So, one of the annual events that most Jejuites take part in is the picking of wild gosari, or bracken fiddleheads. They are a prized ingredient here on Jeju with the wild varieties being rich in calcium, protein, and dietary fiber. They are so important that ajummas and halmonis (actually most Jeju elderly) scour the mountainside in search of the long, unique looking fern that make itself available in spring. My partner and I got to experience our first gosari picking with the help of a local friend, who happens to be so good at finding and picking enough gosari to sell at the market. Note: our friend even closes his popular curry restaurant during the short picking season to make some extra income. Luckily for us newbies, we learned quickly from our veteran friend and picked just enough to prepare one of my favorite soups, yukgaejang (spicy beef soup with vegetables).
I have fond memories of yukgaejang during my childhood. I remember my mom would cook a huge pot of this spicy soup with a lot of stringy beef brisket, lasting us days if not weeks on end. The best part about this soup is the chunkiness and the harmonious nature of the ingredients. You have the long strands of shredded brisket with the equally long pieces of leeks or scallions, gosari, and bean sprouts that make it a hearty, lumberjack of a meal. Another aspect that makes it unique is the gosari itself, providing another interesting texture to the dish while at the same time giving the broth a deep earthiness. Needless to say, I couldn’t get enough of this soup as a kid, and I’m so glad that I could reconnect to it by having wild gosari to work with for this particular batch.
Note: Most likely you will not have wild gosari to cook with, but dried gosari will be sold in packages at most Korean markets and Asian grocers. Simply rehydrate by a soaking in water for at least 30 minutes before boiling in the soup. Gosari can also be used as a popular side dish called gosari namul, where it’s boiled and then sauteed with few seasonings. You might have seen it in a bowl of bibimbap.
Another note: Substitute the beef with chicken and you have dak yukgaejang, providing an even healthier alternative to the traditional, classic dish. In Jeju Island, yukgaejang is made with pork in a thick broth similar to momguk. Here’s a great article featuring the two dishes explained by Yang, Yong Jin, a Jeju cuisine expert and someone I had the pleasure of meeting recently.
- For beef stock:
- 1 lb. beef brisket or skirt steak, ripped into thin strands
- 2 leeks, quartered
- 4 garlic cloves, halved
- 1 small onion, halved
- 1 piece of radish
- For soup:
- 1 oz. dried gosari (fernbrake), cut into 3-inch pieces
- 8 oz. soybean sprouts (or mung bean sprouts)
- 4 daepa (leeks), cut into 3-inch pieces
- 3 tbsp gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
- 1 tbsp gochujang (red pepper paste)
- 3 tbsp soy sauce (preferably guk ganjang, soup soy sauce)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tbsp chili oil
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 eggs, beaten (optional)
- In a large pot, combine all the ingredients for the beef stock and roughly 6 cups of water. Boil at least 45 minutes, refilling with water if necessary. Remove the beef and strain the stock, set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred the beef by hand and set aside.
- Clean and cut vegetables into uniformed lengths. Gosari should be soaked at least 30 minutes prior to usage.
- In another large pot, saute the vegetables with chili oil, 5 minutes or until wilted. If you don’t have chili oil, you can saute vegetable oil and red pepper spices to make your own chili oil.
- Add the beef stock to the pot with the remaining seasonings. Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for 25 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot with rice and enjoy!