Monday, January 03, 2005


The following is a rather meandering recipe for a dumbed-down version of a traditional Korean New Year's soup called "ddeok-mandu-guk." Follow the recipe at your own risk.

I would have slapped up a pic of the very nice ddeok-mandu-guk I'd made for myself on Sunday afternoon, but I ate it too quickly. Ah, well. Instead, I offer you my recipe for Poor Man's Ddeok-mandu-guk. To wit:

1 small tin of decent-quality jang-jorim (marinated beef)
1 egg, with a splash of milk, scrambled
1 Korean-style green onion (well, half, really)
about 8-10 frozen son-mandu (Korean meat dumplings, in this case)
a decent handful of ssal-ddeok (elliptical coin-shaped rice cakes)
a heaping teaspoon of dashida (salty beef bouillon)
some black pepper
a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds (maybe a teaspoonful or a bit less)
water for soup stock-- about 600-700ml (this will boil down and get absorbed by soup contents)
some kim (dried seaweed) to stick on top of the soup when it's ready to go

WARNING: A self-respecting Korean will do his/her utmost to find the freshest ingredients and will avoid the packaged crap. S/he will also avoid using canned beef, which I listed above. The soup doesn't require much beef; the meat is there mainly as an accent, not as an integral part of a Western-style stew. Remember that what you're making is the Poor Man's version of a Korean dish; this is not how most Koreans would make it.

A COMMENT ABOUT THIS SOUP'S BROTH: I've seen three principal schools of thought about the broth for ddeok-mandu-guk: (1) the Clear Broth School; (2) the Brown Broth School; and (3) the Busy Broth School.

To my mind, School (1) is the most elegant but also a bit arrogant-- sort of like certain French dishes, simple but self-consciously so, because so much work went into the preparation (see my tirade against consommé here). When prepared right, the Clear Broth version of this soup looks gorgeous, but rarely tastes much better than the other two styles. Chicken stock probably works better than beef stock for this style, which leans dangerously close to the wonton soup with which most Americans are familiar. The Clear Broth version of ddeok-mandu-guk is all about elegance and subtlety. Most Koreans I know are earthier than that.

Which leads us to...

School (2), the Brown Broth School, is probably the most common and most reliable. It's what my mom usually makes, and apparently it's what Wooj's adjumoni makes as well. See here for an example. The broth will be a wee bit thicker than water, but far from being gravy. It's a good, ribsticking, binding broth that keeps all the ingredients together and makes each spoonful a tasty, integral experience.

School (3), the Busy Broth School, is entertaining in its almost complete lack of refinement. My mom will do this style too on occasion, and it's probably the easiest to prepare. The basic broth starts off clear, but once you add things like scrambled egg and black pepper and sesame seeds, it feels pretty busy when it hits your mouth. It's not smooth like (1) and (2).

So, without further ado:

1. Set out all ingredients.

2. Pour your 600ml of water into the small, 1-person pot you'll be using (this is a large serving for one Kevin-sized dude). Add the canned beef (minus the hot pepper and little brown egg that sometimes come with jang-jorim). Add the dashida. Bring to a boil, high heat. Stir occasionally.

3. While the stock is heating, slice up your green onion (into calamari-like rings, as thin as you can manage). If you've got one large, Korean-style sprig, use only half of it-- some from the white end and some from the green end. If you're massacring a Western-style scallion, use the whole thing. When done slicing, add the still-quivering onion to the stock, whether it's boiling or not. You want to give the onion a chance to release its savory death-juices into the broth.

4. When the stock's at a rolling boil, add sesame seeds (about a teaspoonful should do; if that looks boring, add more). Start adding the ddeok as well, but do it this way: since the rice cakes will be clumped together, peel them apart and plop them into the stock one by one. Take your time. You don't want them re-clumping inside the soup. Stir occasionally.

5. Scramble your egg, if you haven't already. Set aside.

6. Add black pepper to the stock, which should be smelling like a real soup stock by now. The pieces of beef should be cartwheeling like a vicious undead cow trying to reassemble itself. The smell should be beefy and a bit onion-y (the fresher the onion, the better the smell). You might even be able to fool a Korean friend into thinking you prepared this the right way... though I doubt it. Don't forget to stir now & then.

7. You've got that rolling boil (step 4). The ddeok will soften fairly quickly. You don't want the ddeok to be al dente, but you also don't want it to be too mushy. Stir. Add the frozen mandu. The stock's boil will "pause" as the soup is cooled by the frozen dumplings, but will rapidly regain its fury-- the proverbial tempest in a teapot.

8. As the soup remembers why it was angry, add your scrambled egg. Pour it all over the surface of the soup, the way you'd drizzle syrup on your pancakes. What happens next is what gives the soup its "busy" texture and flavor: ideally, the egg will cook itself into a million little flecks, all swimming madly around the soup's larger ingredients like sperm searching desperately for the ovum. The (chicken) egg is a "cheat"-- it's a quick thickener, sort of a proxy for cornstarch. The broth isn't actually thickened by much, but it'll seem thicker. This is a common trick to use when making Korean ramyeon (ramen). It gives the meal a bit more oomph.

9. At this point, you're ready to go. I hope you've got a large bowl and an empty stomach. Kill the heat, wait a few seconds, then dump the soup in a single wet GOOSH into your bowl. Top with thin strips of kim.

10. Eat that thang!

If I can, I'll provide photos of this. Soon. Just so you know it's edible.


The Clear Broth School will treat the egg differently. In this version, your stock is a strong beef or chicken (more likely chicken, a bit like wonton soup), and the egg has been scrambled and prepared as if it were going into kim-bap, the Korean seaweed rolls. The scrambled egg is very thin when cooked, and julienned into itty-bitty strips. The beef (no canned beef in this version!) will have been cooked and shredded and left out separately. It, along with the egg and sesame seeds, won't be added until near the end of the process.

And I have to confess that I have no idea how to make a decent brown broth for the Brown Broth School ddeok-mandu-guk. If someone has pointers, please email them to me.

Finally, there's this: use your common sense. If you're already a decent cook, you'll know what I'm talking about. Frozen mandoo and ddeok don't take long to cook. You can fudge the order and timing a bit and your soup will still come out about the same. Just be careful about the soup's saltiness-- too much dashida can ruin an otherwise decent preparation.

Bon appétit!


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