I'm in a love affair with Korean rice cakes—aka: tteokbokki—right now. I've been enjoying them in restaurants for many, many years, but it's only been in the last year that I started cooking with them at home and it's been kind of live altering. I'll toss rice cake into the usual stir-fries or sauces I commonly make and immediately they're transformed into something a hundred times more delicious. I think their pleasing chewiness, heartiness, and ability to take on any flavor, make tteokbokki a totally versatile ingredient with endless possibilities that I'm just starting to explore. I've been so enamored with them lately and I wanted to share that feeling with my friends, so made these grilled tteokbokki at a recent Meatwave hoping my guests would be as taken with them as I am.
I think the main reason I never cooked with them before this year is due to the fact that I didn't understand how easy they were to prepare. At restaurants, they always tasted so foreign that I just assumed they were something difficult to work with, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Any Asian market with Korean ingredients will likely have these rice cakes in the refrigerator or freezer section, and after picking them up, they only need to be boiled quickly to be ready for use. They do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and while I more commonly cook with the small disc shaped ones, for this specific skewering and grilling application, the longer tubes were my rice cake of choice.
If you're talking standard Korean tteokbokki, you're likely thinking of the rice cakes soaked in a spicy sauce with some fish cakes added in. I decided to go with what would be a fairly familiar tteokbokki sauce here, just a bit thicker so it would work as a basting glaze. Gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste) and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) were the primary ingredients, providing the spicy foundation on which some sweetness was introduced by way of dark brown sugar, tang from rice vinegar, savoriness from soy sauce, bite from garlic, and toasty flavor from sesame oil.
Once I had the sauce done to my liking, I brought a pot of water to boil and added in the rice cakes. It only takes a couple minutes for them to soften and be tender throughout, and it seems like you can tell when they're done once they've all floated to the top.
Next, I drained the rice cakes and ran them under cold water to both stop the cooking and render them cool enough to handle. I then began skewering them up with skewers about half the length of the standard size to make good snacking portions. At the start, I was skewering them with two parallel skewers, thinking that would be required to keep them from rotating , but the rice cakes were so sticky that a single skewer worked just fine.
I wasn't quite sure how these would fare on the grill, but I had seen grilled tteokbokki before, so figured they'd do ok. I made sure my fire wasn't too hot, not wanting them to burn or stick too fast. Once I placed the skewers on the grill, I brushed them all over with the sauce.
I then let the first side cook until I began to see some charring and crispness develop, at which point they were easy to flip over and keep cooking until the second side got those same characteristics.
Then I plated them up, garnished with some sesame seeds and chives, and served. These were plenty spicy, and I feared that would become a roadblock to full enjoyment as I watched everyones' first comment about them be how hot they were. But then, as I saw people take a few bites, followed by a cooling drink, there was an irresistible draw that kept everyone eating them. I was pretty sure I had made more skewers than we could finish, but in no time, they were all gone. I was so happy that the texture, spiciness, and savoriness of tteokbokki that has so captured me was felt by my guests, plus the extra bonus points that they ended up grilling fantastically, which just opens another door for me as a way to enjoy my rice cakes over and over again.
- Yield 6-8 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Cook 4 Minutes
- Total 19 Minutes
- For the Sauce
- 1/4 cup gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2lbs tube-shaped Korean rice cakes
- Bamboo or metal skewers
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh chives (for garnish)
- To make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together gochujang, gochugaru, brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and sesame oil. Set aside.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add in rice cakes and boil until softened and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Drain rice cakes in a colander and wash with cold water until cool enough to handle. Thread rice cakes onto skewers.
- Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place skewered rice cakes on grill and brush with sauce all over. Grill on one side until sauce bakes down and rice cakes develop light charing, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip skewers over and continue to grill until second side develops light charing, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer rice cakes to a platter and garnish with sesame seeds and chives. Serve immediately.