Recipe: Tuna Kimchi Jjigae (참치 김치찌개)

It's damn cold in Korea already. They say the winter is gonna be a long one and I'm already dreading it.

After a long day out, there are few things as effective in thawing you, both outside and in, as a good bowl of stew and the Korean version of it, called "jjigae" or (찌개) is the same.

Among the different kinds of jjigae, one of the most popular varieties is kimchi jjigae. In it, well fermented kimchi is combined with broth and other ingredients to makes a rich, savory and ever-so-slightly tangy stew

It's fairly straightforward and easy to make. If you make a big batch it can go easily for a week or so in the winter (just making sure you reheat it once a day at least) making it a good investment of your time.

This recipe is for the variation of kimchi jjigae that uses a can of tuna. I've detailed out two ways to make it: the quick/easy way and the slightly cumbersome but worth-the-effort method. Basically, the latter is how to make THE perfect kimchi jjigae.

Utilizing pork belly fat and broth will make the deeper tasting version but if you're short on time you can omit the pork belly fat and use water instead. For pork fat, the next time you buy some cut of pork from your meat corner/butcher (whether pork belly or other parts) knife off some of the fat, stick it in a plastic bag and keep it in your freezer. Then, when the need comes for kimchi stew or other times you need some o' that piggy grease, you can take it out and chuck it into the pan.

To make the simple broth, simply boil about 4-5 cups of water with a piece of kelp (다시마) and things like dried anchovies (gut and head removed), green onion/radish scraps for about 5-10 minutes. You'll get about 2-3 cups of broth.

Try it out and get yourself warmed up, Korean style.




Tuna Kimchi Jjigae (참치 김치찌개)
Makes 4 servings

You'll need:
- 1 can of Tuna in oil (reserve the oil)
- 2 cups of well fermented Kimchi
- 1/2 an Onion
- 1/2 tbsp of minced Garlic
- 1 package of Tofu
- 1 Green Chili Pepper
- 1 Green Onion Stalk
- 1 tbsp of Sugar
- 2 cups of Broth or Water
- Optional: 1/2 cup or approximately 80g of Pork Belly Fat


1. Chop your onion, green onion, peppers and tofu. Drain and reserve the kimchi juice from your kimchi and then chop your kimchi into manageable pieces (roughly 2-3 inches should do).

Heat up your pot with just a bit of cooking oil over medium-high heat and place your pork belly/fat in. Heat it around and let the fat release. You'll be using this fat to slightly cook the kimchi which deepens the flavor of the jjigae. If you don't have pork belly fat on hand, just skip to the next step using a bit of cooking oil.


2. After about a minute, throw in your onion and cook with the pork for another 2-3 minutes.


3. Take out and throw away your pork belly. Add your chopped kimchi (without liquid) to the pan, add the sugar and cook together for another 3 minutes or so. Slightly stir frying the kimchi helps break down the membranes and cells of the kimchi, releasing a deeper flavor while the sugar will help prevent the kimchi and broth from being overly sour.


4. Add 2 cups of the broth (or water). Once it begins boiling, add the reserved kimchi juice and the minced garlic. If you used pork belly fat then drain the oil from the can of tuna before adding the tuna. If you skipped the pork belly step, add the whole can, oil and all. Cover and cook for the next 15 minutes as the broth thickens and deepens in flavor.


5. After 15 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt as needed. Some like to add red pepper paste to adjust the saltiness but I find it muddles the kimchi flavor so I don't recommend it. The broth should taste ever-so-slightly on the savory side as the addition of the tofu will decrease the broth's salinity.

After adjusting the broth's taste, add the tofu and peppers.



Cook for 5-8 minutes, spooning some of the jjigae broth over the tofu every few minutes. In the last few minutes, add your green onion.

Serve with a big bowl of rice, some toasted seaweed and an egg roll-up (계란말이) to eat it the common way.


So. In conclusion the important points about making the perfect kimchi jjigae are:
1. Utilize the pork fat
2. Utilize some simple broth
3. Use well fermented kimchi
4. Stir fry the kimchi with a little sugar first
5. Resist the urge to use red pepper paste
6. Pat yourself on the back

Bring it on, winter.