Modern Korean recipes to feed the soul
“It is quite likely I’m chasing perfection that doesn’t really exist. In my vivid dreams, this fried chicken tastes intently sweet but not sickly,” says Su Scott, author of Rice Table.
“Deep nutty background sweetness lingers like an intense pull of stupid first love that you fail to resist, and is only accentuated by the heat of chilli and umami salinity that hugs the fat. It’s not claggy – smothered in thick paste of gochujang – but rather softly candied, like a buttery caramel-coated popcorn.
“I am unsure if such a glorious perfection of taste can be replicated. But I keep going back for more, no longer sure if I am craving the chicken or my home so many miles away.”
Korean fried chicken
For the chicken:
600g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3cm cubes
2 tbsp sake
1 tsp golden granulated sugar
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the glaze:
60g jocheong (Korean rice syrup)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup (catsup)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp golden granulated sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean red chilli paste)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), ground to a fine powder
For the batter:
50g plain flour
70g rice flour
150ml cold water
Toasted white sesame seeds
1. Place the chicken pieces in a mixing bowl, along with the sake, sugar, celery salt and black pepper. Massage well to combine, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for one hour.
2. To make the glaze, combine the jocheong, ketchup, water, sugar, soy sauce, gochujang and garlic in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
3. Remove the chicken from the fridge, so it comes back to room temperature before you cook it.
4. Put one tablespoon of vegetable oil and the gochugaru in a cold wok or sauté pan over a low heat to warm up, stirring constantly to prevent the gochugaru from burning – a flat flexible spatula is great for this. In a few minutes, the oil will change in colour to a deep red and the gochugaru will start to bloom. Swiftly add the glaze mixture and increase the heat to rapidly bubble for about two minutes to thicken the sauce enough to coat the back of the spoon, like a runny custard, but not yet sticky like wet glue. Remove from the heat and set aside.
5. Prepare the wet batter by combining the plain flour, 30 grams of the rice flour and the cornflour. Add the water gradually to the mix and whisk to break up any lumps.
6. Toss the chicken thoroughly with the remaining 40 grams of rice flour then add the chicken to the batter. Give it a good mix by hand.
7. Prepare a cooling rack set over a roasting tray.
8. To fry the chicken, fill a saucepan suitable for deep-frying with vegetable oil. It should be deep enough to submerge the chicken pieces but only come three-quarters of the way up the pan while you are frying. Heat the oil to 160°C. Carefully lower in a few of the battered chicken pieces and fry for two to three minutes until the chicken is cooked through but only pale golden, transferring onto the cooling rack when done to allow the steam to escape. Don’t put too many pieces in at once. Continue until you have cooked all the chicken. This first fry is to cook the chicken through, so it shouldn’t have too much colour. Check for doneness.
9. Once the first fry is done, increase the heat to 175°C and fry for the second time for two to three minutes until they’re golden and crispy. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding the pan. When the batches are ready, transfer them onto the cooling rack, so any excess oil drains off. Don’t be tempted to sit the chicken on kitchen paper as it will just steam and lose its crispiness.
10. Put the wok or sauté pan with the sauce over a medium heat to warm up. As soon as the edges start to bubble up, toss in the fried chicken while energetically moving the pan around to glaze. In a brief moment, the sauce will coat the chicken and thicken around the crusts. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Tofu with buttered kimchi
“Dubu kimchi is made up of two parts: poached tofu and stir-fried kimchi. It is a popular dish, often served as anju, a Korean word that means ‘drinking food’.
“Soured, overripe kimchi is prized for its flavoursome tanginess that works perfectly in stir-fried dishes, usually paired with rich, fatty pork to dial down the complex, sour pungency with contrasting richness. The loud and bold flavour of kimchi is warmly supported by poached tofu that is welcomingly tender on the tongue.”
1 tbsp vegetable oil
½ onion, thinly sliced
200g minced pork
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
20g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
350g overripe kimchi, roughly chopped
2 tsp golden granulated sugar
1 tbsp mirin
1½ tbsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1 tbsp soy sauce
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
396g block of firm tofu
Sea salt flakes
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
½ tsp toasted white sesame seeds
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
A pinch of black sesame seeds
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and fry for one to two minutes to soften. When the onion has collapsed and is starting to smell fragrant, add the pork and the cracked black pepper and stir frequently for about eight to 10 minutes until lightly browned, without allowing it to burn. It should be golden brown in colour with an almost sweet, caramelising smell.
