Congratulations, so you’ve finally realised that you simply can’t live without kimchi. Fantastic! As my partner would say, you are now officially a bona fide “stinky kimchi-freak” just like me. Charming I know, but he’s most definitely not a fellow fan. Nevertheless, welcome to the Club.
So now that you’ve confessed your insatiable appetite for kimchi, you may be asking yourself the inevitable question, “What exactly does one do with a massive vat of homemade fermented cabbage?”
Whilst delicious just eaten as a side dish (known as banchan in Korea), the truth is that plain mak kimchi can get a little monotonous after a while. Thankfully, however, there’s no shortage of ways in which to enjoy your kimchi-fix. Such is their love of kimchi, the Koreans seem to have based much of their cuisine around its consumption, resulting in a seemingly endless array of dishes that can be made using this spicy Korean staple. Kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakes, kimchi risotto and even kimchi ice cream, there are no limits to the wacky ways in which kimchi can be eaten. However, one of the more traditional dishes remains one of the most popular – Pork & Kimchi Stew.
Known in Korea as kimchijjigae 김치찌개, the first time I tried the dish was as part of a Korean BBQ at Galbi in Cape Town, where it was served at the end of the meal with a bowl of rice. To be honest it was the low-point of an otherwise great meal (their sweet potato fries are to die for!), as it was a tad insipid and tasted more like watered down tomato soup than the amazing spicy stew I had been eagerly anticipating. It was not a good start to my budding love affair with kimchijjigae, but considering the restaurant’s actual kimchi was also rather tasteless, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise that their kimchi stew would also be somewhat lacklustre. Disappointed, but undeterred, I did what I typically do when I feel let down by a dish – I set about making it myself.
Mercifully, kimchijjigae is actually very easy to make and only requires a few of the more basic Korean pantry staples. It was only after tasting my first attempt at making it, that I appreciated what a great dish this should be and why it warrants its enduring popularity. Simple and relatively economical to make, kimchijjigae is both deeply satisfying and is the perfect way to showcase kimchi’s hidden depths. Much like kimchi risotto, this stew actually serves to bring out kimchi’s complexity of flavour, something that is typically masked by the spiciness of the kimchi.
Any dish that makes kimchi taste even better is, in my mind, a dish worth making…but then again, if I’m to be perfectly honest, you already had me at kimchi.
Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew): Serves 2 as a main meal, but 4 as part of a larger meal
- 200g skinless pork belly, thinly sliced across the grain
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
- 2.5cm fresh ginger, peeled & grated
- 1 tbsp. soju (substitute with either sake or vodka)
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup drained mak kimchi (reserve the juice)
- 1/2 cup kimchi juice (see above)
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp. Korean chilli paste (gochujang)
- 1 tbsp. Korean bean paste (doenjang)
- 1 tbsp. Korean chilli powder (add more if you like!)
- 200g tofu (preferably silken, but firm tofu will also do), thickly sliced
- 1 spring onion, thinly sliced in the diagonal
- A knob of butter
- A few sprigs of wild rocket
- Combine the sliced pork with the garlic, ginger, soju/sake/vodka and soya. Set aside to marinate for half an hour
- Place a heavy-bottomed pan over a high heat. Once the pan is nice and hot, add the marinated pork. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes. The pork should render some of its fat as it cooks
- Add the sliced onions and kimchi. Sauté for another couple of minutes or until the mixture becomes fragrant
- Pour in the water and kimchi juice, as well as the chilli and bean pastes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
- Add the Korean chilli powder and the slices of tofu
- Simmer for at least 20 minutes
- Just before you are ready to serve the kimchijjigae, stir through the butter and spring onion
- Top with the rocket and serve piping hot with white rice