When it comes to kimchi-jjigae for me, I like it to be equal parts confronting and comforting. I want to feel the heat from the gochujang, the sourness from the kimchi, and the funk from the fish sauce, while being lulled into a fever dream by pillowy rice cakes, chewy noodles, and fluffy white rice. My preference for triple starch may seem blasphemous to some, but it was originally born out of a love for another Korean dish: budae-jjigae, or “army base stew,” which often contains ramen noodles, rice cakes, and sometimes even macaroni. Budae-jjigae originated as a scavenger dish after the Korean War, when food was scarce and the only surplus goods available were the shelf-stable nonperishables found on army bases.
My version may vary slightly from more traditional iterations, but it’s evolved over many years of experimentation, often based on what was available at whatever kitchen I was working in at the time if it was for family meal or what might be lurking in my refrigerator at home. In the absence of pork belly, I’ve been known to throw in some deli ham or even mortadella scraps, and no one version was ever any better than another—they all inspired the same emotional and gustatory response. For me, the number-one rule for making something satisfying and delicious is a lot like the expression “dance as if no one is watching”—make it personal, be expressive, and have fun.
- Add oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté garlic, gochujang, and ginger until aromatic, about 2–3 minutes.
- Add pork belly and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the chopped kimchi and sauté until aromatic, about 2 more minutes. Add in gochugaru and combine.
- Add in the Dashi, reserved kimchi liquid, and optional ramen soup base packet. Let the stew come to a boil, then let simmer for 5 minutes. Add in sugar, black pepper, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
- Using a large soup spoon or dinner spoon, scoop out the tofu in chunks and add to the stew (you can also cube it separately). Bring the stew back up to a boil and add in the rice cakes and ramen noodles as well as the scallion whites and onion. Let boil until the noodles are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the scallion greens and optional chile peppers. Finish with the sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds, then serve.
- Combine water, kombu, and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Discard kombu and mushrooms or, optionally, slice mushrooms and add to stew with the tofu.
Kate Telfeyan is a New York-based chef, writer, and TASTE Cook In Residence.