I love kimchi. I have several jars of kimchi in my refrigerator at all times. Kimchi of Napa cabbages and Korean radish, cucumber kimchi, and now, thanks to food and travel writer Michael Y. Park – kimchi from North Korea as well.
You see, Michael recently returned from a trip to North Korea with a handwritten recipe for North Korean kimchi in hand. He sent it to a few people, and in September, we are going to have a North-South Kimchi Tasteoff in New York.
To clear space in the refrigerator for incoming batches of North Korean kimchi, I had to part with some older ones. A couple of these had gone sour, so I decided to make, a big pot of the delicious kimchi soup – kimchi chigae – out of them. My husband was away on business for a few days, so soup was also a great way to cook once and eat several times during his absence.
Well-made kimchi is usually a balance between sweet, salty, sour, spicy and hot flavors. (See my basic recipe with information about variants – here) Fermentation is temperature controlled and after no more than a day or so at room temperature, the kimchi is placed in a cool or refrigerated spot. There are also special kimchi refrigerators that can be used to assist in the fermentation, with the correct temperature for the type of kimchi set by pushing a few buttons or turning a dial.
When a batch of kimchi has been allowed to ferment too long, either because it was kept warm for too long before refrigeration, or simply because it has been in the refrigerator too long, it goes sour. Some Koreans call this sour kimchi, “crazy kimchi” and won’t eat it. Being a practical people, the Koreans came up with a wonderful solution to this. Namely, they make a delicious and nutritious soup out of the sour batches – kimchi chigae.
Another thing about this soup, like many Korean soups, is that it is on the table in a little more than a half-an-hour from start to finish. My recipe is a little more elaborate than the bare-bones traditional recipe, but I think it is worth it. The added ingredients give it a depth of flavor and savoriness not found in the more simple recipes. I hope you like it!
Laura’s Kimchi Chigae Recipe
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/3 pound pork bellies sliced
1 medium-large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small bunch spring onions (5-6 onions)
3 cups sour kimchi
5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
Water to cover meat and vegetables
1 tablespoon gochugaru
2 tablespoons gochuchang
2 teaspoons doenchang
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
A teaspoon of dashi (optional)
½ pack tofu, sliced
Dry roasted sesame seeds for garnish
Roasted seaweed slices (gim) for garnish (optional)
Slice the pork bellies into bite-size pieces. In a large sauce pan, heat the sesame oil and sauté the pork over high heat until it becomes opaque and starts to color. When done, remove from pan and set aside. In remaining oil, add the sliced onion and stir briefly but well. Add half of the sugar and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let onion begin to caramelize. Stir or shake only once or twice for 15-20 minutes. When the onion is soft and beginning to color, add the green onions and stir well.
Chop kimchi well so that diners will not have to struggle with large pieces. Add kimchi and any juice to the onions in the pot and stir well. Let kimchi and onions heat for a few minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally. Add cooked pork and sliced garlic and stir again. When meat and vegetables are warm, add enough water to cover and stir again. If making soup, add more water than if making a thicker stew. Cover and heat over medium-to high heat.
Add gochugaru, gochuchang and doenchang and stir well, taking care to break up the paste and stir into the soup. (One way to do this is to ladle a bit of soup into a small bowl and whisk or stir the pastes into the soup. When fully dissolved, return the soup to the bowl and stir well.) Add salt, remaining sugar, and if using, a bit of dashi and stir again. Reduce heat, cover and let cook at a low-to-medium simmer for 20 minutes. When time has elapsed, taste the soup and if necessary adjust the flavors.
Slice tofu into bite-size pieces and add to the soup. Cover and let cook another 5-8 minutes. When done, let sit uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with rice, if desired.
I hope you make and enjoy this soup. I know I will as I continue to develop the recipe for North Korean kimchi. The first batch was very good, but I think it was had too much gochugaru and salt. I’ll be making another batch with less of everything, except the fish, and perhaps try a few white- or water-kimchi varieties as well.
Michael will be writing about the North-South Kimchi Tasteoff at some point, and may give me permission to write about the recipe development at a later date. Until then, if you would like to read more about his food adventures in North Korea, he wrote an excellent piece for Epicurious about his trip. (Words and development of traditional recipe for Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley; Photo of Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley.)