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The Tastiest Kimchi Jjigae Recipe (Kimchi Stew)

Kimchi Jjigae Recipe for the Best Kimchi Jjigae – Everytime

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

I actually ran a search on my own website to see if I had posted my kimchi jjigae (kimchee/kimchi casserole or stew, whatever you want to call it) recipe before. I mean, it’s something I cook all of the time and I know I’ve used kimchi for some of my recipe posts, but as it turns out, I never did a post for my kimchi jjigae recipe. How is that possible? Or did it go missing?

So, I decided to cook kimchi jjigae last night because I had big jars of old kimchi that I have been meaning to use now for days. 

Some Details About Kimchi

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

Do I normally keep THREE bottles of kimchi in fridge, you ask?

Well, no. At least not three of the same kind of kimchi, but around November, I had a friend coming over who likes very fishy, salty and spicy kimchi so I had prepared just a half jar of that, shown on the top and bottom right. In December, I made pogi-kimchi (whole cabbage, not pre-cut, pictured on the far left of the top photo) that will ripen nicely on its own. That same day, I also made my normal kimchee – in the middle of the top photo and bottom left. But all of them were beginning to get too old, which always means it’s time for kimchi recipes!

Technically, kimchee will never go bad. If you don’t salt your kimchee enough then it may actually mold, but otherwise, under normal circumstances in the refrigerator, it won’t go bad, per se–though it can become horrendously rank. There are actually dishes you can make with “totally gone” kimchi, but personally, I don’t use that kind of kimchi; I also really don’t keep kimchi long enough to ever have access to that kind of kimchi. But otherwise, even after a year, well-made kimchi will still be edible and it won’t kill you.

In my case last night, the oldest bottle is two months old and it’s loaded with salt and garlic. The other two kimchi are much blander, and hence, has soured faster too. As kimchi gets older, you’ll notice that the cabbage becomes softer, mushier and the liquid becomes more sour and more carbonated as it gets sour. While some people prefer this fully ripened kimchi, my householder normally eats very fresh kimchi as a side dish and anything less than fresh will get cooked into something — kimchi pancakes, kimchi and tofu fry, kimchi rice, or in this case, and most commonly, kimchi jjigae.

That said, let’s get started.

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Kimchi Jjigae Recipe: How to Make Great Kimchi Jjigae Consistently

Almost every person who cooks Korean food will tell you that kimchi jjigae is the easiest thing in the world to cook. And it is. If you boil plain water with some kimchi in it, it is technically kimchi jjigae. But there are some important factors in making delicious kimchi jjigae each and every time. 

There are some important rules when making #kimchi jjigae that must be followed. Here they are:Click To Tweet

Rules for Good Kimchi Jjigae

  1. This may go without saying, but bad kimchi = bad kimchi jjigae. Or more accurately, the better your kimchi originally tasted, the better your kimchi jjigae will taste. My mama taught me that when I was young and it remains true today.
  2. Good jjigae of any sort needs an oil source. I’ll explain below.
  3. You cannot make great kimchi jjigae without a decent amount of kimchi liquid/juice.
  4. Any good kimchi jjigae needs a flavorful broth that isn’t kimchi liquid. 


Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

I have two jars of kimchi to use. The oldest one doesn’t have a lot of liquid, so I dumped it into the pot.

In my family, the most important thing in the refrigerator is, by far, kimchi liquid. Or juice. Or whatever you want to call it. In Korean, it’s kimchi gookmool, which is really “soup.” We treasure this for one main reason: kimchi gookmool gooksoo (which is Kimchi Soup Noodles) which I’ll post the recipe for soon.

But refer to rule #3 above — to make delicious kimchi jjigae, it really has to cook in its own juices. So I dumped the entire jar of old kimchi into the pot.

(Note: I’m not giving exact details of how much of what to use for this kimchi jjigae recipe because so many factors will determine the final taste. You could follow my recipe to a tee with my exact measurements but if your kimchi is lesser or better than mine–it’ll be completely different. So, follow the pictures!)


