Doenjang Jjiggae

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Out of all Korean food, I miss the stews the most. For whatever reason, stews at home never taste the same. Restaurant doenjang jjiggae is often so aggressively seasoned that the homemade stuff never seems to compare, and that’s probably why I never liked it when I made it in Seoul. The broth seemed weak, the vegetables never cooked evenly, it wasn’t hot enough, etc etc.  A big part of the experience is sensory. Barbecue restaurants clatter with silverware, soju glasses, and KPop, and people cram around charcoal grills that hiss with the sizzle of meat. Every day of the week, these restaurants are busy for dinner. At barbecue restaurants, you can count on at least two standard stews to be present on the menu: kimchi jjiggae, a stew made with mature, sour kimchi, soft tofu, and pork, and doenjang jjiggae, a salty vegetable stew seasoned with fermented soybean paste.

Doenjang (pronounced dwen-johng) is comparable to miso in consistency and function. The process of making doenjang is time-honored and complex, and not many modern households make it from scratch anymore. Hye Rae’s mother-in-law still does, and before I left in June, Hye Rae packed a plastic container with enough to last me the year.

Restaurant doenjang jjiggae always comes in an earthenware bowl big enough to share, and it is always boiling as it hits the table. My doenjang jjiggae at home is different. I don’t have a ddukbaegi, so just before it’s time to eat I heat the soup to a rolling boil and quickly ladle it into bowls. The first taste could burn the tongue, and that’s the way it should be.

doenjang jjiggae

These days, you can find doenjang in any Korean mart and most bigger East Asian marts. It’ll come in a bigger container than you think you’ll need, but it can last a year in the fridge. Sempio makes non-GMO doenjang (and gochujang, a spicy paste made from red chilis) that you can find online. Wholly Doenjang makes a gluten free version.

A note about stock: The baseline of ingredients you use to make your stock is up to you. The simplest way is to dissolve doenjang in water, but you could also use prepared vegetable or chicken stock, and dissolve the doenjang in that. You could make a quick fortified stock by steeping water with two or three dried anchovies, a couple of dried oyster mushrooms, and a piece of dried kelp. The best way to eat this stew is with some sticky white rice, so I soaked one cup of rice in just over two cups of water, and used that starchy rice water for the stock. It worked great.

Doenjang Jjiggae
(makes enough for 2 or 3)

2 cups rice stock (made by soaking 1 cup rice with 2 1/4 cups water)
1 tablespoon doenjang
1 turnip (potato is traditional, but turnip is what I had)
1 green chili
fistful dried oyster mushrooms
1 zucchini
extra firm tofu (buy the smallest container you can for this)
paengi mushrooms (also known as enoki)

Prepare all ingredients first. Cut zucchini into half inch pieces. Peel turnip or potato and cut into half inch pieces. Chop oyster mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Rinse tofu and slice into quarter inch thick rectangles (or whatever shape you prefer-cubed is fine, too). Slice green chili  into thin ovals. Rinse paengi mushrooms and trim the bottoms.

In a small pot, bring stock to a simmer. Add turnip or potato first and cook until soft, about three minutes. Then add one tablespoon of doenjang and stir until it dissolves. Taste. At this point, I added a bit more–about a teaspoon. Then add zucchini and oyster mushrooms and cook for a minute more. Check the vegetables, which should be nice and tender. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with enoki mushrooms and sliced green chili.

  • Habiba

    Oh, I miss this stuff. It is bizarre not being around kimchi everyday anymore. Where are the kimchi pots? Asheville is severely lacking on that front. Also, I miss you. For an afternoon with you, beer and BBQ, I’d give almost anything.

    • Jacqui

      oh girl. We’ll due for a reunion soon. Having kimchi in the fridge is a sort of bonafide comfort, that’s for sure. Love you!

  • Nikoline

    Getting jiggae with it! Sounds like the perfect thing to eat to get through this cold winter.

  • Ainna

    DUDE, this is one of my favorite thnigs in the whole wide world! The bf makes it for me like once a month, he makes the marinade himself and it takes about an hour to cook but it’s sooo worth the wait. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. *drools*