Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)

Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)Food is so often about memory and for me gimbap will forever remind me of one thing: icebergs.

It may seem like an unlikely association to have with this Korean staple, but it’s hardly surprising given that first time I had gimbap I was sailing across an impossibly blue glacial lake in the heart of Patagonia. I watched with awe as an iceberg the size of a double-decker bus floated by like a feather on water, all the while merrily munching on my gimbap packlunch. It was certainly a surreal experience and one I’ll never forget, both visually and culinarily speaking.

Admittedly Argentina might seem like the least likely place to find gimbap (or kimbap), but our hotel in El Calafate was run by a delightfully un-Argentinian Korean family and they happened to offer gimbap as a packed lunch option. Of course I couldn’t resist ordering it for our planned boat tour on Lago Argentino! At this stage of our trip I was understandably sick of empanadas so I jumped at the chance to try something different. More than that, however, I was intrigued that these Korean expats had deemed gimbap worthy of re-creating in this one-horse town in the depths of Patagonia. It couldn’t be an easy (or cheap) undertaking, so to my mind it most definitely had to be worth ordering!

So yes, Koreans sure do love their gimbap.

With its origins found in the Japanese occupation of Korea, gimbap literally translates to seaweed (gim) rice (bap) and is Korea’s answer to sushi (specifically norimaki), but with a few key differences.

The first major departure is the rice. Whilst short-grained rice is used in both, the difference lies in the dressing. Instead of the rice vinegar dressing that is used in Japanese sushi, gimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil and salt.

Secondly, the gimbap fillings are all pre-cooked which means that gimbap keeps for far longer than sushi does – making it a popular option for picnics and takeaway lunches. Although typically eaten alone, mini-gimbaps are also served as a side dish to the pre-eminent and spicy manifestation of Korean street food  that is ttoekbokki (떡볶이).

Another key difference is the texture of the seaweed wrapping. Although similar seaweed sheets are used in both gimbap and norimaki, the seaweed used for gimbap becomes much chewier as it is typically eaten long after it has been rolled and as such, absorbs the moisture from the rice.

There are really no limits to the variations of gimbap fillings, but generally speaking the most commonly found are sogogi (beef) gimbap (소고기 김밥) and chamchi (tuna) gimbap  (참치김밥). I have included the ingredient lists for both beef and tuna gimbap below. Once the ingredients have been prepared the process for making the rice and assembling the gimbap remains the same regardless of the fillings.

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Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)

Sogogi (BEEF) gimbap (소고기 김밥): Makes 32 portions

  • 2 cups short-grained (sushi) rice
  • 4 sheets of dried seaweed (laver/nori), lightly toasted
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

Fillings:

  • 80 to 100g lean beef mince
  • 1 medium carrot, julienned into 5cm lengths
  • 4 x 20cm lengths danmuji 단무지 (yellow pickled daikon or Takuan 沢庵 in Japanese)
  • 80g young spinach
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Seasonings for the beef:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tsp. soya sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. spring onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted and ground

Method for making BEEF GIMBAP:

  1. Rinse the rice 3 times in clean water and then leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and cook as per your preferred method. Season the rice with salt and sesame seed oil. Cover with a kitchen cloth and leave to cool to room temperature
  2. In a hot pan, stir-fry the julienned carrots with a little oil and some salt. Once cooked remove and leave to cool
  3. Place all the seasoning ingredients for the beef into a bowl and mix. Add the beef and combine. Fry the beef in a hot pan (the same one you used for the carrots will do). Drain off any excess oil and leave to cool
  4. Fill a bowl with water and some ice-cubes. Bring a pot of lightly salted water up to the boil and then blanch the spinach until just wilted (no more than a minute). Drain and immediately place in iced water. Drain again and using your hands, gently squeeze out as much water as you can. Place to one side
  5. Sogogi (BEEF) gimbap (소고기 김밥)Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Heat a rectangular omelette pan and add a touch of oil. Pour in all the egg mixture and leave to cook for a minute. Just before the omelette sets, flip the egg over onto itself LENGTHWAYS. Once it is cooked through completely, leave to cool before cutting it into 20cm strips
  6. When you are ready to make your gimbap, place a sheet of the seaweed on a sushi rolling mat (shiny side down). Have a small bowl of water close to hand
  7. Spread a thin layer of rice on the seaweed, leaving a 2cm border at both the top and bottom
  8. In the centre of the rice, place all the fillings in neat rows. Be careful not to over fill the gimbap
  9. Starting from the bottom, roll up the mat
  10. Moisten the top border of the seaweed with a touch of water to seal
  11. Use your sharpest knife to cut the gimbap into 8 equal pieces. Clean and moisten your knife before each cut

Chamchi (TUNA) gimbap  (참치김밥): Makes 32 portions

  • 2 cups short-grained (sushi) rice
  • 4 sheets of dried seaweed (laver/nori), lightly toasted
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

Fillings:

  • 1 can of tuna, drained
  • 4 x 20cm lengths danmuji 단무지 (yellow pickled daikon or Takuan 沢庵 in Japanese)
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into strips
  • 12 perilla leaves (kkaennip) or if not available use some Romaine or Baby Gem lettuce (leaves separated)
  • 8 sticks of crab meat

Seasonings:

  • 2 tsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 tsp. soya sauce
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. spring onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted and ground

Method for making TUNA GIMBAP:

  1. Rinse the rice 3 times in clean water and then leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and cook as per your preferred method. Season the rice with salt and sesame seed oil. Cover with a kitchen cloth and leave to cool to room temperature
  2. Combine the seasoning ingredients in a small bowl (everything except the spring onion and sesame seeds). In a hot pan, stir-fry the drained tuna with a splash of oil. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the combined seasoning mixture. Cook for another couple of minutes then take off the heat. Mix in the chopped spring onions and toasted sesame seeds. Leave to cool
  3. Chamchi (TUNA) gimbap (참치김밥)Wash the perilla or lettuce leaves and dry thoroughly
  4. When you are ready to make your gimbap, place a sheet of the seaweed on a sushi rolling mat (shiny side down). Have a small bowl of water close to hand
  5. Spread a thin layer of rice on the seaweed, leaving a 2cm border at both the top and bottom
  6. In the centre of the rice, first place a line of three perilla leaves (or lettuce leaves). Lay all the remaining fillings on top of the leaves, in neat rows. Be careful not to over fill the gimbap
  7. Starting from the bottom, roll up the mat
  8. Moisten the top border of the seaweed with a touch of water to seal
  9. Use your sharpest knife to cut the gimbap into 8 equal pieces. Clean and moisten your knife before each cut
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