Old Kimchi Recipes for Korean Jjigae | SFFOOD


The regular kimchi I had has a lot of liquid. So I took all of the cabbage out and left the liquid behind to see how much cabbage is in my pot first.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

After my pot was filled with the amount of cabbage that will be in tonight’s jjigae, I carefully poured the remaining kimchi juice into the pot until coverage looked like it’s shown above. Do not cover all of the cabbage as there is one step of additional liquid left, but for whatever pot size you use, you will need to most fill the pot with kimchi liquid until all but half an inch of cabbage stick up above the liquid.

I'm not giving exact details of how much of what to use here because kimchi 

I actually have some pork stock in my fridge right now that I cooked up a couple of days ago, but for the sake of this kimchi jjigae recipe, I wanted to show you the easiest way to get the great taste of kimchi jjigae. So, on many days when I don’t have a pork or beef broth cooked up, I’ll always go to my handy dandy canned Swanson chicken broth, which I always have in my pantry on any given day, come hell or highwater. Like, if the world should come to an end AND we’re stuck eating whatever we have at home AND one could survive only drinking chicken broth — well, I’d be set for a good long while.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Kimchi Jjigae Recipe: This is a 14.5 ounce can — and I’m pouring in the entire amount.
Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
This is the amount of liquid that the pot of kimchi jjigae should have.

So, whatever pot you are using, and after however much cabbage and kimchi liquid you have put into the pot, fill it with a good broth of any kind. It could be oyster broth, clam broth or if you have to, vegetable broth, like mushroom broth, etc.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Use 1-2 TBSP of oil in your kimchi jjigae!

Remember rule #2 above? To really make a good kimchi jjigae, you need to use an oil source. 

For last night’s jjigae, I took out some frozen pork belly from my freezer and lightly defrosted it. Knowing I am using pork belly, which provides a lot of oil anyway, I’m using 1/2T of canola oil. Now had I not been using a fatty meat source, I’d have used up to 2T of some kind of oil (not sesame oil at this stage — just a plain regular cooking like vegetable or canola oil). 

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
This was the thickness of the pork belly I used; I used three of these sliced into little pieces
Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Slice some thick cut pork belly, or bacon and toss in a few dried anchovies
Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Pork Belly for this Kimchi Jjigae Recipe

I took three slices of the thick-cut pork belly and sliced into pieces and tossed them into the pot. My hand is of average size, so hopefully that gives you an idea as to how much meat I used. There is no issue with using too much meat–but they should be of size to fully cook and become tender in 30 minutes and too much pork belly in particular makes for a very thick soup for kimchi jjigae. So for this kimchi jjigae recipe, either use ribeye steak in endless supply or a leaner pork; but if you will use pork belly like I am, then keep it to a minimum amount. A little goes a long way with these cuts.

I then took a few (four but anywhere between 3-8 or so would be fine) dried anchovies and also tossed those into the pot.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Take about a 1/4 C of red pepper flakes (gochugaru) and dump it in. If you don’t have this at home, you can use gochujang (red pepper paste) at about 1 TBSP.
Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Secret ingredient: SRIRACHA SAUCE!

Now, the spices. If your kimchi is particularly spicy or if you can’t handle spicy, check yourself before you do this step. 

For my purposes, I’m using about 2T of dried pepper flakes, and the equivalent of 2T of Sriracha. If you cannot handle any more spice than your kimchi already has, then you can skip this step but make sure to then add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. I don’t add any sugar to this because the Sriracha imparts enough sweetness. 

What you have left will look like this:

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Final product before hitting the stove

Kimchi Jjigae Recipe: Cooking Time

Doing all of the above ahead of time will save you around ten minutes. If you prepare it and keep it just like that in the refrigerator, you’re good to go for dinner. Otherwise, we move on with cooking right now.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

Put the pot you just prepared onto the stove. You are going to keep it turned up high until it comes to  full, rolling boil.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Rolling Boil on High

Mix the pot in slowly to ensure all of the meat is in the boiling liquid. In my case, I also want to make sure my anchovies are in the liquid to ensure that I’m pulling out all the flavors I can.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Keep on high for 10 minutes and turn down to medium for 10 minutes.

