I Made My First Tteokguk (Twice)
I talked to my mom tonight to see if she got the photos of the tteokguk I made for New Year’s. Apparently it’s a simple dish, but I’m sort of amazed I pulled it off at all. It only took me two days.
We talked about broth; she said she heard somewhere you should only add the dashima (kelp) for 10 minutes at the end to help clarify the soup, but that if left in for longer it would alter the flavor too much. But then she said she wasn’t quite sure how; and that it was just something she heard. I suspect she added that last bit to make me feel better; I left mine in for hours! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I think it still turned out OK, but I should try her way next time.
[As an aside, I like very much the way ‘dashima’ sounds (though a familiar food, the word is new to me). Dashima, dashima, dashima.]
I remember New Year’s mornings growing up.
The situation: well, it was the suburbs and I was nowhere near of age for most of it, so there were no ragers and therefore, no reason to sleep in. Besides, we had things to do.
The whole house would wake up and get dressed in traditional Korean dress (hanbok) so that we could systematically bow and pay respects to our elders and receive blessings for the New Year in return. These involved good wishes for health, academic success (later, professional success), happiness, and usually some crisp clean cash (my mom would go to the bank and specifically ask for new bills). Also, there was always a specific soup (tteokguk) with a broth not unlike an excellent consommé. I came to depend on it.
Oh, the shame of buying tteokguk.
For a couple years in more recent history (aka old enough to be hungover on New Year’s morning), Fred indulged me on what felt like a foraging mission in order to find this soup. We discovered a bustling K-town spot where we waited in long lines. Where I felt a little like an interloper for having to look outside the home for this soup, but also excited that we were about to eat it. It doesn’t quite feel like a New Year without this soup. Funny how traditions sneak up on you like that.
I grew up in the U.S., so we had our tteokguk on January 1st, but in doing some reading, I guess it’s traditionally for Lunar New Year. That makes sense. Just not how we did it. Or maybe we had it for both, but I have the clearest memories of eating it on January 1st since that’s when we’d also get dressed up.
There was a lot of homemade tteokguk this year!
This year we had it three ways between Christmas and New Year’s day. One my mom made – and for the first time – I made it (two ways!). These days, all of my siblings are adults and if they can make it home to our parents’ house for Christmas, they usually leave before New Year’s eve. That’s why the first time we ate it, it was only a couple days after Christmas.
There is always a beef broth (guk, loosely, “soup”) and there is always tteok (rice cake). Also brisket. As my mom explained, sometimes there are mandu (dumplings), in which case it’s called tteokmanduguk (hooray for portmanteaus!). Garnishes include egg yolk, made into a thin crepe-like pancake that can be cut into decorative strips or shapes. I only managed strips but my mom made parallelograms. Sometimes the egg white is also used so that there are contrasting yellow and white egg garnishes. My egg white experiment was overcooked and browned, so I couldn’t use it (you have to pick your battles). Thinly sliced green onions (pa) are easier to do, and strips of thin seaweed (gim) can be purchased already cut. These are the final touches.
Lastly, the broth is meant to have an understated depth that can be mistaken for blandness. But this is the same technique we use in culinary school. That’s because seasoning can come in the form of garnitures (larger add-ins), garnishes (minor toppings), and additional seasoning (could be salt, pepper, toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce) à la minute. To season the broth first risks over-salting your meal. That said, if it is not savory enough (taste first!), it is perfectly acceptable to add a little seasoning at the table.
One version I made was close to how my mom makes it with oxtail bone broth, though not exactly. It’s a mash-up of the seolleongtang recipe from Koreatown, A Cookbook, and stuff I saw my mom do. It took hours and hours and hours. And hours.
The other way took just one hour and is based on the rice cake soup recipe in Cook Korean! A Comic Book With Recipes. There was beef in both versions that was too tough, but became softer and more pleasant with additional heatings in the few days after New Year’s. When I do it again, either I’ll use only the oxtail meat, which was so tender and fell right off the bone; or I’ll add the brisket/chuck earlier so it has more time to become tender.
- Tteok and mandu, like pasta, can get over-soggy with too much time in hot water, so it should only be prepared and added shortly before eating. The broth is often made over several hours, so when you are ready to eat you can separately cook only the amount of tteok and mandu you intend to eat in that sitting: it takes mere minutes. That’s what my mom does.
