A simple composition of some very specific ingredients can lend authenticity to a Kimchi Jjigae that rivals many restaurant versions.
Korean culture has a remarkable soup tradition, far more than any other ethnic or regional group, with hundreds of established named soups (both warm and cold) and many, many more variations. These can be largely categorized as either guk (soups) or jjigae (stews), with the latter composed of more solids than liquid or broth.
Kimchi jjigae, or “kimchi stew,” is as close to a national dish that the Korean people have. It consists of little more than pork, mushrooms, vegetables, tofu and kimchi with some native flavor additions. Although the preparation of this dish may be quick and easy, acquiring the particular ingredients may be challenging depending on your area grocers. A specialty or local Asian market is almost a requirement over national chain stores.
Kimchi, of course, is that fermented cabbage and vegetable medley ubiquitous in Korean meals. It is a spicy, crunchy slaw with a particular tang usually served chilled (and if you can find freshly made local versions, all the better). Gochujang is a robust chili and bean paste that imparts the majority of the characteristic flavors for the broth. Fortunately, it has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the food media, so this paste is often available in the ethnic aisle of Western groceries.
The red chili powder known as gochugaru may be the most difficult ingredient to source. It consists of a finely ground red chili native to Asia that has a subtle yet distinct fruity depth and carries most of the heat in this stew. Purists will claim it is absolutely essential–and substitutions will fall short–but fresh cayenne can be used in its place if necessary.
Serve this stew with steamed rice, pickled vegetables, or even hard-boiled eggs. Although not necessary for the home preparation, Korean meals are often accompanied by as many as a dozen small dishes (banchan) of condiments for customizing the dish to taste.
1 lb pork shoulder
2 c kimchi
4 oz oyster mushrooms
8 oz firm tofu
½ yellow onion
2 T mirin
For the base:
1 t chili powder (gochugaru)
2 T gochujang
2 T soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic
1 Cut the pork into thin strips and marinate in the mirin and pepper for at least 15 min.
2 Mince the garlic and mix with the rest of the base ingredients until combined.
3 Slice the onion and mushrooms into strips, and chop the scallions. Roughly chop the kimchi (if needed), and cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces.
4 Sauté the kimchi in a pot until soft, about 5 min. Add the pork and onions and stir together until cooked through, another 5-10 min.
5 Add the mushrooms and base along with 2 c water. Gently mix the ingredients together and bring to a boil, then lay the tofu on top. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 min.
6 Garnish with the chopped scallions. Serve with steamed rice and traditional condiments.