Sigol Doenjang 시골된장 from Woori Jip Sikdang 우리집식당 (Cheongnyangri-dong, Seoul)

  • update content
  • recipe photos at restaurant
  • recipe photos at home (crab, clams, and beef)

Sigol doenjang (traditionally-made fermented soybean paste) is unlike any commercial varieties you find at the local Korean or Asian market. Fermented a minimum of one year in large crocks called onggi, the fermented soybean paste has no extra preservatives, additives, and accelerator agents to speed up the fermentation process, solely relying on nature to ferment the mash of soybeans in a salty brine. The end result is a very complex, funky, and medicinal-like soybean paste starting out as bitter, salty, and sour in its natural state but then gradually mellowing out when boiled down with a myulchi-and-dashima stock (dried anchovy and kelp). The addition of traditional ingredients also tones down the bold flavors of sigol doenjang.

There are many variations of this classic soup, but the original recipe provided by the emo owner of Woori Jip Sikdang is as simple as it gets, quoting her directly with the following: “When you have high-quality doenjang, you don’t need extra seasoning. In fact, you take away its unique flavor by adding unnecessary seasoning and ingredients.” For that reason, she only strains the doenjang with a fine mesh strainer and adds myulchi (dried anchovies) for the stock. Boil with doenjang for about 5 minutes, then rest for 15 minutes before adding hard ingredients such as diced onions, enoki mushrooms, potatoes/radish, tofu, and shepherd’s purse (if available). Reheat and boil until vegetables are cooked through, roughly 5 minutes, and then it’s ready to eat.

Below is my personal recipe for beef/pork doenjang jjigae from over the years after working in kitchens and developing countless recipes at home. I hope it will serve as a guide, not as an exact recipe, to help you create a dish that will be a staple in your household. Pictures are solely for reference.

Storage: Keep cool in the refrigerator for up to one year. If there is mold overgrowth on the surface, only remove the moldy area as it does not affect the entire batch.

Serving size: two hungry adults

Ingredients:

  • sigol doenjang, 2 tbsp
  • 6 garlic gloves, minced
  • ½ zucchini, diced
  • ½ onion, diced
  • ½ potato (or radish), diced
  • 1 bunch enoki mushrooms
  • 1 block of tofu, cubed
  • scallion, thinly sliced, 1 tbsp
  • 1 green/red chili pepper, sliced
  • water (or rice water) 4-5 cups
  • myulchi/dashima (dried anchovies/kelp), roughly 10/4 pieces
  • Recommended protein: pork, beef, clams, and shellfish
  • Optional seasoning: gochugaru (dried red chili flakes), dashida (beef or seafood depending on preference)

Instructions:

1. Preheat a pot with five to six cups of rice water remaining from washing rice. Bring to a rapid boil. Note: rice is usually washed and drained a minimum of three times; use the last rinse of water.

2. Once boiling, add dried anchovies and kelp to the boiling water. Note: smell the dried anchovies beforehand. If there is any off-smell, open the cavity and remove guts and heads before adding to the water. Stir-frying them in a splash of sesame or perilla oil will also remove any unpleasant odors. 

3. Along with the anchovies and kelp, add the sigol doenjang in its natural state or strain using a fine-mesh strainer. Mix well into the soup. Boil for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Note: one big secret is to let the soup rest at normal room temperature to tone down the doenjang, and it’s another reason why many soups and stews taste exponentially better when eaten the day after it is cooked. This is a common practice at most restaurants as they make their soup well in advance—sometimes the day before—of serving and reheat in a ttukbaegi (stone pot).

4. Using a fatty cut of pork or beef, stir-fry until cooked through and then add to the broth. If using any seafood, they can be added at this time along with minced garlic, diced potatoes, onion, mushrooms, and zucchini. Bring to a boil, 5 minutes.

5. Add remaining ingredients of tofu, scallions and chili peppers, boil 5 minutes. Rest another 5 minutes allowing the flavors to meld before eating with rice and banchan.

Note: the soup is forgiving, which means you can add more or less doenjang to your liking, or even add commercial varieties to soften the broth with some sweetness and body from the extra starches (commercial varieties usually contain wheat). An important rule to remember is to taste and adjust to your preference because, whether it be commercial or traditional doenjang, the taste and complexity will vary considerably, which means you have to practice to perfect your own style of doenjang jjigae.

Second Note: As a general rule of thumb, one tbsp of doenjang for every two to three cups of water for a single serving. Don’t be too concerned with exact measurements. As with most Korean dishes, especially soups and stews, it’s best to continuously taste test from start to finish since you’re utilizing a uniquely fermented product that will change during the cooking process.

