Yukgaejang is a classic spicy Korean beef stew that’s a true staple in most households. It’s chock full of beef and veggies, all wrapped up in a fiery red broth that warms up your insides as you consume it. This is one of Mark’s favourite Korean stews, one that he often orders when we’re dining out at Korean restaurants.
I’ve been intimidated to try making this at home for a number of years. First, growing up with a very low tolerance for spicy foods meant that I didn’t really have yukgaejang when I was younger, so I had no idea how a good, proper yukgaejang should taste. Second, when I see it in restaurants, it always looks so complex to make. And lastly, being one of Mark’s favourites adds a lot of pressure to get it right. I don’t know why all of a sudden I wanted to make yukgaejang; I think it’s because I love the aroma of a Korean stew simmering on the stove. Besides, it’s never a bad thing to try something new.
Since this was my first time making yukgaejang, I used this recipe from Beyond Kimchee as a base and adapted it slightly to make it my own, with suggestions from my mom.
Let’s gather up all the lovely ingredients. Here we have Korean hot chili flakes, daikon radish, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, green onions, soy bean sprouts, sesame oil, canola oil, Korean soy sauce for soup, gosari (bracken fern), and thai red chillies. You’ll also need an onion and a head of garlic, but apparently they decided not to join the party. The Korean soy sauce for soup, called guk ganjang, is designed specially to season soups and stews, so this is the kind you want to use (not regular soy sauce). As for the thai red chillies, these are totally optional, but for the brave ones who want a bit more heat, adding a few of these will spice up the stew.
Let’s talk about this gosari for a moment. What exactly is it? It just looks like a bunch of dried up twigs. They’re actually the immature fronds of the bracken fern called fiddleheads. I can’t really describe how they smell… just imagine something really earthy. They come either dehydrated (like above) or re-hydrated. If you want to take the easy way, get the re-hydrated fiddleheads; they’re easy to find in any Korean or Asian market. My mom says to use the dehydrated version because they taste a lot better, and I generally trust my mom’s taste. So I went ahead with the dehydrated fiddleheads and used her instructions to bring them back to life. Her method is to soak them in hot water for at least an hour (2 hours is better), drain, and rinse really well. If you’re thinking, eww, I just want to omit these… Don’t! They’re essential to the stew and they really do give it that ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor (like Korean corn syrup, meul-yut, does for a lot of dishes). Besides, you’ve probably already had fiddleheads before. Some bibimbaps have them, so don’t fear!
For the beef, you can either use a brisket or a flank steak. I got this beautiful brisket from the Korean market, but you can find these cuts of meat anywhere. Now it’s time to make the delicious beef broth.
In the mean time, you can get some other ingredients ready.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the blanching liquid. Rinse them under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water, a fistful at a time, and place the mushrooms in the bowl with the sliced gosari.
Add the beef into the bowl with the mushrooms, soy bean sprouts, and gosari. You should have a collection like above. Add in the chili sauce mixed up earlier and give it a good mix. It’s easier if you get your hands in there and mix it up.
Time to make the chili oil. In a large pot, heat the canola oil over low heat. Add in the hot chili flakes. Stir together, making sure that the chili flakes don’t burn. Add in the beef mixture and toss well in the chili oil.
Add the reserved stock. You should add enough to cover all of the ingredients. If you’re using the thai red chillies, add them at this point. Bring the stew up to a gentle boil; cover, lower the heat, and let simmer for an hour.
My first time making this stew was a success – judging by how happily Mark consumed every last drop in his bowl… and went for seconds.
- 1 1/3 lb (600g) beef brisket (or flank)
- 1 large onion
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 bunch of green onions, cut into 2-3″ slices, thicker slices halved
- 1 daikon radish, cut into pieces
- 1/2 lb (200g) gosari (bracken fern), re-hydrated, rinsed well, and cut into 2″ pieces
- 1/2 lb (200g) soy bean sprouts
- 1/2 lb (200g) oyster mushrooms, torn into strips
- 1 package enoki mushrooms
- 4 tbsp Korean chili flakes
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 5 tbsp Korean soy sauce for soup (“guk ganjang”)
- 1 tbsp finely minced garlic
- 4 Thai red chillies (optional)
For the chili oil
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1/2 tbsp Korean hot chili flakes
In a large pot, combine the beef, onion, garlic cloves, and daikon radish. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. Reserve the beef and the stock, but discard the rest.
Let the beef cool. Shred the beef and set aside.
In a medium-sized pot, boil water. Blanch the oyster mushrooms with a little salt for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sprouts and rinse under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water and set aside. Blanch the soy bean sprouts in the same manner. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the chili flakes, sesame oil, Korean soy sauce for soup, and minced garlic. In a large bowl, combine the shredded beef, gosari, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. Add the chili mixture to the beef mixture. Using your hands, mix it all together.
In a large pot, heat the canola oil over low heat. Add the chili flakes and stir well. When you see that the oil is turning red, the oil is ready. Make sure not to burn the chili flakes.
Add the beef mixture and toss well with the oil. Pour in enough reserved broth to cover all of the ingredients. Add in the Thai red chillies (if using). Bring to a gentle boil; cover and simmer for 1 hour over low heat.
Add in the sliced green onions and enoki mushrooms. Simmer for another 15 minutes.
Serve with a side of rice.