This stew reminds me of my trip to Gyeongju, a historic city in the southeast coast of Korea, a few years ago. It was our first meal after a long train ride from Seoul. Recommended by the hotel staff, we ate at a restaurant well-known for its freshly made sundubu (also spelled soondubu), uncurdled tofu, which has a high water content. The bustling restaurant, which had been converted from an old traditional house, had a homey feel. They make their tofu the old-fashioned way, using maetdol (grinding stone) and seawater. Needless to say, it was unbelievably fresh and delicious – the best sundubu I’ve ever had!
The stew, jjigae, made with sundubu is enormously popular both in and outside Korea. If you’re lucky, you might have a good tofu house near you that specializes in this dish, offering several variations (seafood, meat, vegetables, combination, etc.) on the menu. The secret to making this restaurant favorite at home is in the broth. Take the time to make a good broth. I like to use anchovy broth, which is typical, but beef or vegetable broth will also work well. Using the same basic technique, you can make different variations. Whatever you do, let the soft tofu be the star of the dish and do not overcrowd it with a lot of other ingredients. The delicate sundubu nicely contrasts with the spicy broth and bold flavors, making a delicious stew. Who can resist this bubbling bowl of hearty stew on a cold day?
1 package (11 ounces) sundubu (extra soft/silken tofu)
2 ounces beef or pork (rib eye, sirloin, pork loin or pork belly)
7 – 8 pieces of seafood assortment (shrimp, mussels, clams, and/or oysters)
1/2 small zucchini (2 – 3 ounces)
1/4 onion (2 – 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru)- adjust to taste.
1 teaspoon sesame oil (use a little more if using more gochugaru)
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon soy sauce
salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 cup anchovy broth (or other broth or water)
1 egg (optional)
Cut the meat into small (about 1-inch long) thin strips. Clean the seafood. Cut the the zucchini into about 1-inch pieces. Dice the onion and scallion.
Add the red chili pepper flakes and sesame oil to a small pot, and place it over medium heat. Stir until the pepper flakes become a bit pasty in the heating pot. (The red chili pepper flakes burn easily, so do not preheat the pot.) Add the meat, onion, garlic, and soy sauce. Stir fry until the pork and onion are almost cooked, 2 – 3 minutes.
Add the soft tofu in big chunks along with the zucchini. Bring to a boil again. Gently stir at the bottom of the pot once or twice so the tofu does not stick to the bottom. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes.
Add the seafood and boil until the clams and mussels open, 2 – 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped scallion right before turning the heat off. If desired, crack an egg into the stew right before serving while it’s still boiling hot.