Hey everyone, it’s Kevin here! Today I have for you a recipe for one of my new favorite Korean dishes, sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew)!
Before working on this recipe, I’d only had one other jjigae (Korean stew) before, and that was kimchi jjigae that Sierra had made for me. It was so simple and delicious that when Sierra suggested I make a recipe for a similar dish, sundubu jjigae, I was more than happy to oblige. This recipe only takes about 30 minutes to make but tastes incredible because of the layering of the flavors. At its core, sundubu jjigae literally means soft tofu stew, but I added pork and kimchi as well to incorporate more complementary flavors that help elevate the dish.
How Layering of Flavors Elevates This Dish
What I mean by layering of flavors is adding complementary flavors at different stages of cooking to create a more complex and elevated flavor profile but preserves the essence of the dish.
The first component of this is incorporating ingredients that complement each other in flavor. For a simple sundubu jjigae, the soup base is usually made with water or anchovy stock seasoned with gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes). An ingredient that naturally complements gochugaru is kimchi because like gochugaru, it is slightly spicy, but it also brings in flavors of sweetness and sourness.
To further highlight the hint of sweetness added by the kimchi, I used lightly caramelized onions. Caramelized onions are an easy way to add a bit of sweetness to any soup or stew without resorting to using sugar. The sweetness of caramelized onions is more subtle and complex than that of sugar and only gets better the longer it cooks. Finally, the pork adds some welcome richness to this otherwise vegetarian dish.
The second component of layering the flavors is adding the ingredients in stages instead of all at once. You could definitely just throw the onions, pork, kimchi, garlic, and gochugaru into the pot at the same time, but it won’t taste nearly as good.
Onions taste better the longer they are cooked, so by cooking them first, they get a chance to caramelize and impart that rich yet subtle sweetness to the jjigae. Adding the garlic and gochugaru and frying quickly allows the flavors in them to release before the heavier ingredients are incorporated.
Kimchi is added before the pork so that it can be fried independently. Frying the kimchi reduces the sourness while bringing out the sweetness in the kimchi. It’s a great way to use old kimchi that has fermented too much!
Pork is added last so it has a chance to absorb all the flavors of the onion, garlic, gochugaru, and kimchi while it fries. All of these flavors layered together form an amazing base for our jjigae. All that’s left to do is add the stock (and kimchi brine for even more flavor!) and simmer for a bit to let those flavors meld into the stock!
This pork kimchi sundubu jjigae recipe is super easy, but here are a few things to keep in mind to help you get it perfect on the first try!
- Make sure to get the right tofu! This recipe probably works with other types of tofu as well, but then it wouldn’t be sundubu jjigae.
- After you add the tofu, try not to stir too much anymore to avoid breaking the tofu into tiny pieces. Because the tofu is extremely soft, it is really easy to break.
- Take the time to lightly caramelize the onions! It may be tempting to save a few minutes and just fry the onions until translucent, but it is well worth the extra time because it will result in a much more developed flavor. You can use the extra few minutes to get the rest of your ingredients ready.
- If possible use stock instead of water for the base. Koreans typically use anchovy stock that they make at home for the base, but for the sake of accessibility, chicken stock or vegetable stock works just as well!
- Eat with rice! Koreans always eat their jjigaes with rice. It tastes amazing. Trust me.
After make this pork kimchi sundubu jjigae, it’s quickly become one of my go-to Korean dishes. It’s quick and easy to make and has such an incredible flavor. Let’s get started on the recipe!\
Looking for more Korean dishes?
- Galbijjim (Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs)
- Spicy Sweet Korean Fried Chicken
- Dubu Jorim (Korean Braised Tofu)
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