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What Is Doenjang Jjigae?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Doenjang jjigae is a type of Korean soup that is one of the most cooked dishes in traditional Korean homes. The soup itself has a basic set of ingredients, including zucchini, onions, potatoes and tofu, but is really made differently depending on who is making the soup and what ingredients are readily available. The name of the soup refers to the primary flavoring in the broth, which is a fermented bean paste called doenjang. Cooks who are making doenjang jjigae usually do so with the intention of using leftover ingredients, so the soup can actually have a different taste each time it is made. Some type of meat or seafood, most often shrimp or ground pork, is usually included as an element of the stew.

The main element of doenjang jjigae, and the reason for the name of the dish, is fermented bean paste. This is a paste used in many Korean dishes as a flavoring and is really a staple condiment in the region. It is made by boiling and then grinding soybeans into a paste that is then allowed to ferment under dried rice stalks. After some time, the fermentation produces a very salty paste that can occasionally be thick with soybeans that were not fully ground. Although salty, the taste is savory and has the familiar tang of fermented foods.

The soup begins with the broth. This can be started with plain water, water that has starch in it — such as that used to wash rice — stock or even anchovy water. The water is heated in a pot before dried anchovies and the fermented bean paste is added. After this mixture comes to a boil and cooks for some time, many cooks remove the anchovies from the water while others leave them in or use anchovy powder instead.

The different vegetables that are going to be used in doenjang jjigae are diced into bite-size pieces, all roughly the same size. Most recipes call for zucchini, potatoes and mushrooms or their stems as the basic vegetables to be used. More can be added depending on what is available in the home. The diced vegetables are added to the pan along with tofu, finely diced chili peppers and garlic. The entire soup is allowed to cook until the vegetables are tender. If seafood is being added, then it is added at the end along with green onions.

Doenjang jjigae can be served hot by itself in a bowl, over rice, or with a vegetable salad on the side. A popular way of eating the soup, however, is to combine the salad and rice in a bowl and then ladle the stew over top of it. Condiments such as hot chili sauce or sweet and sour chili sauce are often added to the soup just before eating it.

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