There’s a reason why ganjang gaejang (간장게장) is one of the side dishes we call 밥도둑 (bap doduk), or “rice thief” in Korean. That’s because it’s impossible to stop sucking up the succulent, salty and gamchil (umami) marinated flesh along with generous spoonfuls of rice to offset the intense flavors. But seeing Korean food get sweeter and sweeter is such a pity, so I decided to try coming up with a recipe without sugar that uses traditional soy sauce. So… now that I’ve tried it, I understand why people called me crazy for trying… BUT! The flavor is truly different. Instead of sugar, I used a ton of vegetables, fruits and spices to add sweetness. After a lot of trial and error, I hit on a marinade we all liked: It uses a slightly saltier soy sauce, a little more water, and a lot more vegetables. The final result? A pretty mild ganjang gaejang with lots of complex flavors.
Try using whatever traditional soy sauce and produce you have in your area and let us know how it turns out in the comments! Since the sweetness of produce varies so much, I’d recommend tasting your soy sauce brine and aiming for a sweetness level that’s close to a ripe banana (and if you want it sweeter, go ahead and add a little sugar). Ggot-gae can be hard to find outside of Korea—if you are using Western blue crab, make sure to gently break the shell before serving so people can enjoy the soft insides without breaking their teeth. You can also substitute soft-shell crab when it’s in season and chew on the shells like we do in Korea. 🙂
And once it’s all done, as a solemn ceremony, don’t forget to finish eating each crab by mixing a spoonful or two of steamy hot rice into the shell with the eggs and innards. These last few bites will melt like the richest, creamiest butter in your mouth. Even if you think you’re not a big fan of raw meat or seafood, ganjang gaejang is something you should try at least once in your life.
4 to 5 medium-sized ggot-gae (Korean blue crabs)
500ml joseon ganjang (traditional soy sauce)
300ml cheongju (clear rice wine), or cooking saké or vodka
1 large baechu (korean cabbage), cut into 4cm pieces.
1 large mu (radish), cut into 4cm pieces
1 bae (Asian pear), sliced thickly
1 large onion, cut into about 6 pieces
1 large daepah (giant green onion), cut into about 6 pieces
1 green chilli and 1 red chilli, sliced, for marinade and garnish
1 dried red chilli
10 garlic cloves (slice 3 pieces for marinade and use 7 whole cloves for stock)
10 gamcho (liquorice root) slices
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 piece ginger, about half the size of your thumb
1. Clean individual ggot-gae with a brush (I used an old toothbrush). Brush them thoroughly and pay extra attention to the belly side. Open the belly shell gently without breaking it, and brush the inside where the gills are under cold running water.
2. Dice your vegetables as explained above in the ingredients section.
3. Place crabs in a strainer belly side down to drain out any moisture. Leave about 10 minutes. Once most of the water has drained, place crabs belly up in a large bowl and pour the cheongju onto them. Let them sit in the fridge.
4. Meanwhile, add water, ganjang, and your cut vegetables to a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a full boil, simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until you can taste the sweet flavors from the vegetables.
5. Take the crabs out of the refrigerator, pour the cheongju out into the simmering stock pot, and simmer for 30 more minutes. Put the crabs back into the refrigerator.
6. Strain the stock and cool it completely (try an ice bath). NB: It should not be room temperature, it needs to be cold. This will be your marinade.
7. Place the crabs belly up in an airtight lidded container. If you place them belly-down, the precious crab eggs and innards will dissolve and leak from the shells. Also, the marinade doesn’t penetrate very well. Pour the marinade over the crabs and add sliced garlic and chilies. Close the lid and leave it in the refrigerator for 2 days.
8. After 2 days, pour and strain the liquid into a stock pot, bring it to a hard boil, skimming any foam and impurities off the surface (the foam comes from crab proteins). This step is really important to kill off any harmful bacteria and also increase the salinity level as the crabs release liquid into the marinade.
9. Cool the marinade again as in step 6, pour over the belly-up crabs and put them back into the refrigerator again for 2 more days.
How to serve: Take out a crab from the container and crack open the belly cover. Be careful not to lose any eggs or organs. Get rid of the gills using scissors or fingers. Cut the body into 4 pieces crosswise. Place the body and shell on a plate. Drizzle marinade ganjang over the meat and shell. Garnish with sliced chilies and toasted sesame seed. Serve with steaming hot rice.
How to eat: Suck out the body and leg meat first. Once you are done with the crab meat, add a few spoonfuls of hot rice into the shell where the organs are. Mix in a dash of the ganjang marinade and enjoy this little taste of heaven!