Recipe: Spicy Korean Pasta at Home

From avlxyz's Flickr account, used with Creative Commons agreement 'attribution' and 'share alike.'

I fell in love with a Korean rice pasta dish. Warm, spicy, and multi-textured with three of four different kinds of "soft," it's total comfort food. I'm unsure how to spell it, but it may be ddeok-boggi, dduk-boggi, or dduk-bo ggi.

Image from BlogAway.

The main sustenance is rice pasta, fat cylinders about the thickness of your thumb, chewey and solid rather than hollow through the middle. Imagine the size and shape of a hot dog; now shrink it 20 percent and that's the size of the rice pasta. Scattered around the pasta are bits of cooked cabbage, sliced fish cake, and a hard-cooked egg. The whole array of foods are coated in this lovely spicy sauce that looks like tomato soup, slightly more pink than red, viscous, but smooth.

Woorijip on 32nd Street in New York's Koreatown sells this dish as a main meal, which is where I first tried it. Searching the internet, though, it sounds as if many people eat this dish in small portions as an afternoon snack. Sometimes, a brick of ramen noodles are softened in the sauce as it cooks, too, to make a big pot of food that can be placed in the center of the table, like a communal paella, where people pick out the parts they like best.

I made a version of it at home the other night, and the sauce came out astoundingly well, considering I didn't have all the precise ingredients and ad-libbed a bit. Here's what I used:

Ddeok-boggi with Squid

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 carrot, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 packet dashi dissolved in 2 cups water
2 tablespoons Korea red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 tablespoon honey
dash of ground red pepper (cayenne)
enough sliced squid for two people
enough rigatoni for 2 people, or rice noodles soaked in warm water for an hour then drained
more water as needed
about a teaspoon of rice flour (if using Italian pasta; to help thicken the sauce)

Heat a wide and shallow pan over low heat. Add the sesame oil, julienned carrots, and garlic, and cook just until the carrots begin to change color. You don't want to cook off the flavor of the oil too much or burn the garlic.

Image from TriCityFoodBlog.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the next four ingredients, through the honey. Whisk them while cooking until blended. Bring everything just to a boil, then adjust the heat so the sauce is at a simmer.

When the sauce reduces to look thicker and slightly opaque (about 15-25 minutes), add the sliced squid and cook about 7 minutes or until the squid are tender. Leave the pan uncovered while cooking, and whisk in a few tablespoons more water if the sauce reduces too much.

If you're using Italian dried pasta, I recommend boiling it in salted water ahead of time until it's al dente. I tried soaking it in water and then cooking it through in the pan, as I would have if using rice pasta, but there wasn't enough liquid in the pan to immerse the pasta and cook it through properly. Additionally, with dried Italian pasta, you lose the starch that seeps out of the rice pasta to help thicken the sauce: Sprinkle a teapsoon of rice flour (regular flour should work, too, or just skip this step) onto the sauce as it cooks, and whisk it smooth.

Serve with scallion garnish and a one hard-cooked egg per person. You can also add fish cake, cabbage, scallions, sesame seeds for garnish, ramen noodles, or anything else to your taste.