2. Lower the heat and melt in the butter with the garlic, then add the kimchi, sugar, mirin and gochugaru. Give it a good stir to combine the ingredients, then sauté gently for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure not to burn the gochugaru. We are not here to caramelise the kimchi, rather to soften it slowly in luscious fat.
3. After five minutes, your pan should look a little drier than when you started to fry the kimchi. Stir in the soy sauce, ensuring it is completely incorporated, before adding the tomatoes. Let it simmer for a further 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil. Slice the tofu into two long blocks about 4cm wide. Gently drop the tofu blocks into the boiling water and poach them for five minutes over a low heat. Carefully drain the tofu and cool slightly, taking care of the hot steam. When they’re cooled down enough to handle, cut each block into 2cm thick slabs.
5. By now, the kimchi should be ready. Check the seasoning and add a pinch more salt or sugar, if necessary. To finish, stir in the sesame oil and white sesame seeds. Reserve some of the spring onion for garnish, if you like, and add the remainder.
6. To serve, transfer the sliced tofu slabs onto a serving platter or individual plates, along with the sautéed kimchi either on top or on the side. Top with the black sesame seeds and reserved spring onion.
Sweet rice doughnuts
“This is a popular old-school Korean snack, which I think deserves more recognition – strangely, it is not well known outside of Korea.
“This could be partly to do with the fact that, more often than not, most recipes call for ‘wet’ rice flour: freshly milled rice flour made from pre-soaked rice.
“In traditional baking, wet rice flour was preferred because of its excellence in retaining moisture, resulting in more moist and chewier rice cakes that keep well. Nowadays, more recipes are being developed using dry flour for the convenience of home baking.”
Makes: about 20 golf ball-sized pieces
250g glutinous rice flour
50g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g golden caster sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
30g unsalted butter, melted
80ml warm full-fat milk
150ml hot water, about 80C
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
For the cinnamon sugar:
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1. Sift both flours, the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt.
2. In a pourable and heatproof jug, combine the melted butter and warm milk. Stir this into the flour mix, using a wooden spoon or chopsticks. Gradually pour in the hot water and continue to mix until it resembles rough crumbs. Do this in a few stages as your flour may not need as much water, or might need a touch more, than stated here.
3. When the dough is cool enough to handle, start bringing the ingredients together by gently kneading until the dough feels supple and the surface is smooth.
4. Place the dough in a reusable plastic bag or wrap in clingfilm. Rest in the fridge for at least one hour or overnight.
5. After the dough has rested, divide it into four equal-sized portions, so you have a more manageable volume to work with. Work one piece at a time, keeping the remaining dough covered. Shape the dough roughly into a log, then divide it into five small golf-ball-sized pieces. The texture of the dough may feel unusual and a little crumbly. Don’t worry if this happens – just squeeze the dough firmly to shape.
6. Combine the sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl or a rimmed roasting pan. Have another plate or dish ready lined with some kitchen paper.
7. Fill a saucepan suitable for deep-frying with vegetable oil. It should be filled deep enough to submerge the dough balls but no more than three-quarters full. Heat to 160°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, a cube of bread should brown in 12 seconds. When it reaches 160°C, turn off the heat and carefully lower a few of the dough balls into the pan, making sure you don’t overcrowd the pan. Keep the heat off for two minutes. After two minutes, the dough will start to move and float a little.
8. Turn the heat back on and maintain the temperate at 160°C. Fry the dough balls for five minutes, making sure to gently push them down with a heatproof sieve or wire skimmer, as they will continuously float up. After five minutes, the doughnuts should appear golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to the plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Continue with the remaining dough balls.
9. When all the batches are cooked, roll them in the cinnamon sugar while hot and serve immediately.
‘Rice Table’ by Su Scott (published by Quadrille, £27; photography by Toby Scott).