Saturday, 22 September 2007

kimchi jjigae

In Korea, jjigae are stews made in much the same way as a western-style stew. The main difference is that most Korean stews carry a mean chilli kick that will knock your socks off.

A while back I found a Korean restaurant near my office (Full House) that had lunch specials of tuna kimchi jjigae and I absolutely adored it. It has become one of my all time favourite means and I eat it at least four times a month.

Sylvia, a colleague with a Korean background, since put me onto another Korean restaurant in the city (Haemil) that serves great kimchi jjigae, but with pork rashes instead of tuna. Sylvia also shared her mother’s recipe which I plan to test soon enough.

The below recipe is not authentically Korean because I invented it from my poor knowledge of Korean ingredients and from memorising the flavours of the various kimchi jjigae that I had eaten.

I used gochujang paste, which is quite sweet as well as spicy, and I chose to use kimchi made from nappa cabbage.

I think I got pretty damn close to the real thing and after making it a few times and refining my recipe, I’m now proud enough to share it on my blog.

Please give it a try!

Kimchi Jjigae
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 4.

600g baechu kimchi (nappa cabbage)
425g canned tuna (optional)
300g baby spinach
200g silken tofu, broken into bite size pieces
1 litre vegetable stock
1/3 cup (85ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 spring onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Hot steamed rice, to serve
1. Heat sesame oil. Fry onions and garlic until soft.
2. Add gochujang and tomato paste and fry until thickened.
3. Add kimchi and combine.
4. Add vegetable stock and soy sauce then simmer for 5 minutes.
5. If using, add tuna to stew then simmer a further 5 minutes.
6. Add tofu and spinach and allow spinach to wilt (1-2 minutes).
7. Remove from heat. Divide between bowls then serve immediately with hot rice.
Note: for vegetarian version simply omit the tuna or you can easily cook the soup then add warmed tuna into serving bowls for those who eat seafood. Also, if you look in Korean grocery stores you’ll find canned tuna especially for kimchi jjigae.

Kimchi isn’t for everyone. Being a chilli and a pickle lover, I find it delightful, but I do understand why it can be very overwhelming to the uninitiated. It also carries quite a strong odour, which can turn people off before they even taste it. Don’t be fooled by the smell, it’s wonderful!

As far as I understand, and trust me I’m no expert on this subject, kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish. The core ingredients are seasonal vegetables mixed with brine, garlic, chilli and onions. Other common additions could be ginger or dried fish. In the old days kimchi batches would be buried underground to ferment in time for winter meals.

It seems there are records of people making kimchi almost 3,000 years ago, although the recipes were much similar and certainly didn’t use chilli until Europeans opened trade routes with the Americas.

Nappa or Chinese cabbage became popular in Korea in the 1800s and ever since a spicy, garlicky napa cabbage kimchi called baechu kimchi has been the most common version you’ll find.

But there are so many more kinds of kimchi and there’s even a kimchi museum in Seoul which recorded 187 varieties. Some of these could include:
Dongchimi (동치미) - white radish without chilli, eaten in summer
Kkakdugi (깍두기) - cubed radish
Ohee-sobae-gi (오이소배기) - stuffed cucumber
Kkaennip (깻잎) - perilla leaves with soy sauce

Apparently kimchi from the cold north is less salty, a little more watery and doesn’t contain as much chilli whereas the southern Korean varieties use salty fish and chilli. For instance, the coastal region of Hamgyeongdo uses oysters and other seafood to add saltiness to their kimchi, whereas Gyeonggi-do is famous for elaborated decorately kimchi.

In the summer, when eating fresh produce is preferable to fermented, mild kimchi vegetables such as radish and cucumber are eaten. Winter calls for heartier and more numerous varieties.

One fact I did find interesting is that Koreans say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when they get their photo taken. This makes sense since both words contain the phoneme /i/, which stretches lips to resemble a smile.

Wow, that’s just way too many facts to digest. So get a big bowl of kimchi jjigae and digest that instead!!!

WHB is being hosted by Myriam from Once Upon a Tart so be sure to visit her round up.

If you’re interested in learning more about Korean food I can recommend two great blogs:
My Korean Kitchen – Sue, a Korean now living in Australia, demystifies Korean cooking
Zen Kimchi – Joe MacPherson’s extensive food adventures in Korea

Kimchi photo




  1. What a great post! It sounds like such an interesting combination of flavors in this dish. I taught with a man once who had lived in Korea and he introduced me to Kimchi. I do like it a lot, although it's not something I eat very often I guess. Anything with vinegar and garlic is good with me! (Also Anna, I'm so impressed you've learned how to make all those Korean characters! Good job.)

  2. kalyn, i have to admit i cheated with the korean characters and copied the names straight from the web!

  3. dear anna
    i need your advice. i am having two people over for lunch this sunday - one is a vegetarian and the other is an amazing cook who writes a food blog....WHAT SHOULD I COOK FOR THEM?
    yours sincerely,

  4. munchkin, i am sure we will love anything you make us!

  5. I love korean food. really happy to have found your blog! :d

  6. You're pretty close with your recipe. I think of kimchi jjigae as a good way to clean out the fridge, and I like both the pork and tuna versions. You don't need the veggie stock, soy sauce and tomato paste, even though I have used tomato paste before just to get it out of the fridge. Instead the kimchi tends to make its own broth. I also taste and balance the flavors at the end of cooking with salt, vinegar, and sugar to get the right combination.

    Also, I've found that sour cream is a great condiment for it.

  7. Heya! I was searching using the keyword 'Haemil' when I come across ur blog. U have any idea the opening/trading hours of the resturant, since u been there before? Is it expensive as well?

    Thanks! and Have a wonderful and fruitful 2008!

  8. Here's a hint I gleamed from the chef at a small Korean cafe. Well-fermented kimchi is important for jjigae, but when he only has fresh kimchi, he uses tomato to simulate the bolder flavor.


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