Tofu and kimchi

At the Korean mart about ten minutes away from our office, I bought a slab of tofu and a tub of kimchi (sweet, not sour, the vegetables fresh and still crunchy). The man behind the counter made small talk: "Kimchi Jigae?"

Yes, I said. I've been meaning to make one for Dad some two years ago, and a quick Internet stroll led me to an authentic-looking recipe.

"Mm-hmm. Tofu and kimchi. When they go together, they're crazy good, trust me."

I said I thought of it as a stew I could do to complement the cold weather.

"Yep. Kimchijigae. Two ingredients and that's it!"


Looking back, the conversation felt like a pat in the back, as if to tell me that this, after all, is one of the best ideas I've ever come across. I went home to Bulacan only to find out that I wasn't able to buy spring onions, which was sitting right next to the tofu at the Korean mart. That my Dad's freezer didn't have pork, only chicken, disheartened me more. After leaving the Ziplocked chicken out of the fridge to thaw, I slept. Then woke up at 8AM and called in late at the office--only to cook the jigae.

Sear chicken in cooking oil, then sauté it in onions and garlic. Pour in the kimchi. Make sure you rinse your kimchi's container with a bit of water; those bits and pieces of kimchi makes a rich stock of umami. Simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, until chicken becomes a bit tender and the broth thickens, as in a stew. Put two tablespoons (or more, if you like it hotter) of gochujang. Add a dash of salt and pepper, then top it off with leeks or spring onions upon serving. Best with a cup of steaming white rice.

What I liked about the recipe is how it uses the sour, stale kimchi you can usually retrieve from the farthest corners of the fridge. (My wife's incredible kimchi pasta does this trick, too!) Mildly spicy, the jigae had the vibrant flavors of a refreshing soup and the wholesome textures of melt-in-the-mouth silken tofu and sinewy meat. All the more reasons to stock up your fridge with assorted kimchi: the freshest, sweetest ones paired with breakfast; the leftovers, when used with any kind of meat (maybe meatballs or liempo) for a really good jigae.

This was written last January. I was surprised that it took me so long to complete a piece about a simple kimchijigae dish! Seriously.