Third Note: doenjang jjigae is not a standalone dish you eat by itself, which is why you’ll often find this in most Korean BBQ restaurants as a complimentary soup to clean/reset one’s palate from the heaviness (ie. greasiness) of the grilled meats. Likewise, the soup should usually be complemented with rice, a protein dish, and namul banchan to accentuate its robust flavors.

Previous post from Instagram:

Sogogi Doenjang Jjigae 소고기된장찌개 Fermented Soybean Paste Soup with Beef.

Even though I was invited to Korea largely in part because of my food recipes, I recently shuddered at the older ones on the website (and proceeded to delete them), this after years of learning, cooking, and relearning recipes from restaurant owners and working in the kitchen. I was told by one owner that in order to master any dish, you need to practice day in and day out until it becomes second nature. No measurements needed, no extra thought process required – cooking based solely on instinct, intuition and, most importantly, sonmat 손맛 – “taste through one’s hand” which imparts a unique, personal touch to each dish. For that reason, I won’t be putting up normal recipes with exact measurements, but rather focusing on instructions and tips that will allow you to create restaurant-quality dishes at home.

Due to character limitations here on IG, only gonna answer some questions that I get asked frequently on my IG stories. For those itching for a recipe right now, head over to my good friend’s website, Korean Bapsang, which is a super reliable source for all things Korean and run by a truly wonderful human being who’s always willing to help out. 😊

Doenjang. Don’t worry about the brand. Check coloration. Dark brown ones are usually traditional ones that are aged longer. Should be slightly bitter, but can be remedied with a little sugar or natural sweeteners like onions. Avoid light brown ones; sickly sweet and artificial in taste.

Myeolchi & Dashima. Dried anchovies and kelp for stock. Only necessary if using seafood as protein. Remove innards and head of anchovies, lightly sauté in a dash of sesame oil before adding water and kelp. If you wanna go the old-school, countryside method, simply add them to the broth without straining them out and eat them as is!

Cooking tips. Korean soups taste exponentially better when cooked longer and rested. This allows the ingredients to absorb the seasoning while giving the broth extra depth. When it’s all said and done, the soup shouldn’t look pretty. In fact, it should look as if it’s been through some tough times, so don’t worry too much about aesthetics. Lastly, don’t forget to season to taste–adding a sprinkle of msg salt (miwon) does wonders to any dish. 😉

Any questions? Feel free to reach out and ask me anything!

Woori Jip Sikdang.

Long ago, I knew that just writing about a restaurant was never enough to repay the countless meals I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Besides being a regular patron, I always thought about how I could help them receive their due recognition without making them feel uncomfortable. Well, these oils are one step in the right direction. Thank you to everyone who has donated because you brought a big smile to one of the most selfless emos who really deserves them.

After scrolling pictures for this post this morning, I remembered that she sells old-school sigol doenjang (fermented soybean paste) straight from the countryside. Yep, this is the real stuff unlike the sickly sweet and artificial ones sold commercially. Living alone at the time, I was never able to buy any because it’s sold at 2 kg for 35,000 won. I haven’t talked to her about this as the thought just came to my head, but if anyone is interested I might be able to vacuum pack them into specific amounts and ship them anywhere without worrying about breakage.

Previous Post, February 2020:

“So far during my meal I’ve seen you serve two elderly people without taking any money and hand out free refills of rice to your younger patrons. Do you do this often?”

“I’m not sure you know this, but this neighborhood isn’t the wealthiest area and there are quite a few homeless and destitute elderly. It’s hard to refuse them as long as we have enough food for regular service.”

“You remind me of an emo who runs a janchi guksu shop near Hyochang Park Station. Not only does she serve some mouthwatering noodle dishes, she doesn’t refuse anyone because of money.”

“It’s good to hear that there are good people out there. We all have to do our part to help others in need.”

Not only is this emo a saint, she continues to surprise me with her generosity and her amazing signature bori bap jeongsik for 6,000 won. Everything is refillable plus you get one of the best doengjang jjigae made with naengi (shepherd’s purse) and sigol doenjang, the soup alone being worth the 6,000 won price tag. Just unbelievable.

Woori Jip Sikdang 우리집식당 “Our Home Restaurant”

Cheongryangi-dong 50-17 Dongdaemun-gu (동대문구 청량리동 50-17)

Hours: Open everyday 10:00 am ~ 10:00 pm except Sundays

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