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Recipe Tue Mar 09 2010
Like many of my Japanese compatriots, I love Korean food. For a long time, I regarded Korean food as something to get only in restaurants, but over the years I've gradually expanded my home cooking into the Korean realm, from scallion pancakes to kimchi fried rice and tongue-numbing soups. Many of the dishes I cooked, especially those of the spicy variety, though, seemed to lack the punch that I loved. I knew what it is--gochujang. Many recipes called for this sweet-and-hot chili paste, but I was hesitant to buy one. (It's the red paste that you mix into bi bim bop, in case you are wondering.) Gochujang is readily available; that wasn't the issue. The issue was that gochujang comes in very large packages, typically containing a pound or more. If I cooked Korean all the time, I might be able to use it all up, but otherwise, I just didn't see myself using that much of the stuff. You only need a tablespoon of the stuff at a time--if that.
Then, a few months ago, I finally broke down and bought a one-pounder. I figured that it won't go bad for a long, long time (after all, it's chili paste with lots of salt and sugar, which should discourage all but the sturdiest breed of bacteria), and that eventually I would consume it all before its death, barring an extended period of blackout or some such freak occurrence. And I must say, it is essential if you cook Korean at home. It's not needed for many dishes, granted, but when it's called for in recipes, you really do need it. I've tried substituting it with a mixture of chili powder, sugar and miso with some measure of success, but using the real stuff makes a huge difference. My hot soups are so much better with real gochujang, and I can't wait to try my hands at Nakji Bokeum (spicy octopus stir-fry) and Ddeok Bokki (gochujang-stir-fried rice cakes).
One spicy soup I've made with success since the advent of the gochujang is based on Dak Gae Jang. (I say "based on" because traditionally, Dak Gae Jang doesn't involve kimchi, which I added to clean out the refrigerator.) When you have a leftover roast chicken or chicken you used to make stock, this spicy Korean soup is a fantastic way to use it. Dak Gae Jang is essentially a chicken version of the famous chili-loaded beef soup, Yuk Gae Jang. Cooked chicken and shredded vegetables are first marinated in Yang Nyum, a mixture of the aforementioned chili paste, garlic, ginger and other aromatics. Then they are stir-fried lightly in sesame oil, and cooked in water or chicken stock. As long as you have cooked chicken, it's a cinch to make, and on winter days, which unfortunately still abound, it's sure to warm you up from the inside. The soup keeps in the refrigerator for at least a few days, although it doesn't need the time in the fridge for the flavor to fully develop.
Somewhat DAK GAE JANG (Spicy Korean Chicken Soup), makes about 2-3 quart
1 chicken breast, cooked
2-inch chunk of daikon, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
2 cups bean sprouts
2 cups boiled Japanese royal fern ("zenmai")
1 1/2 cup kimchi, cut into strips
2-3 quart chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon sesame oil plus more for drizzling
2 eggs, beaten
For Yang Nyum
1 1/2 tablespoon gochujang
1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, grated
4 cloves of garlic, grated
2 scallions, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
Remove the bones from the chicken breast and shred the meat by hand. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the Yang Nyum. Add the chicken, daikon, carrot, bean sprouts, Japanese royal fern and kimchi (with any juice) and toss to coat.
In a 2-3 quart saucepan, heat the sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken-vegetable mixture and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften a little. Add the chicken stock or water to come about half an inch over the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat to keep it gently boiling. (Simmer is a bit too low.) Cook until the vegetables are cooked through, for about 12-15 minutes.
At the end, turn the heat up a little to bring the soup to a boil. Gradually pour the beaten eggs in a slow drizzle. If the egg starts coagulating into a big chunk, gently break it up with chopsticks or a fork. Cook until the eggs are set, about a minute or two.
Drizzle some more sesame oil and serve.
Boiled Japanese royal fern is available at Korean or Japanese grocery stores. Look in the refrigerated cases for liquid-filled pouches containing brown, squiggly things. To accompany the Dak Gae Jang, make some spinach and shimeji namul:
SPINACH & SHIMEJI MUSHROOM NAMUL, serves two as a side dish
1 1/2 cup quickly blanched spinach
1/2 cup shimeji mushrooms (also known as brown beech mushrooms)
1 small clove garlic, grated
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Squeeze out any excess water from the blanched spinach. In a small saucepan, blanch the shimeji mushrooms for 1-2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the grated garlic, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Add the spinach and mushrooms, and toss to coat. Chill in the refrigerator till ready to serve.