Recipe: Spicy Uhmook / Odeng Bokkeum (Stir Fried Fish Cakes 매콤 어묵볶음)

Fish cake, known as uhmook (and also odeng but odeng is derived from the Japanese word "oden", while uhmook is the proper Korean term) is a very popular food ingredient used in everything from snacks to anjoo dishes with drinks. It's perhaps most commonly eaten on a frequent basis as a simple banchan (side dish) to go with a Korean meal. This is especially so at the various baekban style restaurants and eating joints, with their many side dishes, that cater to office worker for a quick stop and go meal during the week as well as in the cafeteria of Korean school children.

Its popularity is aided by the fact it's:
1. inexpensive
2. (real talk) it has anywhere from a mild to heavy dosage of MSG in it that makes it a side dish that can last a while (as opposed to side dishes like sprouts and roots that go bad quicker)

Most of the cheaper joints out there will use lower quality uhmook. If you're buying it yourself at the market, you have a wider selection in quality. Generally, the pricier it is, the better quality (i.e. more fish, less fillers and flour).

As for this stir fry side dish, the general way to make it is a spicy version and non-spicy version. Among the spicy version, some like to use a gochujang (red pepper paste) base for the seasoning but I find it overpowers the delicate flavors of the fish. So I use a red pepper flakes-base seasoning that's both savory and sweet and pairs well with the uhmook. The quick blanching before frying also helps cut down on oils and additives without compromising on flavor.

And, most importantly, this side dish doesn't spoil quickly so it makes for a nice side on those busier nights :)

Spicy Uhmook / Odeng Bokkeum (Stir Fried Fish Cakes)
You'll need:
- 2 packages of Uhmook (fish cake) sheets, cut into 1.5" x .3" rectangles
- 1 small Onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 Carrot, sliced into thin matchsticks
- 1 small Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
- 1-2 Chili Pepper, thinly sliced (optional if you want it more spicy)

For the sauce:
- 2 tbsp of Red Pepper Flakes
- 3 tbsp of Soy Sauce
- 1.5-2 tbsp of Sugar
- 1 tbsp of Maesil Concentrate (매실액 or "maeshil aek" Which is the juice from Japanese Plum but add a bit more sugar if you don't have)
- 1 tsp of minced Garlic
- 1 tsp of Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp of Sesame Oil

1. Get a pot of water boiling on high heat and once it start boiling, add in the sliced uhmook sheets to parboil for just a minute before taking out the uhmook, rinsing it, and setting it aside. This step helps remove the excess oil and impurities from the factory-made uhmook and will help give the finished side dish a cleaner taste.

Make your seasoning sauce, taste and adjust as necessary, and then set aside.

2. Get a pan heated on medium high heat with some cooking oil and add the sliced carrot, onion, and bell pepper. Add just a pinch of salt and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until they soften a bit.

3. Add in your drained and cooled, parboiled uhmook slices into the pan with the vegetables. Stir and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until the uhmook slices start browning on the outside.

This is also when you want to add in your chopped chili if you choose to add them.

4. Add in your seasoning sauce and mix to coat. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for another 2 minutes until all the sauce is evenly mixed and soaked up.

Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top and serve right away with rice and other side dishes. The uhmook bokkeum keeps in the fridge quite well and can be reheated by microwave. Note though that repeated reheating in the microwave will dry them out so eat quickly!