One of my goals of 2014 is to experiment with a few new cuisines. You guys picked Korean last week in a close poll and, to be honest, I was a bit intimidated. But I tried to start simple with the classic Korean dish called bibimbap, which just means “mixed rice.”
As you might guess, the dish is completely flexible. You can put almost anything in and on it with one exception. It seemed like every recipe I found during my research used one ingredient that I’d never heard of and definitely couldn’t find in the supermarket.
It’s call gochujang paste. It’s spicy, savory, and definitely worth the work to find it if you want to make this Tofu Bibimbap authentic.
1) For sauce, mince garlic very fine and stir together with other ingredients. You can make the sauce well in advance and store it in the fridge if you want.
2) For tofu, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay out a few paper towels on a flat surface and place tofu on paper towels. Cover tofu with paper towels and add some weight to the tofu to press out the liquid. Let the tofu press for at least 20 minutes.
3) Add a drizzle of vegetable oil to a baking dish and add pressed tofu. Top each piece of tofu with a small drizzle of the bibimbap sauce.
4) Bake tofu for 60 minutes, turning once halfway through.
5) Meanwhile, cook rice according to instructions. I like to use a short grain white rice, but any rice will work.
6) When you are about ready to serve, saute grated carrots and peppers with a drizzle of oil in a large skillet. Just cook until the veggies start to soften, but still have a tiny crunch, maybe a minute or two.
7) Add another drizzle of oil to the pan and toss in the sliced shiitake mushrooms and cook over high heat for 3-4 minutes. You can toss in some bird chilis as well if you want to add some additional heat to the dish. Don't eat the bird chilis though. They will be too hot!
8) Finally, you can wipe out the skillets, add a fresh drizzle of oil, and crack in a few eggs. Cook the eggs for 60 seconds until the whites are just set. Then you can either flip the eggs or cover the skillet and let the eggs steam for 30 seconds. Try not to overcook the yolk though.
Make the bowls by scooping a big spoon of rice into each bowl and stirring in some of the sauce. Top with carrots, peppers, mushrooms, sliced fresh cucumber, sliced tofu, the egg, and extra sauce on the side.
Bibimbap sauce adapted from My Korean Kitchen recipe.
The Right Sauce
Piling stuff in a bowl is not exactly hard, but I really wanted to hunt down this ingredient that I’d never heard of and try it out. You can order it on Amazon, but it’s kind of expensive so I took a trip out to my favorite Asian market and found a few different varieties.
All of the options I saw were in the refrigerated section, kind of near the tofu, and I just chose the spiciest variety.
When I got home, I cracked my paste open and gave it a taste on its own.
This is not something I would recommend. The paste is very spicy, salty, and savory. It’s way strong on its own, but at the same time I’ve never tasted anything like it so I knew it was worth the work to find it.
The other ingredients in the sauce are pretty easy to find and once you mix them all together you’ll be left with a bright red sauce that’s a bit sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. It’s the perfect sauce honestly and you’ll be pouring it on your bowl later.
Gochujang Substitute: If you live in or near a decent-sized city, I bet you can find gochujang. It’s a popular ingredient and most Asian markets will carry it, but if you just can’t be bothered, I think you could substitute chili garlic sauce which almost any supermarket will have. If you do this, leave out the fresh garlic in the recipe. To be honest, the sauce won’t be as good, but it’ll be serviceable for sure.
Prepping the Tofu
You can make bibimbap with almost any protein, but I was craving tofu for some reason on this day so that’s what I used.
To make mine, I pressed my pieces between a few paper towels and some weight (a bowl of water) for about 20 minutes to press out a lot of the moisture. Then I drizzle the tofu with some vegetable oil and slathered each piece with some of my bibimbap sauce.
Bake the tofu at 350 degrees F. for about 60 minutes and turn it once halfway through.
The finished tofu should be browned and crispy around the edges. It’ll be spicy and chewy and perfect in a bowl.
The base of any bibimbap is rice and there’s no rule on what kind of rice you need to use. Any rice will totally work, but I just used some short-grained white rice. I boiled my rice until it was just cooked, then drained, and steamed it for a few minutes until it was light and fluffy.
Meanwhile, add a drizzle of oil to a large skillet and saute some grated carrot and sliced red pepper. Don’t overcook these. Just cook them until they are slightly soft, but still have some crunch to them.
It should only take a minute or two over medium-high heat.
When those are done, add another drizzle of oil and add your mushrooms. I used shiitake but you could use cremini mushrooms also.
I tossed in a few bird chilis whole with my mushrooms to give them some extra heat. If you do this, don’t actually eat the bird chilis. They will be super-spicy. Just cook with them and then discard them. If you do want to serve them, at least dice them up very finely.
The mushrooms will need around five minutes of cooking to lose their moisture and sear nicely.
When they are done, the last piece of the bibimbap puzzle (at least my puzzle) is a good egg.
Crack in an egg and cook it for about 60 seconds over medium-high heat until the whites are set. Then you can either flip the egg or if you want it to be really pretty, cover the pan with a lid and let it steam for 30 seconds.
Then if you want to get even crazier, use a biscuit cutter to make it a perfect egg.
To make a Tofu Bibimbap bowl, add a big scoop of rice to each bowl and stir in some of the sauce. Then top each bowl with veggies, mushrooms, fresh cucumbers, tofu, egg, and extra sauce on the side.
I must say, these Tofu Bibimbap bowls turned out much better than I thought they would, but it was entirely due to the sauce. It’s crazy addicting.
Betsy said it tasted really authentic and the sauce completely made the dish.
So I think I’m one for one on Korean dishes so far and now I have a huge container of gochujang to use for future dishes. Or I might just start using it light sriracha and slather the stuff on everything.