Kimchi Chiggae

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When it gets cold, a hot bowl of kimchi chiggae is the best cure. Chiggae is Korean stew and it should come to the table with a rolling boil. The best kimchi for this is sour kimchi. Sour kimchi is just old kimchi that has been fermenting for a long time. The best kimchi chiggae I’ve had was made with kimchi that had been fermenting for three years. Actually, you can get this style at one of my favorite restaurants: O-mori.

Now let’s say a Korean family gave you some kimchi last year and it’s been sitting in the corner of your fridge, it is perfect to make your own kimchi chiggae.

Everyone has a different recipe. Some people like to use tuna, others like pork, and others just use tofu. The ingredients are fairly simply. You need kimchi, meat, oil, and water. Some people add tofu or green onions, but that’s about it.

Everyone says their mother’s chiggae is the best. Now when I first came here, my chiggae was a bit disappointing for some odd reason the ajummas and the moms here have some special ajumma juice they add to their food that make it taste delicious. And the ajummas don’t want to share their secrets so you have to go ninja and sneak into to find what voodoo they do to make their chiggaes amazing.

Here’s what I found out. You have to use oil or fat to release the hidden flavor in the kimchi. I love tuna kimchi chiggae or chamchi kimchi chiggae and the ajumma magic trick is to open the can and then put that oily juice into the bowl and then use it to sautéed the kimchi. It releases the flavors. Samgyeopsal works as well, you’ve gotta sautéed it until the fat renders and stir-fry the kimchi until it’s a little crisp- It should turn from red to a little orange. After you do this add a little water and then simply add a little sliced green onion and serve with rice. Now one of the creamiest Kimchi Chiggaes I’ve had was made from Jokbal, which are pig trotters.

Now if you don’t want to use meat, you can use sesame oil to fry the kimchi. This will add a nutty flavor to your soup. Then add water and some sliced tofu. You can also use butter. This is actually really good. You can also add a pat of butter to your regular chiggae for a bit of sophistication.

Look, I know you might be thinking this is common food, but a good kimchi chiggae has complex flavors. It’s not just pungent and sour; it’s like a fine wine or Tom Yong Goon- the five flavored Thai soup.

There are infinite ways that you can make it. One kimchi chiggae I had was put through a food mill so you didn’t have chunks of cabbage. It was lemony tart with a chili kick and a savory finish.

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