Guys! This is one of my favorite things ever.
Okay, so I have a long list of “favorite things ever” — mostly involving cheese, chocolate, or not leaving the house — but seriously, this. This is a favorite of favorites.
I first had budae jjigae in a little upstairs joint in K-town, underneath a sea of fairy lights and soju caps dangling from a net-draped ceiling. It was in weather not unlike the kind we’ve been having this week, and the bubbling pot that appeared in front of us was all my winter-comfort dreams come true — spicy, noodly, Spam-y melty-cheese heaven.
Since then, budae jjigae has been a staple of every winter I’ve spent up North, the kind of droolworthy dish that had me waiting for the bus in snowy single-digit Boston weather and struggling through skyscraper wind-tunnels on frigid Manhattan evenings to find. It’s classic comfort food, one that gets its name from harder times, and true to its namesake, it’s loaded up with all things plain but wonderful — instant ramen, salty Spam, chewy rice cakes and silky-soft tofu. The broth is thick and rich, laced with earthy umami tones from kombu and anchovies, dyed fiery-red with kimchi and gochujang, spicy enough to make you sweat even when your fingers are still thawing from the cold outside. It’s a humble, hearty stew, a stew for sharing, and I associate it with the best memories of warm friends on cold winter nights.
It’s hard to beat the idea of sharing budae jjigae and soju in a dive-y kind of place, where you’re back-to-back with the folks at the next table and you risk elbowing your friend in the face when you go to serve up a bowl. Still, for a homebody like me, recreating it in my own kitchen was beyond exciting. Like a lot of kitchen-sink style dishes, the cast of characters it involves is a little extensive, but bringing them all together into a stew is impossibly easy, with the kind of reward that has you (or at least me) running around the kitchen like I made this, I made this! I love the idea that this balanced complexity was once cobbled together from the plain and simple in times of scarcity — it’s a lemons-from-lemonade kind of magic. (Except Spam is so not lemons. It’s pure gold.)
I hope you’re all having a wonderful start to 2015! And thank you so, so much for your super lovely comments on my last post — we read them all with huge smiles and warmed hearts. Happy new year!
If you happen to have a hot pot or fondue pot, this would be amazing right at the table -- otherwise, be sure to enjoy immediately, and keep the soup simmering while you eat for refills. You can add more water (or dashi stock, if you have extra on hand) as the broth boils down, and more ramen as you eat it.
- for the dashi stock:
- 6 cups water
- 1-2 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 6 dried anchovies, head and innards removed (if you can’t find dried anchovies, substitute 3 tbsp fish sauce)
- 1 sheet dried kelp (kombu)
- for sauce:
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
- 1-2 tbsp Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru) (adjust to taste)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (optional)
- generous pinch black pepper (optional)
- for the stew:
- 1 cup cabbage, chopped
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup chopped kimchi, well-fermented
- 2 scallions, chopped, plus more for garnish
- 2 hot dogs or 2 oz Polish kielbasa, sliced
- 4 oz Spam (1/3 can, or more if you prefer)
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 cup dduk (Korean rice cakes, optional)
- 4-6 oz tofu, sliced (1/2 package, optional)
- 1/4 cup baked beans (optional)
- 1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
- 1-2 packets ramen
- slices of white American cheese or mozzarella, for topping
- If using dduk, place it in a bowl with plenty of cold water and let soak while you prepare everything else.
- Prepare the stock. Combine 6 cups water, mushrooms, anchovies, and dried kelp in a large 5-6 quart pot, or a hot pot if you have one. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, then remove kelp. If using anchovies, let simmer for another 5 minutes, then remove anchovies.
- Meanwhile, mix together the sauce ingredients (garlic, gochujang, gochugaru, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, and pepper) in a small bowl.
- Place the cabbage, onion, kimchi, scallions, and sliced meat into the simmering broth, then place the ground beef in the center. If using, also add the dduk, sliced tofu, beans, and mushrooms. Pour the sauce over top. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 10 minutes, or until ground beef is cooked. Stir the ground beef to break it up into smaller pieces. You can leave the other ingredients in a ring around the beef for presentation, or just mix it all up.
- Add the ramen to the center of the broth and cook for 2-3 minutes more, until noodles are soft. Top with American cheese or mozzarella if desired, and enjoy immediately!