How you do this part is up to you. If you are short on time and need to get dinner on the table, you can just boil on high for 20 minutes and it’s basically cooked. How I do it, presuming I have the time, is I’ll let it boil at full heat and bubbling up for a full ten minutes, and then I turn down the heat to medium and let it go another 10 minutes, COVERED. 

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

Once the ten minutes on medium is over, turn down the heat to LOW/SIMMER and take a taste. The pork is fully cooked through and the kimchi should look somewhat translucent and limpid; they’ll also be much softer. Then you know your kimchi is cooked. Taste-wise, if you’re going to use anything to further season the kimchi jjigae, now is the time as all you have left to do is keep it on low for the last ten minutes.

One of the kimchi jars I used for this kimchi jjigae recipe was extremely salty so I didn’t need to add any salt at all, but if you need it, add salt.

Dashida in Korean Cooking: Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | SFFOOD

Side note: For even better flavor, you can add beef bouillon or Korean “dashida” but because there’s plenty of good flavors from pork belly and anchovies, I’d use salt if I had to. Now, on some nights when I am making kimchi jjigae but PLAIN, without anything but, say, dried anchovies, I will use dashida because the beef flavoring is quite spectacular in small doses. At most, I would use a teaspoon in this and if it still needed more, I’d use salt. If you use too much of the dashida, I find that things start to take on a very intense but a distinctly fake and MSG-esque flavor.

After seasoning as much as needed, put the cover back on and let it simmer for the final ten minutes.

Kimchi Jjigae with Butter Rice
Butter and Kimchi Jjigae are lifelong partners

Now, here’s a life changer.

When I was a little girl, on some random evening, my dad plops down a pad of butter on my hot rice. I scream, “NOOOOO!!!!” and he tells me to let it melt and try it. I still scream that I don’t want it and that I want clean rice, and he says if I take a bite of this “butter rice” with the kimchi jjigae and I don’t like it, I can have “clean rice.” I was a pretty reasonable kid and I agreed to do it, and from that moment on, life was just a little bit brighter and delicious. The combination is amazing. You can also just plop the butter into the pot, but I like it in my rice. Just a little pad of butter and depending on what kind of butter–sprinkle a little salt if your butter is bland. Mine is pretty salty on its own.

Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food
Butter rice and kimchi jjigae: combination made in heaven!



Best Kimchi Jjigae Recipe | San Francisco Food

If you want tofu like I’ve used above, then put it in at the very end when you’re simmering and DO NOT COVER the pot. Just let it simmer opened up for 15 minutes. You can also easily use just about anything else for the base of this stew….shrimp, a light fish stock, clams or even dried seaweed. What you can’t use it stock that is stinky….that will never be masked by the sour kimchi. 

If your kimchi is very, very old and sour, and when you taste it and it’s still too sour, then use a teaspoon of sesame oil to balance it out and add a tiny amount of sugar, too, which will bring down some of the sour taste. Alternatively, you can also wash your cabbage down and squeeze out a lot of the juice to 

How to Make Kimchi JjigaeAgain, you might need to try different kimchi recipes to find the right one. Generally speaking, if you have a very bland kimchi at home, then you’ll need to add more seasonings like dashida or salt. But if you use a lot of fermented shrimp or other fish sauces, and extra salt and sugar in your kimchi (or if bought, you’ll know if a lot was used), then you have perfect kimchi for kimchi jjigae. For this recipe, I’ve tried to do a step-by-step via only the pictures, because it’s hard to tell you an exact measured amount of anything because it depends entirely on the taste of your kimchi. But if you stick to the kimchi liquid + meat stock + oil kimchi jjigae recipe, you should have well on your way.

In Korean culture, the answer to “Do you want kimchi jjigae for dinner?” is almost always a resounding yes. This is total comfort food and quite possibly the country’s leading cooked dish. With a little bit of hot rice, you really need nothing else to have a very full meal. 

If you like kimchi, make sure to try this with your leftover kimchi. I’ll post up my kimchi recipe soon, but until then — enjoy! And let me know if you have any questions by adding a comment below.

Grace Keh

Managing Editor

Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.

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San Francisco Food® has been providing trusted restaurant reviews and recipes since 2009, led by food author Grace Keh & read by food lovers worldwide.


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