Koreans are culinary masters in crafting richly flavored and comforting stews. One of the foundations of true Korean cuisine are its soups and stews, known as jjigae’s and tang’s. There are varieties of all kind and they are meals in themselves. Loaded with ingredients and flavors, Korean stews satisfy any appetite and culinary curiosity.
The following recipe is one of my favorite Korean soups. It has a little bit of everything. An intensely spicy and umami rich pork-flavored broth, created from braising unctuous and succulent roasted pork neck bones, is the background for a tapestry of tastes and ingredients. Napa cabbage soaks up the spicy hot broth, the two kinds of mushrooms present chewy textural contrast, the bean sprouts offer a pleasant snap, and the tofu brings its silky smooth mouthfeel. And no Korean stew is ever complete without the holy trinity: Korean red pepper flakes, Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) and Korean fermented soy bean paste (doenjang).
This Korean stew requires some prep time, but is easy to make. And the results will warm up any soul (and make them sweat).
Korean spicy roasted pork neck soup
Ingredients (serves 6-8 people):
- 3.5 lbs pork neck
- 12 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 leeks, minced
- Ginger, thumb-size, minced
- 1/3 cup Korean red pepper flakes
- 6 oz wild beech mushroom
- 6 oz enoki mushroom
- 1/2 lb bean sprouts
- 1/2 head of napa cabbage, rough chop
- 1 package medium firm tofu
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
- 3 tablespoons doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste)
- Sesame oil
- Scallions, diced
Hours before cooking time, marinate the pork neck in cold, salted water for two hours. After each hour, discard the water and refill. This helps remove impurities and blood from the pork neck bones. Pat the bones dry after their cleansing.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pork neck on a large baking tray and season with salt. Roast the pork for 10-15 mins. Then crank on the broiler to high and caramelize the neck bones for another 5-10 minutes. This will char the meat and help create the rich, deep pork flavor in the soup.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the butter, garlic, leek, ginger, and a dash of sesame oil. Sautee the aromatics until translucent and soft. Add the Korean red pepper flakes and thoroughly mix into the vegetables. Then add the roasted pork neck and make sure these are completely covered with the red pepper flakes. Cover the mixture with water. Place the pot lid on top, and have it braise over medium-low heat for 2 hours.
After two hours of braising, remove the pork neck from the soup. Allow the pork neck to cool. Sift into the soup base the gochujang and the doengjang. These ingredients bring intense and sweet umami and are typically found in all great Korean stews.
Over low heat, add the cabbage, enoki and beech mushrooms tofu and bean sprouts and cook for 15 minutes. This will enable the vegetables to cook, but maintain their integrity and texture. While these vegetables gently simmer, remove the pork meat from the neck bones. Add the pork neck meat to the soup.
Aggressively season the spicy stew with salt and papper. Serve it piping hot over a bowl of white rice. Top the stew with scallions and enjoy!