Nakji Bokkeum (Korean Spicy Octopus Stirfry)

Nakji Bokkeum (NAHKjee BOHKm) is one of my favorite dishes from childhood. I recently moved ten minutes away from a Koreatown, so now all the ingredients are super handy for me. The truth is most of these ingredients aren’t that exotic, but the baby octopus is hard to find in most places, and while you could replace gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) with other kinds of chili flakes, you don’t get that distinct Korean chili flake flavor from your widely available alternatives.

(Lol. These days, you can totally order both online, though.)

You can make this with baby octopus, which is quite tender, or squid. I don’t recommend using the bigger octopus because it can be quite chewy if you don’t prep or slice it just so. If you use large squid, you’ll want to cut the body into roughly 2″ long, 1/4″ wide strips, and the tentacles into roughly 2″ long pieces.

The greens you see in the back left of the pic in Step 2 are chrysanthemum greens, which are typical in Korean cuisine, but not necessarily typical in this dish. I just wanted to use them up.


  1. 1 pound baby octopus, body part cut in halves, tentacles cut into groupings of 2 or 3
  2. 3-4 Tablespoons gochugaru, depending on how hot you like your food
  3. 2-3 Tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you like your food
  4. 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  5. 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  6. 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  7. 1 Tablespoon minced ginger
  8. 1 onion, peeled and cut into 1/4" slices on the vertically
  9. 1 medium carrot cut into 1/8" slices
  10. 2 medium stems celery, cut into 1/8" slices diagonally
  11. 1/4 of a small head of cabbage, cut into 1/4" strips horizontally
  12. 2 king oyster mushrooms, cut into 1/4" pieces diagonally (you can sub with other kinds of mushrooms – about 1 cup total)
  13. oil
  14. 1/4 cup water


  1. In a bowl, mix gochugaru, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger until it’s a well incorporated paste.

  2. Mise en place is really important for stir fry because the cooking goes fast, and you want all your ingredients handy.

  3. In a large wok or saute pan, bring 2 teaspoons of oil up to high heat, then stir fry the octopus *just* until all the pieces turn opaque. Set aside in a large dish or platter. No need to salt the octopus if it hasn’t been rinsed of the salt from the ocean water.

  4. Keeping the heat on high, preheat 1 Tablespoon of oil in your wok/saute pan, and stir fry half your veg, just until they all get a bit of sear. (If this is the batch with your onions, onions *just* starting to turn translucent is a good indication of when they’re ready.)

    Season with just a pinch of salt and set aside with the octopus.

  5. Repeat Step 4 with the rest of your veg.

  6. Keeping the heat on high, put 2 Tablespoons oil in your wok/saute pan, and add your paste right after. Give it a good stir so the oil will lightly cook the garlic and ginger and caramelize the sugar in the paste. This should only take 15 to 20 seconds.

  7. Keeping the heat on high, add the octopus and veg back into the wok/saute pan along with 1/4 cup water, and toss thoroughly until all the paste/sauce is well integrated with the octopus and veg.

    That’s it! Enjoy with a bowl of steamed rice. 🙂

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