One of the most representative dishes of Korean cuisine is sundubu jjigae (순두부 찌개), halfway between a thick soup and a juicy tofu stew.
What does sundubu jjigae mean?
In Korean cuisine, a jjigae is a simmered or braised dish. In Korean, sundubu means “tofu” but a variety of soft, fresh, undrained, unpressed tofu, commonly known as silky tofu or soft tofu. The sundubu jjigae is therefore tofu stew.
Besides the tofu jjigae, there are many variations of jjigae: made with meat, seafood or vegetables, but always between a soup and stew.
In most cases, they are seasoned with gochujang, doenjang (soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce) or jeotgal (fermented molluscs).
A typical Korean meal almost always includes a jjigae or a guk (soup).
Jjigae are usually named after the main ingredient, for example, kimchi jjigae. Anyone who has barely touched Korean cuisine has certainly heard of kimchi, a side dish obtained from the fermentation of napa cabbage (most traditional) seasoned with garlic, ginger, onion, chili powder and other ingredients which may vary by region.
For the sundubu jjigae, beside tofu, vegetables and a condiment called gochujang, very spicy and which gives the dish a red color, are generally added. Gochujang can be replaced with kimchi, with one of its essential ingredients called gochugaru or hot pepper powder.
Depending on the type of sundubu jjigae, other ingredients can be added, such as beef or pork, seafood (usually oysters, mussels, clams and shrimp), mandu (dumplings), dried anchovies, or kelp (seaweed).
Sundubu jjigae is served in a very hot bowl, in which you may break egg at the end of the cooking. The heat of the dish will allow the egg to cook and make the soup even better.
What is tofu?
Tofu is a food of Chinese origin, produced from the curdling of soy milk. It is a white, soft, almost odorless product with a rather neutral taste, constituting an important base of Asian food, and also often consumed by vegetarians and vegans.
To talk about tofu production, one must first understand the concept of soy milk. Since cheese is made from milk, soy cheese is made from soy milk, in a slightly different process.
Soy milk is a liquid that is extracted by bringing the soybean to a boiling temperature. When soybeans are harvested, like other legumes, their seeds are dry, so they must be rehydrated before use; the soybeans are then left for several hours in water until it is absorbed, then boiled so that the high temperature can extract the nutrients, including the proteins.
The soybeans are then ground to ensure that boiling water has more contact with the surface of the seeds and can extract more substances. At the end of this phase, everything is filtered, and what remains is the coarse and liquid part called soy milk.
Soy milk is a liquid composed mainly of water, but also fat and protein, which when dissolved, become solid like rennet.
Tofu is also sometimes called soy rennet. Rennet is a chemical that has the property of making proteins from a water-soluble form to an insoluble form, whereby separating them into a thick paste.
The rennets used in the production of tofu are not the same as those used in the production of cheese, since the soy and milk proteins are completely different.
As with cheese, in the soybean world there is a wide range of choices: sulphate can be used as rennet, as well as calcium chloride or magnesium sulphate, but also many others.
The choice of rennet is very important in production, since there are many types of tofu. So, once the curd is formed, it is filtered: the liquid is removed and only the solid part is retained, which is actually tofu.
The production of tofu is therefore ultimately very similar to the production of classic cheese. However, tofu is not cheese and it is not meat, but it is an excellent food from a nutritional point of view. It is nutritious and although it is rather tasteless, it is still good. It is an interesting food to use in cooking and not only for vegetarians and vegans.
Tofu is a low-calorie food that is very rich in vegetable proteins. Low in fat, it is completely free of cholesterol. In fact, 100 g of soy contains 15 g of protein, 10.5 g of fat and 1 g of carbohydrates.
Also perfect for those who suffer from celiac disease because it is gluten-free, this food can be consumed by everyone, unless specific allergies to soy have been identified.
The different varieties of tofu
- Firm tofu
Firm tofu is a tofu that holds well. It keeps its consistency during cooking and does not disintegrate. The sous-vide tofu will necessarily be extra-firm. This is the texture to choose when frying with vegetables, or sautéing in a wok or pan. It holds well in cooking and is easy to eat with chopsticks because it does not crumble. It can also be fried to make a vegetarian burger.
Crumbled, grated, diced or mashed, in all preparations from appetizer to dessert, the firm tofu does not really have its own taste, it soaks up like a sponge the foods it is cooked with.
- Soft or silken tofu
The sundubu is a silken tofu. It is less pressed than firm tofu. It is very fragile and breaks easily. It has the consistency of a flan and has a more pronounced taste than firm tofu. It can be used in a sweet or savory version, beaten to obtain the consistency of yogurt, or as a substitute for cream.It should not be handled too much and rather mixed in smoothies, cake batters, sauces or desserts. It is also the tofu that is used in miso soup.
- Fried tofu
Sold in Asian grocery stores, fried tofu is a firm tofu that has been fried in oil, cooled and often vacuum-packed. Asian grocery stores and tofu shops offer it in the fresh produce section. It is used to prepare vegetable woks, sautéed noodles or Asian curries.
- Smoked tofu
Smoked tofu is a firm tofu that has been smoked with beech wood. Very fragrant, this tofu needs less additional flavor and can be eaten simply grilled in a pan with a little soy sauce. For vegetarians or those who don’t eat pork, it is said that smoked tofu would have a taste similar to that of bacon. It is also perfect for replacing ham in a salad, bacon in a pasta dish, or for a meatless raclette.
- Lactofermented tofu
Lactofermented tofu is a tofu that has not been curdled but rather fermented with lactic bacteria. Very different from traditional tofu, its tangy taste can remind that of feta. It can be used in vegetable cheese sauces, in salads or in spreads.
Sundubu jjigae is a traditional Korean dish, between a soup and stew, made with silken tofu, that is simmered in a spicy sauce.
- 8 dried anchovies
- 4 oz. mu (Korean radish or daikon), peeled, washed and thinly sliced
- 1 oz. dried dasima (or kelp)
- 3 tablespoons gochugaru (hot pepper flakes)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 3 oz. stewing beef (or pork belly), cut into small pieces
- 1 onion , chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- ¾ cup chopped kimchi
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 16 oz. silken tofu
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 2 scallions , thinly sliced
- Cooked white rice
- 2 Korean stone bowls
- Place the dried anchovies, radish, and dried seaweed in a pot.
Add 3 cups (750 ml) of water.
- Cover and boil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes from the time it starts to boil.
- Reduce heat to low and boil for another 20 minutes, covered.
Remove from heat and strain. This will make about 2 cups (500 ml) of broth. Set aside.
- Combine the hot pepper flakes and sesame oil in a small bowl and mix well.
- Heat two stone bowls over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes.
- Divide the ingredients between the two stone bowls.
- Add the vegetable oil, onion and garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon for one minute.
- Add the beef (or pork). Stir for 3 minutes until the meat is no longer pink.
- Add the kimchi and continue to stir for one minute. Add at least one to two ladles of the previously prepared broth. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Add salt and sugar and mix well.
Pour half of the silken tofu into each bowl. Gently break the tofu with a wooden spoon.
- Add a little more stock according to taste.
- Add the chili mixture.
- Break an egg in each bowl and place it on the center of each stew.
- Sprinkle with thinly sliced scallion and serve with steamed rice rice and other accompaniments.