1 (Mon) February 2010
Kimchi Jjigae + Pan-Fried Hairtail
-Oksu (Joongang Heights Apts), Seongdong, Seoul, Korea-
In Korean cooking, two criteria qualify a soup dish as a “jjigae” (찌개), a term which is usually translated as “stew” in English: (i) the ratio of solid ingredients to broth, the less liquid the better; and (ii) the amount of seasoning in the broth and the resulting intensity thereof, the more intense the better. For example, kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) features a dense broth made with a lot of kimchi, as well as the salty, spicy juice runoff in the container, whereas kimchi guk (김치국) is a relatively simple soup made with just a few pieces of kimchi alone, which results in a more watery broth with a hint of kimchi flavor. Unlike tang (탕), a category of Korean soup that first requires making a stock, as discussed in a prior post (see 1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang), jjigae is usually made by combining all the ingredients in a single pot and boiling them together for a few minutes just prior to serving. Jjigae is almost always served with rice, either as a main dish or as part of a larger spread.
Kimchi Jjigae, a stew made with Korea’s most ubiquitous food item, is one of the most common types of jjigae across the country, be it in a restaurant or at home. In addition to kimchi, most offerings also include some meat component, typically sliced pork but sometimes SPAM or canned tuna or pike mackerel, along with tofu. Everyone has a different recipe and method.
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- 100 g pork
- 400 g kimchi (about 1.5 cups, 2 fistfuls)
- 1.5 tbsp sesame oil
- 500 ml water (2 cups)
- 1/2 cup kimchi juice
- salt or light soy sauce, ground white pepper, sugar to taste
1. Slice pork into strips or bite-sized chunks and saute in medium saucepan on medium-low heat with half tablespoon of oil for 2 minutes until brown.
TIP: Although the exact cut of pork isn’t important, one with an extremely high fat content is preferable, such as pork bellies. Rather than the meat per se, the fat renders into the broth to add depth of flavor.
2. Remove most of kimchi stuffing (i.e., sliced radish, minced garlic, and other condiments), slice cabbage into bite-sized pieces, add to pot with remaining oil, and saute for another 5 minutes until kimchi begins to wilt and darken.
TIP: The most important thing is to use richly seasoned and spiced kimchi that has fermented to the point where it’s distinctly sour, not one of the whiter versions marketed to non-Koreans; often, the kimchi for stew has been fermenting for an extended period, sometimes a year or more, sometimes for that very purpose. Technically, new kimchi would work, but the results just wouldn’t be the same, like the difference between cucumbers and pickles; no self-respecting cook would ever use new kimchi for stew.
TIP: As for the stuffing, some cooks toss everything into the pot, which would certainly add additional flavors, but personally I feel that the broth gets too messy with all the bits and pieces floating around; a good quality kimchi has enough flavor on its own.
3. Add water and kimchi juice, bring to boil, simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.
NOTE: The “kimchi juice” refers to the red liquid in the kimchi jar.
4. Season with salt, white pepper, sugar to taste.
TIP: The amount of salt depends on how rich the kimchi was to begin with. The amount of white pepper is a matter of preference; black pepper will also do, but the aroma of the white variety pairs well with the other spices. The amount of sugar, which balances out acidity, depends on how sour the kimchi was to begin with, just enough so that the broth isn’t sharp, but not so much that it becomes even mildly sweet.
TIP: At this point, the jjigae is done. A few cubes of firm tofu may be added a few minutes prior to the end, as well as a handful of chopped leeks or green onions for garnish, but none of these is necessary. The kimchi and pork should be tender. The broth should be slightly tart but rich and a bit thick.
5. Serve with steamed rice.