Saturday, April 14, 2007
Rice cake is called dok in Korean and nian gao in Mandarin. The savoury kind is formed into small tubes or ovals and sold either frozen or vacuum packed in the fridge section. It is used in soups, stir fries and a fiery, brick coloured Korean street food called dok-bokki (fried dok). There is an enormous variety of Korean sweet rice cake confections as well, some quite rustic and some astoundingly beautiful and delicate. A sweet Chinese nian gao (sometimes labeled 'rice pudding') is traditional at New Year's.
I love all of it, but have never tried cooking rice cake before though I adore the chewy, melting texture and how it soaks up flavours from its companion ingredients. My curiosity finally got the better of me and I picked up a package of chili oil marinated rice cake from the market that actually had English instructions. Now, I am almost sure the instructions were, well, not really correct. Chinese stir fried nian gao is usually fried like chao mian (fried noodles) - first cook your meat and vegetables and then add the starch and cook til everything is heated through and the flavours are absorbed without cooking long enough to ruin the texture of the rice cake. (Some types of rice cake need soaking in water for several minutes to soften before cooking.)
My package just said to heat oil in a wok, add the rice cake, and fry on high heat for six or seven minutes til done. Not having meat or vegetables in the house anyway, I followed the instructions to the letter and got this amazing, crispy on the outside, melting on the inside, full of flavour rice cake. Because it had been marinated in the chili oil, it didn't even need salt or seasoning and was much too good not to blog. The same method is fantastic for the sweet Chinese rice cake - heat a little oil, slice the sweet rice cake into small pieces a little less than half an inch thick, and fry on both sides until it has a crispy crust and melting centre. You need to eat it quite warm; rice cake loses appeal very quickly as it cools.