Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In a Pickle with Korean Chili

So lately I’ve been on a craze for Korean food, but my Korean food is limited really to just kim chee and BBQ chicken. I really don’t venture beyond that because a lot of Korean dishes are heavy on the beef — except for soon, the tofu soup, which I also crave.

Recently when I was shopping in a Korean grocery store in Oakland, I saw these really cute pickle cucumbers and that prompted me to make some Korean pickled cucumbers. This is also one of my favorite things about Korean food. Pickled cucumbers are a common panchan, which are the free side dishes that come out at Korean restaurants before your main meal.

I’ve had a variety of Korean pickled cucumbers, some made more spicy than others, and some more crunchy than others. But my favorite has to be from my go-to Korean fast-food spot in Hawaii called Yummy’s. Their cucumbers are always so crunchy and not overly spicy, with just the right balance of sweet and sour.

In the past I’ve tried to duplicate this at home, but always failed. Now I realized it’s because I wasn’t using the right cucumbers. Apparently, it makes a difference using these small pickling cucumbers because they really retain their crunchiness even sitting in pickling juice for days.

Below is my recipe for the pickled cucumbers, Korean-style. Enjoy!

Korean-style Pickled Cucumbers
Copyright 2009 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 lb. pickle cucumbers or Japanese cucumbers
1 t kosher salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup water
1 t Vietnamese fish sauce
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 T hot chili paste
1 t chili flakes

Cut cucumbers about ¼-inch thick (leaving on the skin) and sprinkle with kosher salt. Gently work salt through the cucumber pieces with your hand and let sit for 30 minutes. Then rinse quickly under running water and drain in colander.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, vinegar, water, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, chili paste and chili flakes. Add cucumbers and then transfer everything into a clean mason jar. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 3 cups of pickled cucumbers.

TIP: You have to use small cucumbers designed for pickling to really get that nice crunch. Normal cucumbers might be crunchy at first, but will eventually soften. The pickled cucumbers are often found in Asian grocery stores, especially Korean and Japanese stores. In other gourmet stores, they may already be pickled.

HOT SAUCE: The Korean chili paste, aka kochujang, is a common ingredient in Korean dishes. They’re sold in plastic containers and has the same consistency as miso paste, but spicier of course. Check Korean grocery stores or a general Asian grocery store. I’ve never purchased it online, but if you’re desperate to try you can go to KoaMart.com out of L.A.


Jenster said...

Those pickles look delicious and I didn't realize the recipe was so simple. Thanks for sharing it -- I'll have to try this sometime.

I really enjoy the variety of panchan, too. There is a Korean supermarket near me where they make their own variety of panchan (which you can buy by weight) and offer you free samples. Last time I was there I sampled one with tiny raw crabs, which were good but a little too much shell for me, and a delicious one that mixed thinly sliced squid and crunchy veggies in a spicy sauce. That was delicious alone on hot rice.

Kim said...

Oooh! I'm going to try these. Just bought a bunch of the lil' cukes at TJ's.

foodhoe said...

I'm drooling... I love garlicky refrigerator pickles, my mom used to make those. Thanks for an inspiring recipe!

Passionate Eater said...

Thank you for giving me the secret to these Korean pickles--the cukes! I too have never successfully made panchan (or banchan), but your simple and friendly recipe has definitely encouraged me to try!

Carolyn Jung said...

I go wild for panchan. It's my favorite part of going to a Korean restaurant. The cucumbers are always among my fave dishes set out, too. I'll definitely have to try your recipe when I get the hankering for some spicy pickled cukes.

jenshinto said...

These are my favorites! Try rice vinegar instead of the distilled white for a very distinctly Korean flavor. It adds a touch of sweetness without the sugar. And contrary to popular belief, there's more to korean food than red meat. It's just that the bbq joints are the most popular and palatable. Try some seafood dishes! Spicy stir-fried squid and delicious fish soups! Korea is a peninsula after all!

Anonymous said...

Having spent time in Korea several times I fell in love with their food and culture. I've made kimchee many times and decided to try "Korean Pickles". YUM!! Finding "Gochujang" (Korean chili paste) is not easy but should be found in an Asian store or large super market. Try it, you'll like it!
Bob, Bend, Oregon

Reluctant Cavegirl said...

This is a great recipe. Perfect mix of salty, sweet and heat.

Just one question - how long will they keep in the fridge? I went on a pickling spree and have all kinds and want to make sure they don't go bad before we eat them all.

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love these pickles! Thanks for a great, simple recipe.