Here’s a hint for anyone who comes over to our house and is treated to kimchi jjigae (stew): I make it when I don’t have much time to cook, but still want to make something tasty and hearty.
…I probably shouldn’t say that, but the point is this: I love making kimchi jjigae. My mother used to make it all the time and she trained us early to love Korean spices. Hence the love of kimchi and all Korean food, for that matter. And even though I’ll never cook as well as her and she often scoffs at my plebeian methods and shortcuts, I try anyway (insert the necessary and stereotypical: this is for you, ma!).
Traditionally, this is supposed to be cooked with pork belly (samgyupsal), but I rarely have that in my fridge. What I do have, however, is bacon. Bacon tastes delicious and is therefore an excellent cheaper alternative to samgyupsal. So I guess you could call this a Poor and Lazy Man’s Kimchi Jjigae.
An important note on the kimchi: for this jjigae, you want to use older/leftover kimchi because you want the kimchi to be over-fermented. This means the cabbage leaves should be soft and slightly translucent. If your kimchi is TOO fermented to the point of being sour and is not to your taste, you can temper that by adding a tsp or so of sugar. If your kimchi is NOT fermented enough (the leaves are crunchier and whiter), you can still cook this dish, but I would recommend adding a little more gochujang and letting the stew cook for a lot longer so that the kimchi softens more. I believe you can also add a little vinegar if the stew isn’t sour enough for you, but I’ve never tried that because I don’t like my jjigae that sour. Add any of the above if it’s according to your tastes, and I would at least test-taste once before you add the tofu.
This recipe serves 4
Approximate time: 30-60 min, depending on how much time you have
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp minced garlic
4-6 strips of bacon
~6 cups water
3 cups kimchi
3 tbsp kimchi juice (from your jar of kimchi)
1 tbsp gochujang/chili paste (really nice to have, but optional)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3-4 scallion stems, chopped
1 cup tofu (1/2 a package of tofu)
1 egg (or more, depending on how many people you are feeding)
In a shallow pot (I use our wok, because clearly that is what it is for), heat the sesame oil on low. While you are waiting for the pot to heat up, cut the bacon strips into quarters. You probably should use a knife, but I’ve found that bacon sometimes isn’t very cooperative and therefore cut my bacon with kitchen scissors. Do what you must. Stir occasionally so that the garlic doesn’t burn as you wait for the bacon to cook.
Once the bacon is mostly cooked (after a couple of minutes), add the kimchi and kimchi juice. Pour water over the top until the kimchi is just submerged (if you plan to cook the jjigae for a longer amount of time, be aware that some of the water will evaporate and you may need to add more before you add the egg(s)). Stir in some gochujang and red pepper flakes if you have them. I highly recommend at least adding gochujang to the jjigae, because it not only gives an extra kick, but more importantly thickens the soup base.
Add your chopped onions and scallions. Turn the heat to high and bring the pot’s contents to boil.
Chop your tofu into 1 inch cubes and toss them in. Then, close the lid and reduce the heat for the jjigae to simmer for about 20-30 minutes. I recommend simmering for as long as possible because the longer the jjigae cooks, the better it tastes. But if you don’t have that extra time, that’s cool too. After at least 5 minutes of simmering (or whenever you are done simmering), crack your egg(s) straight into the pot and poach them for about 5 additional minutes.
Ladle the stew into bowls and serve with white rice. And that’s it!
I’ll admit that for as often as I make this, it was extremely hard writing this post. That’s probably because when I usually make kimchi jjigae, I toss in whatever I feel like at the moment, eyeball every measurement, and taste test constantly along the way. However, I endeavored to measure everything out today and even take photos (thanks Steph C for being my taste-tester and photographer), and I hope this helps!