In the winter a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of soondubu jjigae, or Korean soft tofu hotpot. This easy dish is perfect for cold evenings, and the combination of a broth overloaded with richness and custard-soft tofu gives a great framework for adding whatever is handy around the kitchen. It does take a few specialty items and ingredients, but it is well worth a trip to an Asian grocery to pick them up. The first is the hotpot, a stone pot coated in enamel. In Eugene, Sunrise market carries these in the back corner. Other specialty items (also available at Sunrise) are soon tofu, which is even softer than soft or silken tofu, and Korean chili paste, Gochujang (this comes in a tub or as a sweeter condiment in a ketchup-style bottle, get the tub).
Soft Tofu Hotpot (Soondubu Jjigae)
serves two (split ingredients between two hot pots)1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 lb top sirloin, sliced thin against the grain (or try a seafood version, adding clams and mussels to the broth)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, sliced into rounds.
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons Gochujang
vegetables -- beet greens, kale, carrot, zucchini, whatever.
1/2 cup sliced rice cake (optional)
2 cups good stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
1/4 cup diced shiitake mushrooms
4 tablespoons kimchi
1 small package soon tofu
cooked white rice
1. Set the hot pots directly on the stove top and heat with a medium low heat. Then set some rice cooking, so it will be ready along with everything else. Next, slice the sirloin, mince the garlic and cut the green onion. Then prep the vegetables (slicing carrots or washing greens).
2. Turn the heat up to medium, and add the oil to the hot pots. Add the sliced sirloin, letting it sear a bit on one side (around a minute). Give the meat a stir, then add the minced garlic and the white part of the chopped green onion. Stir for another minute. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and Gochujang. Stir a bit, then add the stock, fresh vegetables that need more cooking time, such as carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and rice cakes, if using. At this point I turn the heat up a bit more, to get the broth boiling. As it all heats up, add the kimchi. After heating for several minutes, the soon tofu can be gently spooned into the broth, taking care not to break it up. You can add other things as well, such as greens and zucchini. Don't overfill the hot pot though, or else you may end up severely burned transporting it to the table!
3. Get the table ready, bringing out the rice, kelp sheets, green onion greens, and an egg for each person. Also put out a heat-resistant pad for each hot pot! At this point, the hot pot should be at a good simmer, so put on oven mitts and carefully carry each hot pot out to the table. As soon as it is served, each diner should crack an egg into the hotpot and immediately break the egg yolk with a fork, giving it a good stir so the egg dissipates into the broth. Tear in some kelp, sprinkle on green onion, and then add rice as you eat, which slowly thickens the broth over time. The richness of the broth comes from the seared beef, fish sauce, mushroom, stock, kelp and stirred-in egg, all of which add to the incredible umami flavor. The hot pot keeps the contents searingly hot until the end, and the Gochujang gives a spiciness that adds to the overall warming sensation.