Best Budae Jjigae Recipe (Korean Army Stew)
Korean army stew, known as Budae Jjigae, is an iconic Korean-American fusion dish. This recipe is made with canned processed meats such as Spam, but with the Korean flavor of kimchi and instant ramen noodles. It’s not high-class fare but tastes extremely good–a perfect dish to cook on the table and share with family and friends.
“Made the stew a few days ago. It was a total hit. Pan was licked clean in no time. We will definitely be having this again. Extremely convenient. Perfectly spiced, the umami was oooooo mama”SuZQ
It’s not an unusual scene in Korea to see a pot of steaming hot stew in the middle of the dinner table. This budae jjigae, known as Koran army stew, is another popular Korean stew to add to your repertoire.
Korean army stew is one of those quick lunch or dinner dish that you can assemble easily in a pot and cook right on the table, so that you can enjoy it with your family and friends.
Many budae jjigae restaurants, like Nolboo Budae Jjigae (놀부 부대찌개), serve this tasty stew all over Korea and in other countries.
History of Korean army stew (budae jjigae)
Why is it called Korean army stew (budae jjigae)? Budae (부대) means army, and jjigae (찌개) means stew. The name of the stew is the direct translation of army stew.
When the Korean War resulted in an armistice in 1953, the land of Korea was devastated and the economy collapsed. Food was scarce and many people relied on relief aid from the U.N and the United States to survive during the next several years.
People living near the U.S army base in the areas of Uijeongbu and Pyeongtaek were able to access the surplus processed meats (known as budae gogi, 부대고기) from the military bases, and they made good use of them. (These canned meats were often scrounged or smuggled through the black market, since American products on the army base were solely for the troops, and were not legally accessible to Koreans).
Budae jjigae began as a very humble stew mixing American canned food with local Korean flavors, making it the very first Korean-American fusion dish. Since then, this army stew gained popularity during Korea’s period of rapid growth, and evolved to become an iconic Koran culinary dish.
Who would have thought this post-war humble stew would gain such popularity around the world? Anthony Bourdain, the famous cook and TV personality on Food TV, shared a budae jjigae recipe with Andrew Cooper on CNN’s Parts Unknown.
To be honest, I never tried this stew until I was in my 20’s. My parents never wanted to eat this stew as I was growing up. I think that for them, it brought back memories of the miserable post-war period that they had to suffer through.
But for most other Koreans, budae jjigae brings a feeling of childhood nostalgia. Korean army stew teaches a lesson – to stay humble even in your abundance and to acquire strength to protect our freedoms and democracy.
Budae Jjigae ingredients
This Korean army stew recipe might seem to have a long list of ingredients, but you can make it as simple or as hearty as you want. I am just offering you the options. So play with what’s available and the ingredients you like. It’s the best!
1) Must-include ingredients
- Spam: I prefer low sodium
- Pork & beans: The original budae jjigae always includes this canned food. It brings the unique flavor of this stew.
- Hot dogs and/or sausage: more processed meat to make it hearty and add umami flavor.
- Kimchi: Kimchi is what makes this stew “fusion”
- Stock: Try it with chicken stock. It adds more depth to the broth. Some people use anchovy kelp stock. Either one is fine, but I prefer chicken stock for this recipe for Korean army stew. Using just plain water won’t bring the flavor you want.
2) Other popular ingredients to add
- Pork belly or ground pork: additional protein
- Tofu: I recommend using soft tofu for its delicate texture. It absorbs the broth and holds the taste better than firm tofu.
- Instant ramen noodles: Use Korean ramen noodles if you can
- Cheese: You can use American cheese, but I prefer cheddar cheese.
- Onion/green onion: additional aromatic ingredients
- Mushroom: Any mushroom of your choice. I used oyster mushroom.
3) Extra add-ins you might like
Budae jjigae sauce recipe
Since all the add-ins are the typical ingredients, what makes the best budae jjigae is in the seasoning sauce you flavor the broth. Try mixing up the following ingredients to make the best tasting army stew.
- Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)–you can adjust the amount depending on your heat tolerance
- Korean chili paste (gochujang)–adds savory taste and thicken the broth
- Korean soup soy sauce–adds umami and seasoning
- soy sauce–more flavor
- garlic–savory addition
- pepper–to taste
Success tips for army stew
- Make your budae jjigae in a large, shallow pan to hold all the jjigae ingredients. I used a brasier pan.
- Cook your army stew on a portable burner right at the table, and have people pick out what they like to eat while the stew is simmering. (Most of the ingredients don’t take long to cook.)
- Try to eat the instant ramen noodles sooner rather than later, since they get soggy quickly once cooked.
- Have extra soup stock and jjigae ingredients nearby while eating so that you can replenish the stew if more is needed.
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How to make budae jigae (Korean army stew)
Step 1. Prepare Budae jigae sauce.
Mix together Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), gochujang, soy sauces, garlic, and pepper in a small mixing bowl; set aside.
Step 2. Arrange ingredients in a pan
Put slices of onion on the bottom of a shallow pan. Arrange the jjigae fillings (Spam slices, hot dogs, sausage, tofu, mushroom, kimchi, and etc) as you please.
Step 3. Add noodles and stock.
Add instant ramen noodles, cheese and the seasoning paste. Pour in enough stock to barely cover everything.
Adding plain water results in bland tasting broth. I recommend using low-sodim (or no-salt) chicken stock instead of water to add more umami and depth to the flavor.
Step 4. Bring to boil.
Place the pan on the stove (I recommend using a portable burner right on the table) and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir the seasoning paste to distribute it throughout the stew. Stir ramen noodles to cook evenly in the simmering stock.
Korean army stew doesn’t take long to cook since most of the meat is already cooked.
When the ramen noodle is soft and chewy, enjoy the noodles first on individual plates or bowls before they get soggy. Then you can serve the stew hot right at the table, dishing out a portion.
You can also serve it with rice, drizzling the broth over the rice to soak up all the wonderful flavor.
More Korean Fusion Dishes
If you want to explore Korean flavors mingled in other global cuisine, these recipes will satisfy your taste palettes:
- Philly Style Bulgogi Cheesesteak
- Crispy Kimchi Fried Rice with Cheese
- Kimcheese Rice Patties
- Kimchi Tomato Spaghetti
- Kimchi Chorizo Shrimp Paella
Best Budae Jjigae Recipe (Korean Army Stew)
For Budae Jjigae sauce
For Budae Jjigae stew
- 12 oz can Spam, sliced
- 8 oz can pork and beans
- 4.6 oz can Vienna sausage, drained
- 3 hot dogs, sliced in half
- 1 lb firm tofu, sliced
- 2/3 cup sour kimchi, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 3 oz mushroom, sliced
- 4 cup chicken stock, low sodium
- 1 instant ramen noodles, noodles only
Optional stew ingredients
- 1 slice cheddar cheese
- 1/3 lb ground pork
- 6 frozen dumplings
- 3 oz rice cake rounds
- 1/2 Asian leek, sliced
- To prepare Budae jigae sauce, mix together Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), gochujang, soy sauces, garlic, and pepper in a small mixing bowl; set aside.
- To arrange ingredients in a pan, put slices of onion on the bottom of a shallow pan. Arrange the jjigae fillings (Spam slices, hot dogs, sausage, tofu, mushroom, kimchi, and etc) as you please.
- Add instant ramen noodles, cheese and the seasoning paste. Pour in enough stock to barely cover everything.
- Place the pan on the stove (I recommend using a portable burner right on the table) and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir the seasoning paste to distribute it throughout the stew. Stir ramen noodles to cook evenly in the simmering stock.
- Serving Tip: When the ramen noodle is soft and chewy, enjoy the noodles first on individual plates or bowls before they get soggy. Then you can serve the stew hot right at the table, dishing out a portion.