Elwood 5566

The Pleasure of a Deadly Dolsot (돌솥)

Posted in Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on March 30, 2011

a solid rock dolsot (돌솥)

It looks like a mushy mess when mixed up and the first time you experience it you probably discard the crispy rice that frazzles in the bottom of the dish. It was one of my first culinary experiences in Korea but it instantly made an impression and on almost on every occasion I eat it I am nostalgically transported back to that inaugural introduction. Dolsot bibimbap is basically ‘stone-pot mixed rice’ (돌솥 비빔밥) and the reason for the stone pot, the ‘dolsot,’ is that it can be heated to a searing temperature and continues cooking as you eat. Indeed, cooking and eating with a dolsot demands caution and in restaurants the heavy bowl is often encased in a wooden holder to prevent injury.

slightly rough texture and heavy

dolsot bibimbap

The ‘bibimbap,’ which can alternatively be eaten in a normal bowl without searing properties and using cooked rice, without a raw egg, usually consists of vegetables, meat or fish and a sauce based on red pepper paste (고추장) but there are numerous personal and regional variations. The ingredients are placed on top of the rice in an aesthetic manner and you mix them with sauce at your table. Though it looks quite messy when mixed, it is delicious. One advantage of the dolsot version is that rice is seared to a crisp on the bottom of the bowl forming what Koreans call nurungji (느룽지). My first introduction to toasted rice which is capable of cracking your teeth was through a friend’s mother who at breakfast one morning politely plied me with all the scrapings from the bottom of a dolsot bowl. Being in her late sixties and emerging from a Korea quite different from today, she relished nurungji and passing it to a guest was an honour. At the time however, I didn’t understand the significance. Often, nurungji crust is served in a bowl with warm water and at first doesn’t seem too much different from drinking boiled rice water in which a handful of rice has been steeped but like so many Korean foods, it grows on you. If I go to one of my favourite restaurants and they have run out of nurungji, I am always a little disappointed.

nurungji (누룽지) in a wooden holder

If you want to make your own dolsot bibimbap you can easily buy a bowl in markets and supermarkets. I recently bought one in E-Marte and it cost 33.000 (about £16). I’ve read numerous accounts of bowls that leak or are cracked and it seems that small cracks are acceptable but mine is unblemished. A dolsot pot often has a metal strip around the neck and base, is grey or blackish in colour and is slightly rough to the touch; it should not be confused with a ‘ddukbaegi’ (뚝배기) which is a much lighter earthenware pot which is usually glazed.

a ddukbaegi – not to be confused with a dolsot

If you want to make truly decent dolsot bibimbap you need a dolsot and not a ddukbaegi; not only can a dolsot be heated to a far higher temperature but it retains the heat for much longer. My ddukbaegi is off the boil the moment I turn off the gas range and is cold by the time I’ve eaten from it. The dolsot however, requires small amounts of water to be poured into the bowl as you are eating as the contents are still cooking and hence dehydrating. Even after fifteen minutes, water poured into the bowl will instantly bubble and spit when it contacts the base and the dolsot needs time to cool down before it can be manhandled.

waiting for action

One tip for cleaning the bowl is to use coarse grain salt and a cloth which very effectively rips off any adhesion. You cannot use this method on a ddukbaegi because of the smooth surface. As I have stressed, the dolsot demands caution when using it and I always worry about inadvertently lifting the lid off the pot as I would a usual cooking pot. I have never done this with a ddukpaegi but the temperature of the dolsot is infinitely greater. You can buy a simple device for picking up hot ddukpaegi (I’m not sure of dolsot but safety would demand using two hands because of their weight).

I do not know how much quality varies but I notice that you can buy a dolsot the same size (18cm) as the one I purchased in E-Mart for as little as 19.000 Won (£10).  There are also different sizes, 16cm, 20cm, 22cm (HonsuMart.com)

There is no mistaking the dolsot is deadly. It has the potential not just to scold the user but if dropped on the toes it will easily break them. And another downside to enjoying its contents is the heat; the bibimbap is so bloody hot you need half an hour to eat it! But the risks are well worth it!

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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