1.301 Kimchi Jjigae

-Cycle 1, Item 301-
2 November 2010

Kimchi Jjigae

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

After dropping by the funeral vigil being held for my dissertation advisor's father, an event that I discussed in yesterday's post (see 1.300 Deep-Fried Pork Riblets), I went back my friend's restaurant, where 3 additional camping buddies had converged, having heard that 2 of us had already gathered earlier that evening and, apparently, not wanting to be left out in case something noteworthy happened, like, say, drinking. To make a long story short, I ended up going home with a 10-kg bag of kimchi, the very same kimchi in the kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) served at the restaurant The Kimchi Jjigae (see 1.279 Kimchi Jjigae).

So, for the first meal of the final stretch of Give Me This Day, Cycle 1, 65 meals left to go, I attempted to recreate the dish per the owner's instructions, a process that is totally unlike my own (see 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae, Sauteed Hairtail), seemingly counterintuitive, but infinitely better, maybe the best that I've ever had, albeit with a few personal adjustments.


Recipe for My Version of The Kimchi Jjigae's Kimchi Jjigae
(serves 2)

4 cups water
400 gm kimchi [a]
100 gm pork [b]
100 gm tofu
5 cm leek (white part)
1/4 tsp white pepper
tiny pinch of MSG [c]
tiny pinch of red chili powder [d]

1. In a pot over high heat, bring the water to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, cut the kimchi [e], pork [f], and tofu into bite-sized pieces and julienne the leek.

3. Add the kimchi to the pot and boil for 10 minutes.

4. Add the pork + tofu + white pepper + MSG and boil for 5 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat, garnish with the red chili powder + leek, season with salt if necessary [g].

6. Serve with steamed rice and lettuce wraps.

[a] This recipe's simplicity, which eliminates the common first step of sauteeing the kimchi in sesame oil to intensify the flavors and thus results in a bright and light and refreshing broth, will only work if the kimchi itself is of the best quality. The restaurant's stock is made by kimchi artisans in some countryside factory for use in stews and other speciality dishes.

[b] My first deviation from the original recipe is the type of pork. Whereas the restaurant uses the fattier (and cheaper) pork shoulder, I used the leaner (and pricier) pork neck, which I happened to have on hand. Because the meat is cooked for just 5 minutes, just enough time for a trace of the pork flavor to permeate into the broth, the fat content is important only as a matter of preference when it's eaten later on. Any cut will do.

[c] It's all about the MSG, something I'd sworn never to use. A mere pinch, maybe half a pinch. I did the before-and-after taste test, two samples just 5 seconds apart, sans MSG and avec. What a difference.  Even if I were squeamish about MSG, the kimchi itself contains MSG anyway.

[d] The red chili powder, though it does contribute a bit of heat, is more for color than taste. The restaurant adds a pinch of ultra-hot green chili powder for extra heat (the kimchi being relatively mild), but I'm not a fan of hot.

[e] As noted in my own recipe, I prefer to remove most of the kimchi fillings, but that's optional. The restaurant doesn't.

[f] The restaurant starts with large chunks of pork that are cut into pieces with scissors just prior to eating.

[g] As with any kimchi jjigae, the ultimate taste depends on the given batch of kimchi, some of which are saltier than others, especially at different stages of fermentation.  This is why it's really impractical to give a recipe for kimchi jjigae with precise measurements--it just takes experience to know how much seasoning is enough. 


  1. To clarify, you just start off the kimchi in water, and add tofu and msg?? That's the secret?

  2. hey..can u tell what kind of condiments or u use for cooking simple chicken breast?

  3. @Lisa: like i wrote above, this method will probably only work with good quality kimchi, which means it's already super rich in flavor. it should also be fermented to the point where it's a bit too sour to be eaten as is, which of course means the flavor is even more intense. with bland and/or unripe kimchi, the sauteeing in sesame oil gives it that extra kick.

    the broth is plain water. i used to try various stocks, which will deepen the flavor profile, but now i realize it does so at the expense of masking the brightness of the kimchi.

    after bringing it to a boil, i added a pinch of sugar (to mellow out the acidity), both white and black pepper, and then the MSG--actually MSG salt (맛소금). otherwise, you could add salt and MSG separately. and the amount of salt, as well as the sugar, depends on the kimchi, however salty and sour it already is. oh, and i forgot to mention a half teaspoon of finely minced, practically liquified, onion. that smoothes out the flavor a bit, but be wary of putting in too much, which might cloud the clarity, which onions tend to do. i think you could do without the onions.

    the restaurant also adds some ground 청량고추, a type of green super hot chili, maybe like a habenero, which doesn't really change the flavor too much but just makes it hotter. i hate the stuff.

    then, after the broth gets going, add pork to the boiling water. it should be a cut with plenty of fat, which adds richness to the broth. i used to saute it first, but apparently that dries it out and the flavors are imparted to the kimchi, not directly into the broth.

    that's it. the tofu can be tossed in afterwards. or none at all. makes no difference.

