DEEP FRIED TTEOKBOKKI
Ok, I realize this is a bastardized version of a much-loved Korean dish. Apologies to the traditionalists. I absolutely enjoy the classic versions of tteokbokki and appreciate their technique. However, when I first had tteokbokki I had a dumb reaction that I think many Americans probably have, but they just might not say it out loud: “huh, kind of looks like a mozzarella stick.” And that’s when the abomination you see before you was born. I wish there was a more nobel spark of inspiration. But, you know what, who cares? These things are so goddamn good it doesn’t matter. They’re light and crunchy on the outside, hot and chewy on the inside, and when dipped in a spicy gochujang sauce they truly become a delicious culture bridging treat, albeit bizarre and borderline offensive: Korean mozzarella sticks that happen to be vegan.
Where this recipe most diverges from the traditional one—of pan-frying or stir-frying the rice cakes—is that I’m battering and deep frying the cakes. I just love the addition of a crunchy texture to this dish, and it turns it into an easily shareable appetizer. Using a gluten free flour batter and then tossing the rice cakes in ground up puffed rice crackers, you get a super light and crispy crust. It reminds me more of a tempura fry than the dense, bready consistency of your average mozzarella stick. And the ingredients don’t clash: it’s rice on rice! The dipping sauce is simple and full of bright, spiciness with ginger, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and the umami-rich gochujang paste. Gochujang is not gluten free if you’re going sans gluten, but you can replace it with another paste such as a Thai red chili paste.
WARNING: These rice cakes can explode while frying, sending hot oil flying across your kitchen. In fact, assume that at least one will explode while you’re making them. I’ve tested this recipe numerous times and have taken steps to minimize the potential for splattering hot oil, but please follow my suggestions and take precautions before attempting this one.
DEEP FRIED TTEOKBOKKI
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
-36 2-inch rice cakes, commonly available at asian groceries
-vegetable oil or other high-heat frying oil
-¾ cup gluten free all purpose flour
-3 oz. plain puffed rice crackers/cakes
-¾ cup filtered water
-4 scallions, green parts sliced into rounds
-¼ cup gochujang paste or for GF version 1-2 tbps Thai red chili paste
-2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp filtered water
-1 tsp cane sugar
-1 tsp sesame oil
-1 tsp grated fresh ginger
-sesame seeds to garnish
1. Start by making the gochujang sauce. To a bowl add all ingredients minus the sesame seeds and whisk to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the rice cakes. Simmer for about 3 minutes or until they start floating to the surface. Drain and immediately transfer rice cakes to a bowl of cold water to cool them enough to handle.
3. Set your fryer to 375-degrees. Alternatively, bring your oil up to 375-degrees in a cast iron pot or dutch oven on the stove. Be careful not to overheat the oil; please use an accurate frying thermometer.
4. Next, prepare the batter for your rice cakes. You’ll need 3 medium sized bowls. In a food processor, add the rice crackers and a pinch of salt and then process until they’ve completely broken down into a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add cracker mixture to one bowl. In the second, whisk together ¼ cup of the gluten free flour and ¾ cup filtered water along with a pinch of salt until no clumps remains. In the third bowl, simply add the remaining ½ cup gluten free flour.
5. You’re now ready to bread the rice cakes. Drain the cakes into a colander and do your best to shake off any excess water, but they should still be somewhat damp. Working in batches, place the rice cakes first into the bowl of dry flour. Toss them briefly to evenly coat. Then move them into the second bowl with the flour and water mixture. Quickly shake them off after they’re coated and add them to the third bowl with the rice cracker mixture. Lightly press the rice cracker crumbs into the cakes to achieve an even breading. Set the breaded rice cakes on a platter to set momentarily.
6. When you’re finished breading all the cakes, fry them immediately. Please be careful while frying. I’m putting this in all caps for a reason. WARNING: THESE RICE CAKES CAN EXPLODE!! I recommend using a screen placed over the oil along with an apron, gloves and closed toe shoes. I don’t mean to scare you too much, but they can pop and spit hot oil. That’s why I only fry them for 1 minute, not a second longer. Even so, of the 36 I made while shooting this recipe, I did have 1 explosion, though it happened after I’d removed the cake from the oil. Anyway, if you’re an experienced fryer this won’t be anything too out of the ordinary. Moving on, to avoid dropping the temperature of your oil too much and making soggy tteokbokki, work in smaller batches. I find 8-10 at a time is manageable for a smaller home fryer. After the strict 1-minute fry in 375-degree oil, remove the fried cakes and place on a wire cooling rack or paper towels.
7. When all the cakes are fried, place on a serving dish and garnish the fried tteokbokki with sliced scallion greens and top the gochujang dipping sauce with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve immediately, while still hot and crunchy.