Having cooked and eaten and experienced so many new dishes during the past year and a half, one of the things that I have learned is how practical and resourceful Koreans are with their ingredients. I have always known this growing up while watching my mom cook, but now that I am actually doing most of the cooking there’s a greater appreciation for each ingredient and how it’s utilized. This is even more evident as I now live on Jeju Island, where you undoubtedly get the freshest, highest-quality ingredients from the sea but also land-harvested ingredients which are bigger and better due to the nutrient-rich soil that they’re grown in. With these valuable ingredients at my daily disposal, it was important to follow tradition and avoid letting anything go to waste. That’s where today’s recipe comes in: maeuntang (spicy fish stew). Using the leftover fish bones and head from the beautiful yellowtail hwe (raw fish) that was enjoyed a few weeks back, my girlfriend and I decided to make one of my favorite spicy stews. For those who are unfamiliar with this stew, it’s one of those light stews with plenty of spicy kick but at the same time thoroughly refreshing and invigorating with each bite (or slurp).
With the remaining bones and heads from the yellowtail, there was surprisingly plenty of meat to work with for the maeuntang. Some people seem to think you need a whole fish for this dish. You don’t. Many seafood restaurants in Korea, specifically hwe (raw fish) restaurants, use the leftovers to make this soup—more often than not accompanied with Korea’s ubiquitous green bottle, soju. Although you could use a whole fish in the stew, most Koreans would not “waste” a decent fish by making a stew out of it, which brings me to my childhood. This brought back fond memories of when my pops and I would go fishing on the Mississippi River and catch a bucketful of sunfish, blue gills, crappie, and sometimes (if we were lucky) sizable bass varieties. Not really big enough to grill or fillet them for their meat, they were the perfect size for this soup. Then I remember he would clean them with such precision in the backyard as I watched in amazement and use the guts as garden fertilizer (intentional or not). Lastly, he or my mom would make the most invigorating and fragrant maeuntang ever. I say fragrant because unlike other soups, this one includes a handful of leafy, minty greens like minari (water parsley) and ssukgat (crown daisy), which give the broth a very distinct taste. Anyways, this stew is not all that hard to make if you have leftover fish bones and heads lying around (of course you do), so make sure to give this awesome stew a try. 🙂
“Fish is meant to tempt as well as nourish, and everything that lives in water is seductive.” ~ Jean-Paul Aron
- 2 lbs freshwater fish (remaining bones and head from saltwater fish)
- or 2 lbs codfish or pollack if available
- 4 tbsp gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
- 2 tbsp gochujang (red pepper paste)
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ large radish, thinly sliced ½ inch thick
- 4 red or green chili peppers, chopped
- 1 bunch ssukgeot (crown daisy), cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 bunch minari (water parsley), cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 bunch kkaetnip (perilla leaves), cut into strips
- 1 bunch enoki mushrooms
- 1 block tofu (optional)
- extra shellfish varieties (optional)
- salt to taste
- If using fresh fish, degut and clean thoroughly before use. Cut the fish into several pieces.
- Cut the radish into ½ inch flat pieces and combine with the fish pieces in a large pot. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil, 20 minutes. Skim off impurities from the top.
- Add all the seasonings and cook another 10 minutes. Sample the broth and adjust as needed with salt or extra gochugaru (spicy red pepper flakes)
- Add remaining ingredients and stir into the soup. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Ladle into separate serving bowls and eat hot with white rice.