“A lot of things in life aren’t fair, but food is—any love and energy that you invest will yield the same return.” So says Hooni Kim, the executive chef of Hanjan restaurant in New York City’s Flatiron District. That’s also one of the reasons why he so loves to cook.
Another is that his passion for the culinary arts was formalized in the throes of a major life crossroads. Kim was studying for a medical degree at the University of California-Berkeley when his fervency for food prep mounted irresistibly. Instead of becoming a doctor, he switched gears and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute.
Kim invited me to his restaurant to savor his sundubu jjigae—a Korean spicy tofu stew. The restaurant’s name, Hanjan, means “one drink” in Korean and is typically used invitingly, as in “let’s have a drink.” It’s inspired by the joomak, Korean taverns from hundreds of years ago that offered travelers scrumptious food, delectable drinks, and a place to rest their bones.
Sundubu jjigae is a stew made with tofu, vegetables, and seafood or meat. A raw egg is added just before serving. It’s typically eaten with a bowl of cooked white rice and several banchan side dishes.
Tofu is a popular ingredient in Korean cuisine that has been served since the Joseon Dynasty in the 14th century. “Tofu is like a blank canvas—you can add any flavor combinations to it,” Kim told me as I gazed into the pot of stew, mesmerized by the cubes of bean curd simmering away.
When at long last I scooped up a spoonful of the stew—delicious!—justice was done to my palate. Indeed the tofu was imbued with flavors—spicy, savory, sweet—yet stayed so delicate. Wonderful!
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did. Bon appétit.
Korean Spicy Tofu Stew (Sundubu Jjigae)
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
- 5 ounces pork belly, chopped into bite size pieces
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes
- 1 quart low sodium chicken stock
- 2 medium white onions, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped into bite size pieces
- 20 ounces extra soft tofu
- 1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
- 1 raw egg
To a medium saucepan, add sesame oil, pork, and salt. Stir for 2 minutes over medium high heat. Then add garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for another 1 minute until the aroma emerges. Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and let it boil for 5 minutes. Add onions, zucchini, and tofu, then let it boil for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add scallions and the raw egg to the stew, and serve.
Recipe adapted from the original recipe by executive chef Hooni Kim, Hanjan restaurant