Attempting a jjigae – a Korean style spicy tofu and mushroom soup

Jjigae - mushroom and tofu soup

This wasn’t really a jjigae. It was an attempt at recreating the spicy Korean soup, but with no recipe, no fish or meat, and without many of the proper ingredients. And having eaten it all of three times in my life. What could possibly go wrong?

The result turned out better than I feared, but not as good as I’d hoped. And in part, it was all down to me trying to keep it vegetarian. Not sure why I felt the need to do it, other than a perverse and vague feeling that it’s good to be veggie sometimes.

What it really boiled down to was the stock. It doesn’t really matter what else you do if the stock is wrong. I used a plain old vegetable bouillon. And it lacked the requisite depth and flavour. If I had gone down the fish stock route, I’d be singing my triumph to the skies. If I’d used the right vegetables that is.

Cooking up my Korean soup
Cooking up the soup

That was the other thing I quickly realised. You need to use the right veg, or dispense with them altogether. Boiled okra? Uh-uh, no thanks. Never again. I transformed one of my favourite vegetables from perky green joy-rockets to tasteless lumps of pale matter. Next time I’ll crumb and deep fry them as an accompanying snack.

And yet, despite all that, it was still pretty tasty. Rescued by the magic Gochujang, a pungent and intense Korean chili and ginger paste, and the mushrooms. They gave it some backbone, oomph and taste. Even a little umami. And the tofu added a good firm-but-wibbly texture.

Egg yolk waiting
A broken egg yolk – summed up the whole thing really

So I almost made it, falling at a couple of hurdles. It wasn’t inedible, it was just an alright, if plain, spicy broth. Next time I’m going to ditch the veggie approach and go full throttle, throwing plenty of salty strong fishy flavours at it. And the right vegetables.

My jjigae recipe and ingredients
Serves two with rice

Before you do anything else, if you want a proper jjigae recipe head on over to Meemalee’s blog and read this. I was aiming for an entirely veggie one, but I’m just not sure it tastes as good. It’s the stock y’see. And the boullion just didn’t give it enough depth.

I’d also omit the selection of vegetables – or change them to baby corn, sugar snaps and other more robust and sweet veg. If I used radish again, I’d slice it super fine, or grate it, and use it as a garnish. The okra and tomatoes didn’t work at all.

Finally, I would definitely use soft tofu, it gives the whole thing a kind of poached-egg like texture – creamy and wonderful.

Korean soup ingredients

2 dessert spoons of Gochujang
1 block of tofu (use soft if you can find it, it gives a much creamier texture)
3 large field mushrooms
1 pack of enoki mushrooms
A selection of vegetables (I used cherry tomatoes, radishes, baby okra)
Japanese soy sauce
Spring onions – finley sliced
1 egg yolk
A few basil leaves
1 litre stock (I used Marigold boullion, fish would’ve been ten times better)

Slice all the vegetables, put some oil in a big pan over a medium heat. Add the gochujang and stir it for a minuite or two. Add the mushrooms and the white parts of the spring onion. Stir and fry for a few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, add the rest of the vegetables and a glug or two of Japanese soy and bring to a simmer. Leave to bubble slowly while you make some rice.

Separate the egg yolk, serve the jjigae and side the raw yolk into the soup gently. Scatter over the basil leaves and eat.

9 Responses to “Attempting a jjigae – a Korean style spicy tofu and mushroom soup”

  1. meemalee

    Aww, bless you – for pimping my recipe and for being so sweetly self-deprecating.

    It still looks ruddy good, but I agree that it probably is all about the fish stock :)

  2. meemalee

    Ooh, talking about dodgy veg – I had a “pho” at this place Banana Tree Canteen where they decided to put all sorts of wrongness into the mix.

    The broth itself was okay if too sweet, but they’d chucked cherry tomatoes, bok choi and shiitake mushrooms into it – and even worse – they were GARNISHES, so not remotely cooked. WRONGNESS.

  3. Mr Noodles

    Freestyle riffing on a restaurant dish with no recipe – I like it. And kudos for admitting that it could’ve been better with some fish stock.

    To meemalee – that ‘pho’ does sound WRONG, I mean just how is bok choi meant to miraculously cook in off the boil soup! Places like Banana Tree Canteen just ought to be avoided – I’m always staggered that the one in Battersea is so busy.

  4. The Grubworm

    @meemalee – well, it was your recipe that gave me the idea… Can’t wait to get stuck in with proper fish and stock. And soft tofu. And more chilli.

    And as for Banana Tree – I dunno, always avoided it. You have simply confirmed the rightness of that decision. Bok choi garnish?! *shakes head sadly*

    @Mr Noodles – that;s the kind of dangerous, on-the-edge sort of person I am ;)

  5. shayma

    mmm, doesnt matter if you used veg broth- w the addition of all those other gorgeous elements, it must have come together so nicely!slurp slurp. x shayma

  6. Gail

    Brilliant. Seeing okra described as ‘perky green joy-rockets’ makes me almost want to try them.

  7. The Grubworm

    @Shayma – if I had made the veggie broth it might have been better. As it was, it just lacked a certain depth to it. It was still tasty though. And it sure cleared my nose…

    @Gail – you’ve never tried okra! Damn, I need to get you back over to force feed you some bhindi bhaji or gumbo. And soon.

  8. Leluu

    I just had some. I am in Seoul and it was so friggin good. I thought of you. I know you love this soup! Please post again when you are happy with your perfected recipe.

    @Meemalee – “wrongness” hehe

    @Gail – what do you mean you’ve never had okra? When you get forced fed, can I come too?

  9. The Grubworm

    @Leluu – I am envious of your Seoul food jjigae, but thanks for thinking of me! I will give it another go soon enough methinks, just need to get some dried fish and properly soft tofu.

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