Fiery foods are never far from my mind — but the summer months are when this yearning really consumes me.
Perhaps it’s because spicy food and sweltering weather are so intertwined in Singapore, where I grew up. Regardless, whenever the weather turns hot in New York, that’s when my hankering for mouth-numbing flavors truly rears its head.
This week, this led me to try my hand at a dish that I’ve adored for years in Korean restaurants but had never considered trying: Soondubu Jjigae …
Now, if you’ve never had soondubu jjigae before, you seriously haven’t lived.
This flaming stew packed with silky creamy tofu, beef and seafood — usually served bubbling-hot in a thick earthenware bowl — is unforgettable. There is the intensity of the Korean hot peppers, yes — but beyond that there are layers of complex flavors sparring with each other: the earthy richness of beef, the briny umami of seafood, the crisp punctuation marks that tiny bits of green onions will offer.
As much as I love ordering it, I’d never thought of making it. After looking at several recipes a while back, I started to feel that this wasn’t a dish I could wing in good conscience. If you’re going to make it, you need to invest time in making a hearty kelp-anchovy stock from scratch or else, what’s the point?
And then a recent jaunt to my go-to Koreatown grocer started me thinking. Browsing the miso aisle, I came across a tub I’d not noticed before.
Now, I can’t read Korean, but a look at the list of ingredients (and the helpful picture on the front) led me to believe that this was a tub of anchovy- and shellfish-inflected miso.
Could this offer a solution to my anchovy-kelp broth sloth? I had to find out.
First things first — I consulted my favorite Korean food blog: Maangchi. Maangchi’s soondubu jjigae looked stunning, and the recipe (sans broth) looked easy enough.
To start, I heated up some vegetable oil and stir-fried some beef with minced garlic. (I love garlic in everything, so I added some, even though Maangchi doesn’t call for it.)
Then, in went some heaping tablespoons of fiery Korean hot pepper flakes, or gochugaru. (Maangchi has a handy cheatsheet on gochugaru if you want to read up on it: http://www.maangchi.com/
Now, here came my shortcut — instead of using home-made anchovy-kelp broth, I poured in seafood stock jacked up with a few tablespoons of anchovy miso and fish sauce. Then, in went an assortment of seafood …
… along with the silken tofu and chopped scallions.
Once that came to a boil, I cracked two eggs into it, gave it a stir, drizzled some sesame oil on the top and we were ready to eat.
How was it? Probably not as good as Maangchi’s, but delicious, nonetheless. (And it was even better the next day — over noodles — when the flavors had more time to mingle.)
The best thing was, this stew came together in under 20 minutes. And since I’m trying to be better about writing recipes down, I even have the step-by-step for you to give it a whirl below.
Easy Soondubu Jjigae
- 2 tubes of super-soft silky tofu (11 oz. each)
- 2 TB vegetable or corn oil
- 2 tsp (or more, if you really like garlic) minced garlic
- 1/4 lb sliced beef for stir-frying
- 2 TB (or more) gochugaru, Korean hot pepper flakes
- 1 cup mixed seafood (any combination of shrimp, mussels, clams or squid is good)
- 2 cups seafood stock
- 2 TB anchovy-miso paste
- 2 TB fish sauce
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 eggs
- Sesame oil
Heat up an earthenware pot (or a Le Creuset, which is what I used) and then add in oil. When oil is hot, add garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Then add beef and stir-fry until it’s lightly browned. (Do not overcook the meat here or it will be tough.)
Add gochugaru — note: Maangchi’s recipe suggests two to five TB of the stuff, two being mild and five being “suicidal hot!” Stir-fry that a little to mix everything up, then add seafood stock, anchovy-miso paste and fish sauce. Mix well, add seafood, then slice each tube of tofu in half and let the tofu slide out into the pan. Very gently break that up so the tofu remains in large chunks.
Bring mixture to a boil then add scallions and crack two eggs in, mixing gently. Once that comes to a simmer, drizzle sesame oil all over and serve immediately with rice.