Monday, November 18, 2013
Agujjim (Spicy Braised Monkfish with Soybean Sprouts)
Agujjim (아구찜), also called agwijjim (아귀찜), is a spicy fish dish made with agu (monkfish) and kongnamul (soybean sprouts). Jjim (찜) is the noun form of the word jjida (찌다) which means "to steam". Over time, jjim dishes have evolved into dishes that encompass various different cooking techniques, including long braising used for dishes like galbijjim (braised short ribs) and short braising used to cook vegetables and seafood. Agujjim is made by short braising in a small amount of liquid (water or anchovy/dashima broth) and a spicy sauce.
Agujjim originated from the southern coastal city of Masan. In the past, this not so good-looking fish wasn't consumed as a food item in Korea due to its appearance. The story behind the birth of this dish is that some fishermen didn't want to waste their catches, so they brought them to an eatery and ask the cook to make a tasty dish. That was in the 1960's. The dish is now enormously popular all over the country in Korea. At restaurants, agujjim is usually sold as a large dish that's meant to be shared. It's also pretty pricey. I remember my first time ordering this dish, at a restaurant around here, many years ago. The expensive, large dish we ordered to share was just full of soybean sprouts and not enough fish to go around. My family was disappointed, and I started to make the dish at home.
Monkfish is a firm, white fish with a texture similar to lobster meat. Here in America, it's known as "poor man's lobster". Korean markets around here sell trimmed monkfish so I don't have to deal with the huge, ugly head. The fishmonger will cut it into small pieces for you if you ask. They are usually bone-in and skin-on, which is fine for us Koreans because we usually cook fish with bones and skins intact. But, you can also use fillets for this dish. Agujjim usually includes minari (Korean watercress) and mideodeok (sea squirts) as well. Sea squirts are hard to find and expensive, so I usually substitute it with shrimp or clams. The soybean sprouts play an important supporting role in this dish. Be sure to cook the sprouts briefly, and plunge them into an ice bath immediately after. The crunchy bean sprouts nicely complement the tender, moist fish with a burst of spicy flavor!
2 to 3 servings
1.5 pounds monkfish (agu)
2 tablespoons rice wine (or use dry white wine)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (less if using fine table salt)
6 large shrimp, unpeeled (or a few little neck clams) - optional
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
3 tablespoons Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pepper to taste
2 tablespoons water
8 ounces soybean sprouts
2 ounces minari or watercress, cut into about 3 to 4 inch lengths
2 scallions, cut into about 2 inch lengths
starch slurry (1 tablespoon corn or potato starch in 2 tablespoons of water)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds