07 April 2015

Gosari Namul (Seasoned Fernbracken)

One of my all-time favorite Korean side dishes is gosari namul (고사리 나물), or Seasoned Fernbracken. It's something I could just keep nibbling on all throughout a meal, and it's the special ingredient that makes a bibimbap complete for me. Made from young fern shoots, this side dish has a deep savory flavor and delightful texture (perhaps likened to that of very thin asparagus) thanks to the traditional method of using young fern shoots that have been dried, rehydrated, and then simmered in soy sauce and other seasonings.

Though the modern food trend is to focus on fresh ingredients straight from the farm or garden, the technique of drying fernbracken--obviously a necessary method of food storage long ago--wonderfully transforms the flavor and texture of the young shoots. I sometimes wonder if drying/rehydrating might not deserve more consideration in our battery of culinary techniques today.

Namuls, a popular side dish (banchan, 반찬) in Korean meals, consist of some type of blanched vegetable seasoned simply with minced garlic, salt, and sesame oil. Besides gosari namul, classic namuls are also made with sigeumchi (spinach), kong (soybean sprouts), and other vegetables, and they are all fairly typical components of bibimbap. Though it might sound a bit exotic, the good news is that gosari namul is pretty easy to make, and you can find dried gosari in most any Korean market or purchase it online.

My Korean friends each have their own recipes, with the ingredient list varying slightly. I've made this particular recipe using dried anchovies and garlic to improve the depth of flavor, and I've gotten rave reviews from Koreans and non-Koreans alike.

If you're not planning on making a full-on multi-course Korean meal or bibimbap, of which this namul would be just a small component, there are still many ways to enjoy it! Try making a simple rice bowl with the gosari namul, sauteed greens, and a fried egg, or use it as an ingredient in kimbap and sushi rolls. Or, try mixing it up in a fusion meal, for example substituting it for sauteed mushrooms as an accompaniment to your next steak or pasta dish! What other ways do you like to eat gosari namul?


Gosari Namul

4 oz. (115 g) dried gosari (건 고사리)
6 small dried anchovies (마른 멸치), heads & black innards removed
6 Tbs. Korean soy sauce (간장)
3 large cloves garlic (마늘), minced
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil (참기름)

Place the dried gosari in a 4 quart pot and fill pot with water.  Cover pot and bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then turn off heat and let gosari soak for a few hours.  At this point you will have about 750 g (1 ½ pounds) of rehydrated gosari.  Drain gosari, then cut into 3 to 4-inch long pieces and set aside.

Place 6 anchovies and 2 cups water in the pot and boil until reduced to ½ cup of liquid.  Discard anchovies.  Reduce heat and add the Korean soy sauce, minced garlic, and sesame oil.  Next, add the rehydrated gosari and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, gently mixing to combine all ingredients thoroughly and to allow the flavors to blend.  Cool gosari and serve as a side dish or as a delicious component to bibimbap.

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