Not captured in the traditional definition of “hand-eye coordination” is prowess as an arts and crafts hobbyist. I was never going to be a key contributor in high school PE volleyball, but I’m actually pretty decent at things like paper crafts and knitting. It goes without saying that this was not a part of the system that defines teenage popularity. If only my ability to flawlessly execute a stockinette stitch had been transferrable to athletics! But being devoid of the more valued macro motor skills, I forever steered clear of ball sports (and hence became a distance runner).
Part of the fun of cooking for me has been experimenting with style and presentation, which really just means that I get to play with my meals in an acceptable “artsy” way. And there’s a benefit to channeling my artistic interests into the kitchen: edible crafts are proving to be a lot more popular and useful than my sewing projects or handmade stationery sets. My dad was never going to wear the green and red Christmas-themed acrylic scarf I made as a twelve year old, but he taste-tests my culinary experiments with genuine enthusiasm.
Reimagining my favorite foods into cute snack-sized versions is a particularly amusing way to think through a new recipe project. I made these hors- d'oeuvres-style bibimbap bites (bibimbites!) to emphasize the best part of eating Korean bibimbap: the crispy rice. Traditionally served in a blazing hot stone pot, some of the rice gets seared onto the sides and must be scraped off at the end of the meal. This part of the dish is universally loved and there is never enough. The Spanish are so committed to the rice crust at the bottom of their paella pans that there’s an actual Spanish word for it: socarrat. In the spirit of Korean socarrat, I shaped brown rice into little discs and deep-fried them, coated them with spicy gochujang sauce, piled on the classic bibimbap vegetable combinations (spinach, carrot, and bean sprouts), and topped it all with bulgogi and crispy little fried quail eggs.
A few notes on my experience:
- When brainstorming this recipe, I was originally shooting to make a “bibimbun” – some kind of burger where the crispy rice was one of the toppings, maybe mixed with a hint of parmesan for umami and binding. Ultimately I decided that as catchy as this pun was, I wanted to make the crispy rice the star of the show. But I like the ring of “bibimbun” far too much to not mention it.
- It is really hard to find quail eggs in New York in the winter! My Quail Egg Quest involved calling every single Whole Foods in Manhattan, at least a dozen other gourmet grocers, one Chinatown supermarket, and a few Japanese food marts. Katagiri, you are my savior.
- These crispy rice disks are insanely addicting, and I recommend you make them even though it’s time consuming and very messy. I suppose you could buy store-bought rice crackers and save your smoke alarm battery for when there are real fire hazards at bay.
- Although this is a pretty labor-intensive recipe, a lot of the prep work can be done well in advance – shape the rice disks and cook all the toppings except the quail eggs the night before, and the next day can be devoted to frying and assembly.
I could devour the rice crackers alone endlessly; with the bonus of spicy-sweet Korean flavors and a mini runny yolk, I’m a goner.
Bibimbites Recipe (makes 16)
- 3/4 lb beef, sliced thinly against the grain (flank, tenderloin)
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 chopped green onions
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 small white onion
- Thumb-sized piece of ginger
- 1 cup of raw brown or white rice
- Gochujang, to taste
- 4 cups of raw spinach
- 1 raw carrot, shredded
- 2 cups of raw bean sprouts
- 16 quail eggs
- Sesame oil, and canola oil
- Optional: sesame seeds
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Special equipment: lid of a mason jar, or a circular cookie cutter plus some sort of similarly sized flat circle press
The night before:
Marinate the bulgogi: Chop the green onions, garlic, white onion, and ginger finely and mix in with the other marinade ingredients. Place the beef in the marinade, mix well, (ziploc bag or covered bowl) and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
Prepare the rice crackers: cook 1 cup of brown rice with 1.5 cups of water in a rice cooker (1 cup white rice to 1 cup water if using white rice, or whatever it says on the package). When done cooking, you should have ~2 cups of rice. When the rice is still warm, form the rice patties (they won't stick together if using cooled rice). I made even patties by spooning 2 tbsp of cooked rice into the opening of a mason jar lid ring, disk removed, on a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I lifted the mason jar lid ring, put the disk into the ring, and placed it around/atop the small rice bed. I pushed down on the disk very hard to flatten the rice into a thin cracker, around half the thickness of the mason jar lid. Remove the ring first, then the disk by sliding it off horizontally rather than lifting, to avoid messing with the rice. You can probably do this with a cookie cutter and a spoon. Moistening the equipment and your hands helps it to not stick to the rice. Repeat with the rest of the rice, making 16 in total. Cover the tray of rice crackers well and refrigerate.
The day of:
Prepare the vegetables: Heat the sesame oil in a pan. Sautee the spinach over medium-high heat; add sesame seeds and a pinch of salt. Cook until wilted, and remove from heat. Cook the bean sprouts similarly (minus sesame seeds), stir-frying for ~5 minutes until cooked through but still crisp. Set aside with the raw carrots.
Cook the meat: Heat canola oil over medium-high heat and stir-fry the bulgogi until cooked through, around 5 minutes depending on the thickness of your strips. Set aside.
[These steps can be done in advance, and ingredients reheated right before assembly]
Fry the rice crackers: Heat canola oil in a dutch oven or non-stick skillet suited for high heat. The oil is hot enough when small bubbles form around a chopstick inserted into the oil (check the temperature at different parts of the pan). Gently, using a large spatula, slide the rice cakes into the oil, only a few at a time to avoid lowering the temperature of the oil. Fry for 4-5 minutes on each side - they are ready to flip and unlikely to break apart when they feel quite crisp on the top. If you flip too early, they will break. Set aside the rice crackers on a paper-lined plate to drain and cool slightly.
Fry the quail eggs: Over medium-high heat, fry the quail eggs a few at a time. To fry without breaking the yolk, gently pierce the top of each egg with a knife and lift off the top to make a hole large enough for the yolk to come through. Then drop it into the hot oil.
Assemble: Coat each rice cracker with a generous amount of gochujang (to taste), then add spinach, carrot, and bean sprouts, bulgogi, and quail eggs (in that order). Crackers are best within 1 hour of cooking, but this dish can be enjoyed hot or cold.