Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개)
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Version 1 (of many)
This post was originally going to be about another version of kimchi jjigae, but this happened and it was by far the best thing that I have made.
Long Post Warning:
In the last few weeks, since this whole global shut down started, I've been using my 1 hour of kid-free free time per day to watch David Chang's Ugly Delicious on Netflix. If you haven't watched it, do so. It's a fantastic exploration of food, culture, and self. Most significantly for me is that the show pushes a non-prescriptive interpretation of cooking - everyone cooks in a style that they connect with. Not one person who's given me a Korean recipe, or talked to me about a dish has given me the same recipe. Not one - not even people from the same family - but each recipe is good in its own right; a unique interpretation that evolved out of tradition, or necessity.
I've wrestled with whether or not my food is authentic, inauthentic, or just an appropriation of Korean cuisine. Where does a White guy cooking Korean food fit? I haven't settled this, but in watching Ugly Delicious, it occurred to me that it doesn't matter - I connect with Korean food, and with ultimate respect, I cook it in my own style.
I bring all this up because the show gave me a new level of respect for David Chang as a fantastic human (and Peter Meehan's writing). 10 years ago, I bought the Momofuku cookbook, which I enjoyed reading, but found that I had the skill only to cook one thing (barely). It was not a cookbook designed for New York City apartments. I kept it with me through a multitude of moves across Manhattan, and to our current home in Virginia. Now, older, wiser, and with a bit more skill and respect for the culinary process, I pulled it off the shelf and leafed through it. It really is a beautiful book. Honestly, I will never make most of the things in there, but I found his recipe for Kimchi Jjigae interesting.
Kiimchi jjigae is a soup made with old kimchi. Recipes for this are all somewhat different, but it's always a combination of kimchi, red pepper flakes, and meat / tofu. It's a cheap and delicious meal that uses ingredients on hand and leftovers that would otherwise go uneaten. It's a great dish, even if not all that exciting. Chang's recipe was exciting, though. Or, at least it got me excited enough to remake something that we had just eaten the night before.
His version is still beyond what a normal person would ever cook at home on a work night, with three small children practicing ninja moves in-front of the TV (my house is normal, right?). But here's why it's awesome:
He used grapeseed oil - lighter than vegetable oil.
He included radish kimchi with the cabbage kimchi
There were rice cakes (so good!)
A ramen base (instead of water, kimchi juice, or anchovy broth)
Roasted pork shoulder
Pork is not uncommon in kimchi jjigae, but this inspired me to use pork short ribs. I added the rice cakes (genius!). I had just made radish kimchi but it was too fresh to use (I think it would have been good). The grapeseed oil was a "duh!" moment, so I used that. I wasn't about to make Ramen Broth, so I improvised and added chicken stock.
Then end result was amazingly rich and delicious. The meat melted off the bone. The fat and oil held the heat from the peppers fantastically. The rice cakes added a new texture level that mellowed out the heat and classed it up. Normally when you eat kimchi jjigae, you know someone's just getting rid of old kimchi, but this was independently good. Good beyond what kimchi jjigae should taste like. I want to hoard jars and jars of kimchi so I can make this again and again.
Arguably, the best thing that I've ever made is this porked-up, Momofuku-inspired, kimchi-based masterpiece. It's not kimchi jjigae, but it's not not kimchi jjigae. Like my own cooking existence, it straddles the line of "authenticity," but that's not a bad thing.
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups of OLD kimchi, chopped into large pieces
3 lbs of pork spare ribs
1/2 cup of Korean red pepper flakes
1 quart chicken stock
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1/4 cup Sprite (or cider, or ginger ale)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoon coarse salt (you can be the judge on more or less)
1 tablespoon doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
1 tablespoon gochujang
1 cup sliced rice cake (a large handful was my actual measurement)
3 tablespoons of grapeseed oil (I was a little conservative on this)
Place ribs in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and a 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes - use gloves and mix with your hands to ensure all are coated. (You can substitute with sliced pork belly (2 lbs))
Take your rice cakes and let soak in water for at least 30 minutes - you won't need them until the end
Let the pork sit for 15 - 30 minutes (I'm not sure if this actually does anything, but it seemed like a good idea)
Heat grape seed oil in a large pot. When it's heated, add onions and saute for 5 minutes and add garlic. Stir occasionally.
Add ribs to pot and brown as best as you can
Add doenjang and kimchi and mix (This is when it starts to smell good)
In a separate bowl, while the kimchi cooks, combine gochujang, vinegar, sprite, the rest of the red pepper flakes, and sesame seed oil. Mix together well - it should have a thick batter-like consistency
Add your gochujang mixture to the pot and stir
Add the chicken stock and stir
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally
Before serving, but while still over the heat, add the rice cakes and stir - fresh rice cakes cook faster, but those previously-frozen take a few minutes to soften
Serve with rice, top with green onion, and boom. Jjigae.