It was a jar of homemade Korean soybean paste; the doenjang!
It’s been a while since I had the homemade doenjang in my kitchen. I was so thrilled. I learned that the doenjang she gave me was made in a Buddhist temple in Korea where her mother often goes to. Doenjang made in Buddhist temple was considered as one of the best kind.
Oh, the joy of smelling a stinky fermented jewel! I was the happiest home cook in the world when the unlovely(?) aroma hit under my nose…
So I made a stew, …my favorite kind; the Beef Doenjang Jjigae (소고기 된장찌개, sogogi doenjang jjigae). We often calls this stew in the restaurant as 차돌박이 된장찌개 (chadolbaggi doenjang jjigae).
I tasted it, and boy…! I was so touched by the flavor I almost became emotional. It resembled the stew I used to eat in my childhood in a small town of Korea. Memories were falling upon me. My mother made a few different kinds of doenjang jjigae and this one with beef became my absolute favorite.
Although I am a huge fan of using anchovies to make stock as a base for many doenjang jjigae, this recipe doesn’t require any sea creatures to create the deep flavor that we long for. A great news for the anchovy haters!
There are couple of tips to achieve the best flavor. One; use rice starch water (쌀뜨물, ssalttemool) which you will see how to make it so easily. Two; use any cut of beef that has good marbling.
If you have these two tips in mind, you can create (even with commercially made doenjang) one of the most comforting stew that has been loved by millions of Koreans. Isn’t that exciting?
First thing first. You have to eat your stew with rice. Prepare your rice by rinsing just once. Discard the first rinsed water.
Pour 2 1/2 cups of water and swirl around. you will see the water becoming milky-like. This is the rice starch water (쌀뜨물, ssalttemool). A great stock base to give the stew more in-depth flavor.
You can continue rinse your rice a couple more times and cook them by your usual method.
Slice beef into big chunks.
Pour about 1/2 cup of rice starch water in a small stew pot. If you have the Korean style stone pot, use it by all means. For some reason I found the stew made in the stone pot is more delicious. I can’t scientifically prove it though.
Using a spoon smear your doenjang paste against the wall of your pot to break down. Make sure you smear all the big chunks of paste sinking to the bottom.
Pour the rest of the rice starch water and mix.
Cut up your vegetables into bite sizes.
You will see some scums floating on top. If that bothers you, scoop them out with a spoon.
This is an optional but if you like a little spicy kick to the stew, add a tiny bit of Korean red chili flakes and stir.
Now your stew is ready to serve. It is boiling hot so pay a full caution when you bring the pot to the table.
Sharing doenjang jjigae in one pot with someone you love sitting across from each other on the table is something that we Koreans love to do.
As I was growing up, when my mother put a stew like this on the table, we dipped our spoons in the same pot to share together. There always was one kid in my family who would eat the beef only. I won’t to tell you who that kid was but I can recollect the funny conversation we had together.
Sharing a same stew pot is perhaps not the most hygienic table manner from the modern standard but it created some great family binding experiences.
I was sitting alone in my big dining table all by myself to enjoy this divine stew as a lunch, I suddenly thought of my parent’s small-humble-lacquered-round-wooden Korean table they used to feed their 5 children with. It must have been very crammed space for a family of seven, but as far as I can remember… I can only remember how delicious my mother’s food was.
- Pour 1/2 cup of rice starch water in to a small pot. Smear the soybean paste to breakdown all the big chunks of the paste to incorporate with the water. Add the Korean chili paste in a same manner. Add the rest of the rice starch water to the pot and mix well.
- Add the the beef slices and bring the pot over med-high heat to boil.
- What the stock is boiling add the onion, potato, mushroom and continue to boil for 2 minutes.
- Add the zucchini, tofu and garlic, green chili. Add the red chili flakes at this stage if you wish. When the potatoes and zucchinis are tender, remove the pot from heat and sprinkle green onions.
- Serve hot with rice. Be careful! It is boiling hot.
- * To make rice starch water: Rinse rice once and discard the water. Swoosh the rice in a bowl with your hand for 20 seconds and add the 2 1/2 cup of water to the bowl. Swirl around and you will see milky water. Reserve the milky water to use as a stock base. Continue rinsing the rice couple more times and cook rice in a usual way to serve.