Maeun Gamja Tang 매운 감자탕 (Spicy Pork Bone Stew)

Finally realizing and accepting that winter does exist on Jeju Island, my girlfriend and I have been spending most of our time indoors trying to keep warm from the elements (wind and rain mostly). And since we’re still doing the motorbike thingy, our outings have become less and less as the weather has gotten quite unpredictable. But the colder weather does bring about some good news, I can finally start making some Korean stews and soups. Specifically, I am talking about time-consuming, slightly laborious dishes like Seolleungtang (Beef Bone Soup), Gori Gomtang (Oxtail Soup), Kalbi Tang (Beef Short Ribs Soup), and today’s recipe Gamja Tang (Spicy Pork Bone Stew). While all of these dishes are great, there is something extra special about a heaping bowl of pork neck bones and potato chunks in a spicy, nutty, meaty broth. Personally, this nostalgic dish conjures up childhood memories when I used complain to my parents that it was too hard to eat and it wasn’t worth all the effort…..fast forward a few decades and now I can’t get enough of this comfort food. The neck bones, especially the once-hated joints/tendons/ligaments, are so addicting and delicious. Although it took over two hours to cook, it was perfect for our Sunday lunch and dinner meals. 

Gamja Tang 101: Originating in Jeollannam-do (southwest province of Korea), this is a traditional stew enjoyed as a regular meal or oftentimes as a late-night pairing with soju, Korea’s version of Vodka. In literal translation, gamja tang means “potato stew,” but its name actually refers to a part of the pork bone itself, not the potatoes. However over time, it was reported that customers kept asking about the potatoes, eventually making it a permanent fixture for the dish. Other main ingredients include pork neck bones, a generous amount of hot peppers, perilla seeds powder, perilla leaves, crown daisy leaves, and various leafy stems and greens. 

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” ~ Franz Kafka

 

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When using large chunks of meat like this, most traditional recipes call for soaking in water for a few hours to remove residual blood. I’ve made this several times without the pre-soak and there’s very little difference in taste since it is boiled twice.
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The initial boil with onions, garlic, leeks, and whole peppercorn if available. Boil for about 30 minutes.
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The initial boil will remove impurities and fatty deposits. After 30 minutes, rinse the meat thoroughly, discard everything except meat, and then replenish with new water.
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Here are the main vegetables for the recipe. Sookgeot (crown daisy leaves), perilla leaves, and potatoes are the essentials, while the rest you can substitute to your liking.
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Wash and then remove the hard stems from both of the leaves.
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Here I actually made a mistake cutting the cabbage too small and the wrong way. It should have been cut lengthwise instead of cross-section.
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The most important seasoning is the deulkkae garu (perilla seeds powder). This gives the broth a unique nutty flavor that contrasts perfectly with the spice.
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Basic sauce ingredients include plenty of gochugaru, deulkkae garu, garlic, fish sauce, and rice wine. While cooking, you can adjust the seasoning to fit your palate.
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After the first boil, replenish with water and add sauce ingredients. Bring to a rapid boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for about 1 hour. Replenish with water as needed.
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Add potatoes and cabbage, continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Sample the broth and adjust as needed.
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Add remaining vegetables and bring to a rapid boil. Immediately turn off, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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Maeun Gamja Tang (Spicy Pork Bone Stew)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 lbs pork neck or spine bones
  • 6 small potatoes
  • 1 bunch baechu (Napa cabbage)
  • 1 handful sookgeot (crown daisy leaves)
  • 15 kkaetnip (perilla leaves)
  • 1 package enoki mushrooms
  • 2 red or green chili peppers, chopped (or spicy chungyang peppers)
  • 5 tbsp gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
  • 1 tsp gochujang (red pepper paste)
  • 1 tsp dwenjang (soybean paste)
  • 4 tbsp deulkkae garuk (perilla seed powder)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp rice wine (or soju)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced (if available)
  • Initial Boil w Pork:
  • 1 small slice of ginger
  • 1 small onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper (whole peppercorn if available)
  • 1 large leek (if available)
Instructions
  1. Optional: Soak the pork bones in water for 2 hours to remove residual blood and sediment from pork.
  2. In a large pot, boil the pork with the last five ingredients for about 30 minutes. After the initial boil, drain water and strain the pork to remove excess fatty deposits. Discard cooked onion, garlic, etc.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a mixing bowl, set aside.
  4. Return the pork bones to the pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the meat. Add the sauce from the mixing bowl and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 60 minutes. Replenish with water as needed.
  5. Add the potatoes and cabbage, cover, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning according to taste (i.e. salt, perilla seeds powder).
  6. Add remaining vegetables and bring to a rapid boil. Immediately turn off, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
  7. Garnish with thinly sliced perilla leaves and perilla seeds powder.

 

Note to readers: All recipes, or more specifically seasoning and spice measurements, contained in MYKOREANEATS are approximations. Growing up in an old-school Korean kitchen where everything was measured by hand, there was a strict but important rule called “son-maat” (손맛), literally meaning “taste from one’s hand.” My mom would swear by this and always cooked all the dishes using her raw cooking instincts to provide comfort food at its finest. This concept of “son-maat” is pretty important in Korean cooking, so I’ve always wanted to keep that tradition alive even with the blog. Another aspect that I love about “son-maat” is the idea of putting one’s signature or stamp on a dish. What makes your food taste like yours, not like anyone else’s, is literally and figuratively the “taste of one’s hands.” As a side note, most Korean dishes like stews, stir fries, and banchan (side dishes) are cooked to taste, meaning that the addition of extra spices is, more often than not, added during the cooking process itself. In that sense, don’t fuss and worry about exact measurements, but rather focus on developing your own “son-maat.”
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