- I didn’t make the tteok and I’m not sure who still hand makes it these days. We visited a rustic tteok farm in the Korean countryside and it was an amazing process to watch (maybe a separate blog post!). Until then, you can get them from a Korean grocery store, which used to scare me because my Korean’s not so hot, but holy crap, they’re so fun (nerd). You can also go to a specialty tteok-house for super fresh tteok, or buy it frozen online. It freezes really well, actually. Anyway you get it, they should be sliced into thin diagonal coins. I remember hearing somewhere
that their coin shape is supposed to represent success. Works for me.
- Also, I didn’t make the mandu but have helped my grandma and mom stuffed them before. This is another item I may give a try at a later date. No shame in that. It’s really all about that broth if you ask me.
- 3 lbs oxtails (soaked in cold water for 1+ hours, drained and refilled a few times (to release some of the blood))
- 10 cups water
- 6 stalks large green onions (separate white bulb and green stems, reserving the green ends for garnish)
- 6-8 cloves garlic (whole, peeled, and smashed a little)
- 1 piece dashima (sea kelp) (about 3×4″)
- 1 lb beef brisket (solid fat trimmed off, thinly sliced into ¼″ thickness by 3-4″ wide)
- 1 lb rice cakes (sliced diagonally into ¼″ coins, if frozen they should be soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained)
- 3 eggs yolks and whites divided
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Optional Garnitures/Garnishes
- 40 pieces mini mandu (5 per serving, can be purchased frozen)
- 8 pinches toasted seaweed strips (gim) (can be purchased pre-cut)
- Drain oxtail and add to slow cooker along with the water, green onion bulbs, garlic and dashima, and slow cook for 8+ hours. If water level gets too low, add more in. (If you do this in an Instant Pot like I did, with the pressure cooker lid on, the water level won’t go down much if at all). Add the brisket for at least the last hour.
- Scoop out and discard green onion, garlic, and dashima. Carefully remove and reserve oxtail bone until cool enough to handle. Remove just the meat and reserve until serving.
- When preparing to eat, soak rice cakes in cold water for 20-60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat a medium pot of water to boil. Separately, heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until hot.
- While the pan heats, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with a teaspoon of water and pinch of salt. Add egg and lightly cook into one thin crepe. Move to a clean cutting board to cool for a few minutes. Roll and cut into thin strips, or try your hand at making any shape you like.
- Add rice cakes into boiling water for 5 minutes, remove and set aside.
- Bring water back to boil, then add frozen mandu for 3 minutes, then briefly drain in cold water.
- While these are boiling, thinly slice green parts of green onion for garnish.
- To plate: To a soup bowl, add a handful of rice cakes, a few mandu, slices of brisket, a large pinch of oxtail meat, and decorative egg yolk. Pour broth over. At the table, garnish with green onion and seaweed. Taste and adjust seasoning individually.
- 1 lb beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1" cubes, soaked in cold water for 30+ minutes and drained
- ½ lb rice cakes, diagonally cut into ¼" coins, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
- 1 T sesame oil
- 1 T light soy sauce
- 1 T soju (um, I didn't have any! so I used Hendrick's gin)
- 8 cups, water
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 T olive oil
- 3 green onions, green ends sliced thinly for garnish
- Toasted seaweed (gim) strips, for garnish
- Optional: mandu (no recipe for this here, and totally ok if you want to buy these frozen. I like the mini ones that are more delicate with a thin wrapping.
- Heat sesame oil in a large pot over high heat until hot. Brown the beef. Add garlic, soy sauce and soju, stir until fragrant. Add water and boil for 30+ minutes. Skim off any soup scum.
- Meanwhile, soak rice cakes in cold water for 30 minutes.
- Heat a medium pot of water to boil.
- Separately, heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. While the pan heats, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with a teaspoon of water and pinch of salt. Add egg and lightly cook into one thin crepe. Move to a clean cutting board to cool for a few minutes. Roll and cut into thin strips, or try your hand at making any shape you like.
- Drain and add rice cakes into boiling water for 5 minutes, remove and set aside. Bring water back to boil, then add frozen mandu for 3 minutes, drain and briefly rinse in cold water. While these are boiling, thinly slice green parts of green onion for garnish.
- To plate: To a soup bowl, add a handful of rice cakes and a few mandu. Spoon over broth/beef mixture. At the table, garnish with egg, green onion slices, and seaweed. Taste and adjust seasoning individually.