longer than daikon, so it is necessary (more about that on a kkakdugi recipe later). You will also need sesame oil and fish sauce or Joseon soy sauce, which I dedicate dspecial posts to. So, once have these ingredients, time to cook!

This recipe is adapted from maangchi.com, which is my favorite website about Korean cuisine. Please check it out for great Korean recipes!

For equipment, I use a Dutch oven (will have a post on it later), but any pot will do.

Ingredients:
2 oz bukeo (dried pollack)*, tear the larger strips in half to be about 2 inches long or a little longer.
*See how many oz your package has, and guess 2 oz. Unless you have a kitchen scale, then you can use that.

1/2 medium Korean radish or equilvalent amount of daikon, peel, put it on a cutting board and use a knife to “shave” off slices about 2 inch by 3 inch. makes about 3 cups, somewhat generous. My family likes a lot of Korean radish, but you can just use 2 cups if you want.

4-5 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp sesame oil
7 cups water (about 1680 mL)
2 tbsp fish sauce or Joseon soy sauce
2 green onions, minced
1 egg, beaten

Directions:
1. Heat a pot or Dutch oven. When somewhat hot, add sesame oil and garlic. Stir a few seconds, then add dried pollack. Stir fry for about half a minute, evenly distributing sesame oil and garlic.
2. Add Korean radish, stir fry one minute until combined.
3. Pour in water. Cover the lid.
4. Leave on high heat for 20 minutes. It may come to a boil earlier than 20 minutes, but this is necessary for the best broth. I used trial and error for this!
5. Open the lid. Add fish sauce (or Joseon soy sauce), stir. If this is your first time using fish sauce, you will notice the terrible smell. Don’t worry, 2 tbsp will not make the soup smell bad; it will only add a great umami flavor.
6. Cover and simmer on medium to low heat for 5 minutes. This lets the flavors blend.
7. Add the egg into the soup, and stir 3 rounds with chopsticks. This creates what Chinese call “egg flowers”.(蛋花 – dan hua – dehn hwah)
8. Turn heat to high, bringing back to a small boil. Add green onions, stir, and turn off the heat.
9. Ladle into bowls. Serves about 3 as part of a Korean meal, or 2 larger bowls.

Tip: Joseon soy sauce is traditionally used, but fish sauce adds more umami and makes the soup taste better. Both are OK to use.

If this is the first Korean soup you tried, you may notice how light the flavor of a guk is. The side dishes, banchan, are usually quite salty, so it creates a balanced meal.

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