Tteokbokki: Spicy Korean Rice Cakes

Seollal, or the Lunar Korean New Year, is a very important holiday to Koreans. The celebration typically lasts for three days, with traditional games being played with family and young children bowing to their parents, grandparents and other elders, receiving “good luck” money as a reward. There is also a lot of eating, and one traditional food served this time of the year is Tteokguk: Korean Rice Cake Soup. As my mother explained it to me, since the rice cake is sticky, good luck is supposed to stick to you. She makes it every year and I usually have a bowl, but I am actually more of a Tteokbokki fan: Spicy Korean Rice Cakes. I decided I would make this dish as a part of my Lunar New Year celebration.

Tteokbokki is more of a Korean street food or snack, but the dish has become so popular, it’s being served at many restaurants and food courts all over Koreatown LA. Traditionally it is made with tubular Korean rice cakes (which look similar to string cheese), gochujang (spicy fermented, Korean bean paste), and fish cakes. Sometimes you can find hard-boiled eggs and ramen noodles in this dish, and my mom always added flank steak to her Tteokbokki. I took her version of the dish and elevated it by using fresh rice cakes, braised short ribs, and caramelized onions, while keeping the traditional flavors intact. When I tested this dish on a non-Korean friend, she called it a “spicy Korean gnocchi.” Though the texture of tteokbokki is definitely different than gnocchi, it’s an interesting comparison nonetheless.

Note that here is some oven time involved in making this dish, so make sure you read the entire recipe before starting. If you prefer, you can make the braised short ribs a day in advance. Enjoy!

Tteokbokki: Spicy Korean Rice Cakes with Braised Short Ribs

Serving Size: 4

Braised Short Ribs

12 ounces of bone-in short ribs (about 3 slices)*
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil or any neutral oil
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper
1 carrot (roughly chopped)
1/2 red onion (roughly chopped)
2 garlic cloves crushed
1/3 cup of sake*
2 tablespoons of mirin*
3 tablespoons of organic soy sauce
1 1/2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 325°

1. Sprinkle the short ribs with salt and pepper.

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2. Heat an enamel-coated cast iron pot or a Dutch oven to medium high heat. Add the oil. Sear the short ribs for about 2 minutes on each side. Cook them in 2 batches. Set aside.

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3. In the same pot, add all the vegetables and sauté for 5 minutes.

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4. Add the sake and mirin and deglaze the fond remaining from the short ribs, scraping the bottom of the pot. Reduce by half (about 2-3 minutes).

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5. Add the soy sauce, water, sugar and pepper. Bring to a boil. Immediately skim off the excess fat layer and impurities. Turn off the heat.

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6. Cover with a lid and transfer the pot to the oven. Braise for about 1 1/2 hours.

7. Remove from oven. Take the meat out and set aside, and then strain the broth and discard the solids. Set the broth aside.

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8. Remove the bones. Cut the meat into small pieces, picking out the gristle. Set aside.

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Tteokbokki

2 tablespoons of sunflower oil or any neutral oil (divided in half)
1/2 red onion (thinly sliced)
2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
Pinch of salt
1 jalapeño (sliced 1/4″ thick)
Broth from the braised short ribs
2/3 cup of water
2 tablespoons of Gochujang: Korean red bean paste*
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 pound of fresh Korean rice cake, cut in half*
2 green onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, crushed*
Korean pepper flakes*
2 tablespoons of fried shallots, optional

1. While the short ribs are in the oven braising, heat a medium sauté pan to high and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the red onions and a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes.

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2. Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring every a couple of minutes. Remove from pan. Set aside.

3. Clean the bottom of the same pan with a paper towel, removing any excess onion bits. Heat it to high and add the remaining tablespoon of oil.

4. Add the jalapeño slices. Sauté for 1 minute and remove from heat. Set aside for garnish.

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5. Place the broth from the braised short ribs, 2/3 of water, and 2 tablespoons of Korean red bean paste in large wok or sauté pan. Bring to a boil.

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6. Add the fresh rice cakes and bring back to a boil and cook for one minute.

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7. Add the caramelized onion mixture, the braised short ribs, sesame oil, and sugar. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until the sauce thickens and the rice cakes are soft and chewy (about 3-5 minutes).

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8. To serve, divide the Tteokbokki into 4 bowls. Sprinkle with sliced green onions, fried jalapeño, sesame seeds, and fried shallots. Serve immediately.

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*For the toasted sesame seeds, you can just add some sesame seeds to a dry pan. Toast over medium heat until golden brown. Transfer to a mortar and pound a few times with a pestle.

Mirin can be found in most Japanese Markets. You may omit the mirin and add one more teaspoon of sugar to the recipe. The rest of the ingredients can be found at any Korean Market. My favorite brands for the gochujang are Haitai or Wang.

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