Today I’m going to introduce you to gim-bugak, which is seaweed paper coated with glutinous rice paste and then fried. It tastes very crispy, airy, savory, and full of the fresh flavor of the sea that is unique to gim. When it’s coated with rice paste and dried and fried, it expands like a blooming white flower. And when you bite into it, it breaks softly and gently, but with a loud noise. It’s really unique!
The ingredients for gim-bugak are very simple, but it takes time, effort, and care to make. Be careful, it’s very addictive.
Bugak are a type of Korean dish that was developed by my ancestors as a way to preserve fresh ingredients well past their peak season. The key is in covering them in glutinous rice paste and then drying them out. This way they could be stored for a long time in a cool place, and then brought out in the winter when food was scarce. At that time they were fried and everyone could enjoy those peak season ingredients again. That’s the essence of bugak.
Bugak can be made with many kinds of vegetables and seaweeds. It’s very commonly made with gim, green chili peppers (gochu-bugak) and perilla leaves (kkaennip-bugak). Gim-bugak is definitely my favorite though.
When I lived in Korea, one of my friends gave me some gochu-bugak. She gave me a small plastic bag filled with them and said: “My mother-in-law brought this when she visited us. I’d like to share some with you.”
I thanked her many times and brought it home. Once I bit into it, the inside of my mouth and my tongue were tortured from to the spicy heat. I still remember how painful it was!
There are 2 tips for you to make good and pretty gim-bugak.. First, choose good quality gim, which should be thick, shiny and smooth, without many holes, and well dried.
Second, when you fry the bugak, use tongs and spatula to keep it flat and prevent it from curling up.
Good luck with making gim-bugak! Let me know how yours turns out!
14 sheets of gim (seaweed paper)
1 cup glutinous rice flour
2½ cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons silgochu (dried shredded red pepper), optional, cut into small pieces if used.
Vegetable oil for frying
You have a few options with this recipe. You can air-dry the bugak or use an electric dehydrator, and you can grill or fry it. All options are below.
Make rice paste
Mix glutinous rice flour, salt, and water in a pan with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Stir the mixture over medium heat with the wooden spoon until it thickens and it starts to bubble. Keep stirring until the color of the paste becomes a little translucent.
Remove from the heat and let it cool thoroughly.
Coat the gim
Place a sheet of gim on your cutting board with the shiny part down. Cover one half of it evenly with rice paste, using a brush or your hand. Fold it in half and evenly spread some rice paste on top. Place it in a basket or your electric dehydrator. Repeat this with the rest of gim and rice paste, adding more baskets as needed.
Garnish with sesame seeds and silgochu, if used.
Dry the coated gim
You can dry it naturally in the sun and air, or in an electric dehydrator. Once it’s dehydrated, keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to eat it.
Dry in an electric dehydrator (7 to 8 hours):
Close the dehydrator and set it to drying for vegetables.
Every 2 hours, turn off the machine, flip the bugak over, and flatten them out and shape with your hands as needed. Then cover and turn the machine on again
Dry them out for 7 to 8 hours, depending on your machine and your local climate, until they’re very hard and breakable.
Dry naturally (1 to 2 days):
Spread the bugak out so they can air out, preferably in a sunny breezy spot.
Every 2 hours, flip the bugak over, and flatten them out and shape with your hands as needed.
Dry them out for 1 to 2 days, depending on the weather and your local climate, until they’re very hard and breakable.
Dehydrated coated kim should be kept in the freezer until you’re ready to eat it. You’ll need to cook it before you can eat it. You can grill it if you want, but bugak is really meant to be fried.
Grill the dried coated gim:
You can gently grill it over any heat source until they are nicely cooked and a little scorched.
Fry the dried coated gim:
Heat up some oil in a skillet to 330° F. You can dip the tip of one piece in the hot oil and if it bubbles, it’s the right temperature to cook.
Pick up a piece with your tongs and place it into the hot oil, garnish part down. Let it fry for 5 seconds and keep it from curling up by holding it down with the tongs on one side and pressing it down with a spatula on the other side, so it fries flat. It’ll expand rapidly.
Flip it over and fry for another 5 seconds, holding it flat with with the tongs and the spatula.
Keep flipping it over every 5 seconds and holding it flat, until it’s fried and crispy for 20-25 seconds.
Put the fried gim-bugak in a strainer over a bowl, and fry all the gim-bugak that you want to serve.
Serve immediately as a side dish, snack, or with beer. It will be good for a few hours but if you want to keep it longer than that, keep it in a ziplock bag in the freezer.