  4. @hong: if i can help it, i avoid whole chicken breasts. i don't particularly like their flavor, and they're very tricky to cook correctly.

    i do like tenderloins, a part of the breast, the small sliver attached under the main section. Costco here sells tenderloins separately. I like them because they're really soft and easy to cook quickly.

    that's the main thing about chicken breasts: you gotta cook them fast before any of their juices can escape.

    my method: (i) marinate the chicken in olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. just for a few minutes to get the meat evenly coated. (ii) put my cast iron grill pan on extremely high heat, until it starts to smoke. lower the heat to medium. (iii) place the chicken, about 6 tenderloins, about 1/2 pound, evenly spaced out and diagonally on the grill, cook for about 30 seconds, turn them 180 degrees for another 30 seconds, flip them over for another 30 seconds, turn them again for 30 seconds. done. (iv) transfer to a plate or bowl (to collect some of the juices that will begin to seep out) and season with salt. sometimes i'll add garlic powder or chili powder if i'm going to use the chicken, say, in a burrito. (v) rest them for a few minutes, allowing the juices internally to settle.

    a few notes: the initial 30 seconds of cooking may take longer, up to 2 minutes, depending on how cold the chicken is. room temperature for best results, but you run the risk of contamination if left out too long. the longer the cooking time, you'll see the juices beginning to escape.
    i add the salt at the end to prevent moisture from being pulled out while it waits to be cooked. i also don't marinate them in anything else beforehand, say soy sauce or wine, which will caramelize/burn on the grill. same with herbs. finally, those criss-cross marks aren't just for show: they add a slightly charred flavor to the chicken. also, the intense heat of the pan will create a lot of smoke--seriously, my smoke alarm used to go off if i did more than a few batches--which also adds to the flavor.

    see meal 1.138 (with tenderloins, sauce applied after cooking), and 1.143 (with whole breasts).

    if u don't have a grill pan, i suppose you could sear them whole in a pan, but i think having the whole side all brown kinda ruins the soft texture.

    deep frying is the only other way i might consider breasts, but that's another story.

  5. curious to know if you've ever made kimchi jigae with ssal mul as your water (i guess that translates as 'rice water' -?) do you think it makes a difference? again, something my mom told me to do. again, something I don't really understand but follow.

  6. never heard of "rice water" (ssal mul) and can't seem to even guess what it is. i'm intrigued, so i'd love to hear about it.....

  7. It's nothing special. Presumably you cook rice while you make jigae, right? So as you're washing your rice the water turns cloudy and instead of dumping it down the drain you save it and set it aside (give or take a pint). Then when you're ready to add water or boil water (as your recipe states) you use it. It doesn't make sense but my mom swears by it. Whenever I'm washing rice she scurries over to see if the water has turned clear... because if it has and I HAVEN'T saved the mul she gets all snickety.

  8. waaaaaaaait a second. this is interesting.

    i can see the science behind it. that cloudy runoff, i believe, is largely the starchy powder that coats the rice kernels. i guess using water with the dissolved powder would make the dish a bit thicker/starchier/denser.

    but i don't know if that's necessarily/always a good thing.

    also, i think the reason that most people, especially koreans, wash the rice is the belief that there's also a lot of dust/dirt/contaminants on the rice. i can't imagine a korean person wanting to use that "soiled" water for cooking purposes.

    seriously, i'd like to know more about your mother's reasoning and specific applications.

  9. well, you don't use the FIRST wash of rice (because obviously there are a lot of contaminants, dust mites, mouse poop, germs, etc.) but I think it's safe to use the third or fourth wash now that the pesky contaminants are either washed away or, at the very least, diluted. As long as it's a little bit cloudy then it's good to use. Add this to the fact that you will be boiling this water, which should kill 99% of the contaminants/dust/dirt and your immune system should be okay.

    You say a Korean person wouldn't want to use 'soiled' water but it's all about perspective. Another Korean person might see dumping perfectly good starchy water as "waste."

    As far as my mother's reasoning, I barely know what her thought process is sometimes and I don't know why she makes me do this. Which is why I was asking you (as the chef of this little project) if you had ever done it before.

    She makes me use it in lots of other soups, too - such as miyeokgguk. It's a versatile ingredient! :)

  10. right, because at-the-very-least diluted contaminants are safe.

    in any event, i suppose that it could be beneficial in certain thicker soups, like miyeok guk. i'll ask around and see what other have to say.

    it's funny that your mom "makes" you use it.

  11. omg this is turning into a kimchi jigae saga.
    Isn't it a general rule that moms can "make" their kids do things? Also, if I don't use it she insists that it isn't as good as it could've been which drives me bonkers.

  12. my parents have never wielded nor attempted to exert any control over certain trivial aspects of my life, ever since maybe middle school. things like what i eat, wear, do my hair. in college, they never said anything about my classes, or where i lived or what car i drove.

    this system nearly broke down in disaster when suddenly my father played the paternal grandfather card and demanded his right to name my son (the name was 유진/Eugene, which ended up being one of his middle names)--seriously, things were really tense for about 6 months, and it wasn't until D was about 2 that grandpa finally started saying "다민."

    so certainly they don't intrude on my cooking of all things. actually, my mom is among the best home cooks that i know (see 2.029), and i don't mean that in the typical "my mom is the best cook ever!" kinda way. we discuss food a lot, and i learn a lot from her (and vice versa), but it's funny to imagine her getting in my face and trying to make me do something her way.

  13. you lucky you lucky lucky lucky. Maybe it's b/c you're an only child and you're the king of your own universe.

    To clarify, she doesn't 'get in my face' and try to make me do things. It is very Jedi mind-tricky in that when she 'makes' me do something she gets in my head and makes me think I WANT to do this. She doesn't dictate instructions; it's more like a little sigh or a glance, or a shrug of her shoulders. And then I agonize inside my own head and start to wonder what she's thinking to make my own thought process match or out-think what I think she's telling me. Reverse psychology abounds. Mothers and daughters. I believe you when you say you don't understand, but I'm pretty sure you get it. It's a complex relationship, full of love and guilt. And I do kind of hear her voice when I'm cooking and I know she would want me to add ssal mul or WHATEVER.

  14. as an only child, i am the only person in my own universe. king assumes a hierachy, which requires other people.

    i guess my mother does those things too. but since she doesn't actually exist, i see no need to worry about it.

  15. oh, but she does exist... she's just awesome enough to make you THINK that she doesn't exist.