Properly toasted sesame seeds are a very important ingredient in Korean cuisine. They add a wonderful, toasted nuttiness to many Korean dishes, and are particularly important in giving vegetarian dishes an extra dimension of flavor. Other cultures use sesame seeds in their cooking but to me, properly toasted sesame seeds are part of what make Korean food distinctly Korean. When Koreans refer to sesame seeds, the fact that they are toasted is understood by all – no Korean would even consider using raw or untoasted sesame seeds in any dish. We love toasted sesame seeds.
I take my toasted sesame seeds seriously! I always have some on hand. I toast a few cups at a time and store them in the freezer, and take some out little by little over the next few months until I have to toast some more. And when I travel, I always bring a little stash with me for cooking on the road or livening up a dish. I’ve also given toasted sesame seeds as gifts! For me, that’s a great present!
When you buy sesame seeds to toast, get raw sesame seeds, called cham-kkae in Korean. If you can’t find these, you can buy pre-roasted sesame seeds, called bokkeun-kkae or bokkeum-kkae in Korean in the store. Bokkeum or bokkeun means “toasted.” If you buy toasted (or roasted) sesame seeds in the store, it’s always a good idea to toast them again before using them to give them a boost of nutty flavor, because they might have been toasted a long time ago.
As you see, this recipe is very simple, but it’s all in the technique. It’s best to wash the seeds well, so toasting makes them plump, and take care of them so they don’t burn.
- 1 cup raw sesame seeds
- Put the sesame seeds in a bowl and fill it with cold water. Stir and agitate by hand. Remove any brownish debris floating on the surface.
- Strain the seeds. Fill the bowl up with water and dip the strainer into the bowl so the seeds are submerged. Firmly rub them against each other with your hand to clean them. Take the strainer out of the bowl and you’ll see the water is brownish and any sand, mud, or stones from the seeds have sunk to the bottom.
- Wash the sesame seeds under running water, stirring and turning them over in the strainer until the water runs through clear. Drain the water and use a wooden spoon to press on the seeds and squeeze out any excess water.
- Transfer the seeds to a heated skillet or pan over medium high heat. Stir the seeds occasionally with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes until all of them are dried. Some seeds will start to pop.
- Lower the heat to medium and keep stirring for about 7 to 8 minutes until the seeds are evenly golden and crispy. They’ll pop as they cook. Take a few sample and taste. The seeds should be crispy and nutty and crumble nicely in your mouth.
- Remove from the heat and let them cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 month, or up to 3 months in the freezer.