Saturday, July 5, 2008

Spicy Miso Beef Stew

This spicy miso beef stew is called Doenjang Jjigae in Korean. It is one of the most traditional Korean foods one can find along with Kimchi. The Korean miso paste called Doenjang is the key ingredient of this soup.

Doenjang is produced with dried soybeans that are boiled and stoned-ground into fine bits. This paste is molded up into big blocks similar to bricks, which are called Meju. These blocks are then put out in the sunlight and let it mold and therefore the fermentation process begins. This mold to the soybean is a type of vacteria that is good for health, similar to the ones used in the fermentation process of milk to produce yogurt. This Meju is one stinky piece of block. I remember as a child, I hated the smell of it whenever my grandma made those meju and hung them along the fence. So after these meju blocks are sun dried, they are placed in a warmer place to speed up the fermentation. Later these meju blocks are put into large opaque pottery jars with water and salt. For a month, they are being salted inside the jar. The meju blocks are finely crushed and mixed with water into a paste. Once fully salted, put more salt on top and then the cover of the jar is removed and replaced with a thin net to screen debris and insects from entering. Then now the mixture of exposed in the sunlight for 40 days for a full fermentation process. Now I remember when I was a child, my grandpa used to run outside and cover up these opaque pottery jars to prevent rain from entering into the jar. They were really serious about their Doenjang.

But seriously, making doenjang at home is not as realistic in modern days when people live in cities and apartments. Although if you're gungho about keeping the traditional flavor of Korean cuisine, homemade Doenjang is the best tasting condiment for many Korean dishes, most people give up the opportunity cost of this traditional flavor for a easy lifestyle. I am one of the latter people maybe because I am still young but also because I live in a student apartment. I cannot imagine hanging up stinky meju blocks outside my windows.

You can buy a pack or a container of Doenjang from a Korean supermarket. In English, it is a miso paste but that is somewhat overally generalized because there is Japanese miso paste that is quite different from the Korean miso paste. You need to buy the Korean miso paste in order to prepare this dish.

Ingredients: 2 tsp Doenjang, 1tsp clambase, 1tsp minced garlic, 1tsp red pepper powder, zucchini, enoki mushrooms, serrano chili peppers, red chili pepper, onion, potato, firm tofu, and beef

1. Boil water. I bought this traditional Korean earthen bowl from a Korean supermarket for making stews.

2. Add a tsp of clambase. Often, by adding clambase, you're adding more deep flavor for the soup broth and enough sodium so that you won't need to add salt later. Some Doenjang Jjigae uses fresh manila clams with shells instead. If you have some, use them.

3. Add 2tsp of Doenjang to the mix.

4. Now chop all your vegetable ingredients including tofu/beef before adding to the soup.

5. Add beef, potatoes first. After 2 minutes of boiling, add the rest of the vegetables.

6. After another 2 minutes, add tofu and sprinkle some red pepper powder on top and let the boiling soup cook it along with tofu. As a final touch (20 seconds before turning off your heat), add chopped green onions.

This is the final version of Doenjang Jjigae. Enjoy!

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