During New Year’s, as part of tradition, our family visited many elderly relatives to pay our respects (세배 saebae). I didn’t particularly enjoy every visit (kind of boring to sit thru adults conversation.. ) but what I always looked forward to was eating the traditional Korean snacks and drinks that was served at each home.
Back then (late 60′s, early 70′s), in almost every home, Korean moms made at least one of two (if not both) drinks at home for the New Year holiday : Shikhye (or Sikhye 식혜) or Soojeongkwa (수정과). And along with these drinks, sweets like yakwa and hankwa was offered. I LOVED the sweet taste of shikhye, especially the soft, melt in your mouth rice that came floating in the drink. As for Soojeongkwa – I never found it yummy. Because I never liked the hot spicy taste of cinnamon and ginger together. There is usually so much of both, I felt my mouth was on fire!!!
Anyway, sadly, like many things these days, it is hard to find real home made shikhye anymore. If you ever tasted the canned shikhye/sikhye that is available in most Korean markets worldwide – I am so sorry… that is really NOT anything close to what the real one tastes like. The canned shikhye is nothing but sugar water. The real shikhye flavors are just not there…sad, sad..
I will show you how you make it the traditional way (well, semi-traditional since we do use the modern gadget called the “rice cooker”). BTW, the milled malt barley used here is the same malt used to make beer and bread. However, when a non-Korean malt barley is used, for some reason, it does not always produce the same effect. Perhaps it’s milled differently or not enough of the needed ingredients are in there.
Servings: 10 cups Cooking Time: 6~7 hrs Difficulty: Mod (Difficult if you want rice to float when served)
- 2 1/2 cup yeotkireum (엿기름) or milled malt barley
- 10 cup water
- 1 cup short grain rice
- 3/4 ~ 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
- pine nuts/dried jujubes/citron syrup/mint leaves (optional)
- Soak the crushed milled malt barley (yeotkireum 엿기름) in 10 C of warm water for 1 hour. While soaking, massage the malt barley with your hand 2-3 times so that all the good stuff gets loose from the husk.
*In the summer, be careful not to use too warm a water because it can actually spoil during the soaking process.
* The little green sprigs are the sprouts from the barley.
- Strain malt barley water, making sure you squeeze out all the good stuff by hand in the strainer before throwing it away.
- Rest the strained malt water for 2~3 hrs and you will see white sediments accumulate at the bottom of the bowl.*For a clearer sikhye, let it rest 4~5 hrs.
- In the mean time, cook 1 cup of rice. When cooking rice, use less water to produce a drier rice. The rice granules should easily separate when cooked and not stick together. The old traditional way is to steam the rice which produces the driest rice for sure but that’s a bit too much trouble..People also use leftover rice instead and it does an OK job – the result is just not as pretty.* And when the malt water looks something like below, you are ready to start the next step!
- Add the top liquid part of the malt barley water to the rice cooker with the cooked rice already in it. Leave the white sediments in the bowl as much as possible.* You do not need to pour all the liquid into the rice cooker. It just needs to fully cover your rice. Keep any remaining liquid in the bowl and let it rest until the step 7.
- Keep the rice + malt barley liquid mixture warm ( use the ‘keep warm’ option) in the rice cooker for around 5 hrs or more until about 4~5 rice granules rise to the top like so -
This means the amylase in the malt has been activated in the warm temperature and has transformed the starch in the rice into maltose making the rice lighter and therefore floating to the top.
*If you don’t have a rice cooker, keep it at 120~140 ℉ (50 ~60 ℃) in a double boiler.
- Now, based on what you want, choose one of the following:
- IF (you want the rice to float when served) THEN strain rice from liquid and rinse under running cold water and drain. Store in the fridge. Also be sure to use 1 cup sugar in step 8 to make the rice float.
- IF (all you care about is the taste) THEN leave the rice in the liquid
- Pour the liquid (and the rice, if you chose option 7.2) into a large pot and any remaining liquid from step 5, again making sure white sediments are not added. Add sugar. Use 1 cup sugar if you like sweet desserts and also if you want the rice to float. Otherwise, start with 3/4 cup.
- Boil on medium heat for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam while it’s boiling.Taste the sweetness and adjust sugar to taste. Also remember that the drink will taste less sweet when served cold.
And now you have a fabulous sweet, flavorful Korean rice dessert drink for parties and guests. Kids will also love this drink!
Cool and store this wonderfully sweet and delicious shikhye/sikhye in the fridge.
- Add couple pieces of sliced ginger to step 9 for additional flavor.
- For the floating rice effect, add the separately stored rice to the drink right before serving. The rice will only float for couple minutes so time it right. If the malt drink is not sweet enough, the rice may not float. Add a tsp of sugar to the cup and mix right before adding the rice. That should do the trick but I do have to warn you, this part is really tricky. It doesn’t always work..
- Traditionally, pine nuts, dried jujube sliced thinly are used as garnish.
- You can also use little bit of yuzu syrup (유자차 yuja cha) to add a citrus finish before serving.
- My recent favorite find – serve with some mint leaves and it adds a whole new level of freshness!
- Due to the amylase content of shikhye, it acts much like your saliva and helps with digestion. That’s why it is served as dessert after a full meal. So don’t forget to drink it when you feel like you are just too full!!
- Through generations it has been known that shikhye has an effect on nursing mothers – it drys up breast milk. So, don’t drink shikhye if you are pregnant or nursing just as a precaution.
- You can also use malt barley powder instead of the rough milled malt barley I used here. The good thing about this is that you don’t have to strain. But traditionally the rough milled malt is used and I think it has more flavor than the powder.