Doenjang Jjigae (Savory Korean Stew)
I paraphrased doenjang jjigae as “savory Korean stew” only because I thought “fermented soybean paste soup” might sound a little off-putting. But don’t be put off: this is one of the simplest and most delicious kinds of Korean comfort food there is.
I’ve often described this dish to others as “Korean miso soup,” but it’s so much more than that. The flavor of doenjang (bean paste) that seasons the broth is richer and fuller than miso; it’s perfectly complemented by the heat of kochukaru (chili powder). The warm-to-the-last-bite heat from the ceramic ttukbaegi serving dish is just a bonus.
You don’t need a ceramic ttukbaegi to make or enjoy doenjang jjigae, but—like eating bibimbap out of a hot stone bowl instead of a cold metal or plastic one—your food stays steaming hot for the whole meal. This is a major perk if you’re as much of a slow eater as I am.
(Side note: I also like talking. Sometimes I am still on my first bite when other people are halfway through their meal, and I am only on my second or third bite when others have finished, but that’s only because I like talking AND I’m one of the slowest eaters there is.)
Perhaps serving it in a hot ceramic bowl has contributed to the fact that basically every time I’ve had doenjang jjigae in my life (mostly in Seoul; increasingly at home…), I’ve felt enticed—no, compelled—to slurp up every last sip of the stuff, tipping the hot ttukbaegi so that the last few bites pool to one side, making things a little easier for me and my spoon.
At first glance, it might seem like the most blah, basic, homely soup, especially compared to some of the flashier, spicier fare that Korean cuisine has to offer. I, too, once held the mistaken opinion that doenjang jjigae was not very exciting, but then one of my Korean friends took me to a restaurant that specialized in doenjang jjigae, and that restaurant’s very existence, not to mention its delicious food, made me consider the humble jjigae in a whole new light.
I mean macaroni and cheese is pretty basic and homely when you get down to it, but some of us can still get more than a little excited about that.
Not that I’m comparing doenjang jjigae to macaroni and cheese exactly (although they’re both bursting with umami!)… but give it a chance, and I bet it will win you over. I mean, unless you hate miso soup. Though believe me, you CAN hate Japanese natto and still love doenjang jjigae; I should know, because I have a tabezugirai relationship with natto, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Consider this: Paula is consistently unimpressed by tofu and strictly ambivalent about zucchini, but she enjoys both (BOTH!) in doenjang jjigae, because they soak up so much flavor from the broth. It also has shrimp in it; and that right there is often enough to win me over.
Also: while it might not be traditional, stews are always good places to incorporate (= use up) certain random leftover foods that might be sitting around in your fridge. I wouldn’t advocate tossing absolutely anything in, but other vegetables that cook quickly, but then stand up well to further cooking, might be nice—potatoes, spinach, or kale for instance. We’ve also added some minimally seasoned and already cooked whitefish (leftover from this) to doenjang jjigae, which—to be perfectly honest—Paula then enjoyed even more than the tofu.
I’m sure there are many ways to make this stew, but this is just the way I’ve been making it lately. Following the success I had using Japanese dashi-no-moto packets to make rabokki, I’ve also been using the instant-dashi tea bags to steep a weak dashi base for the doenjang jjigae broth. As I mentioned in the rabokki post, the dashi packets may have MSG, so if you’re worried about that, just make sure to read the ingredient list on the packaging; you could also make your own dashi from anchovies, kombu (kelp), or mushrooms, or use vegetable broth.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
~ about 2 cups weak dashi (made from dashi-no-moto packets, like a dashi tea bag)
~ 1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
~ ⅙-¼ onion, sliced
~ 1 clove garlic, minced
~ 3 Tbsp. doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), or to taste
~ ⅓-½ zucchini, thickly sliced into half-moons
~ 1 tsp. kochukaru (Korean chili powder), or to taste
~ ¼-½ block tofu (firmer tofu is more photogenic, but soft tofu tastes good, too)
~ 4-6 shrimp
~ chopped scallions, to garnish
~ 1-2 mild green chili or shishito peppers, thinly sliced and seeded, to garnish
~ enoki mushrooms, base trimmed and discarded
~ other seafood (such as leftover cooked whitefish)
How to make it:
1. Prepare a weak dashi with a dashi-no-moto packet by bringing 3 cups of water to a boil, adding the packet, then reducing the heat, covering, and simmering for only 5-6 minutes (instead of 10 minutes, as the packets instruct). Discard the flavor packet and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan (or a ceramic ttukbaegi), heat oil, then add sliced onion and saute for 2-3 minutes over high heat. Add garlic and cook for another 30-60 seconds, then pour in 2 cups of the weak dashi, and bring to a boil.
3. Once boiling, dissolve/mash about 3 Tbsp. of doenjang (soybean paste) into the broth. Add zucchini and simmer for 6-7 minutes.
4. Stir in kochukaru, then add tofu and shrimp (and optionally enoki mushrooms). Simmer for 3-5 more minutes, or just until shrimp is cooked.
5. Garnish with scallions and sliced chili or shishito peppers. Bring the saucepan or ttukbaegi to the table, and serve warm, using the cooking pot as a communal serving dish, with each person helping themselves to several small servings, so the food will stay warm throughout the meal. Serve with rice and banchan (Korean side dishes).
Print this recipe! (PDF)
Related recipe posts:
|Kimchi Fried Rice (Bokkeumbap)||Hearty Miso Soup and Japanese Sticky Rice||Rabokki (Ramen + Tteokbokki)||Jap Chae with Kimchi|