The Beer Lover's Table: Tteokbokki à la Vodka and Donzoko Super King Smoked Helles

You can take the girl out of the Mid-Atlantic, but you can’t take the Mid-Atlantic out of the girl.

It’s been more than 10 years since I relocated to London from New York (and before that, Philadelphia) and I still have not lost my love for vodka sauce – a staple of East Coast Italian-American cooking, sometimes known as “pink sauce” owing to the fact that it’s made with a base of both tomato and cream. Recipes vary widely, but – true to name – most are made with an enlivening shot of vodka.

As much as I love making classic penne à la vodka  (the vodka sauce in this recipe from Jon & Vinny’s in Los Angeles, as chronicled by Bon Appétit, is the best I’ve ever found), I was inspired to take it in another direction after stumbling upon a pasta recipe in Eater that riffed on vodka sauce but added gochujang, the Korean chilli paste. What if tteokbokki – the Korean dish featuring tteok rice cakes (thick, chewy, rice-flour-based cylinders) and a gochujang sauce – was married with penne à la vodka?

And so this recipe was born. Creamy, savoury, spicy and comforting, this is everything I want to eat during these deep, blue January days. It sticks to my resolution to cook solely vegetarian dishes this month, and while it doesn’t exactly adhere to the strictures of Dry January, if you’re going all in with that vodka shot you might as well extend to a beer pairing.

Donzoko’s Super King Smoked Helles is the perfect bet. Made with beechwood-smoked malt, the beer is heady with that warm, kindled fragrance. But its smoky character never overwhelms the base beer, which is sweetly bready, citric with hops, and utterly refreshing. That moreishness makes this beer a pleasure to wash down alongside the tteokbokki, while its smoke picks up the gochujang in the sauce perfectly. Together, you’ve got a meal to hunker down with, for as long as the latest cold spell lasts.

Tteokbokki à la Vodka
Loosely adapted from Jon & Vinny’s
Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil
3 large échalion shallots, finely diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
Fine sea salt, to taste
125g tomato purée
3 tablespoons gochujang
2 tablespoons vodka
300ml double cream
1 teaspoon gochugaru (substitute crushed chillis)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1kg tteok rice cakes (I used Jongga brand, which I found at my local Asian food store)
25g unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
Spring onions, finely sliced, to garnish

1. Add the olive oil to a large frying pan and place over medium heat.
Once hot, add the shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the shallots are softened and translucent. Add the garlic and season lightly with salt. Cook for 1-2 minutes more, or until the garlic has lost its raw smell.

2. Next, add the tomato purée and gochujang. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, or until the mix is a deep, brick red and starting to caramelise. Add the vodka and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until it has almost evaporated. Pour in the cream, mixing thoroughly until it is fully incorporated into the tomato mixture. Season with the gochugaru and the black pepper, to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.

 3. Place a medium saucepan of water on the hob and bring to the boil; once boiling, salt well. Add the tteok rice cakes. Cook until they have softened and float to the top, about 5-6 minutes. Drain, reserving a small bowl of the cooking water.

4. Return the frying pan with the sauce to the stove and place on low heat. Add the drained tteok rice cakes, the butter and a small splash of the reserved cooking water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick and glossy, and completely emulsified (add any additional cooking water if necessary). Taste and finish with 1-2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce, depending on how much salt is needed.

5. Divide the tteokbokki between bowls. Garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and spring onions and serve immediately.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers like these ones every month.