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Spicy silken tofu soup, often called soondubu jjigae, is one of the most beloved soups in Korean cuisine. Soodubu refers to silken tofu, and jjigae means stew in Korean. The spicy broth bobbing with silky tofu is an incredibly comforting soup that goes well with fresh rice. There are many variations for the soup—pork, seafood, and some are also served with noodles—but the foundation of the soup is anchovy-based dashi, spicy seasoning, and silken tofu.

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Growing up in Korea, I remember going to this one particular restaurant, known to serve one of the best versions of soondubu jjigae. The soup arrived hot and bubbling out of the serving bowl, and we cracked a raw egg right into it, letting the heat of the soup cook the egg. Because the soup was so hot, the egg would be cooked until soft and jammy, with the rich, creamy yolk still floating around the soup while the whites were just set like a soft-boiled egg. I wanted to mimic the flavors and experience from my favorite soodubu jjigae restaurant, and you, too, will be addicted to its savory, spicy broth, just like I was when I was a kid.

The Foundational Seasoning Paste

When it comes to building foundational flavors of Korean cuisine, it’s all about getting the right ratio of key ingredients: soy sauce, gochugaru, and sesame oil. For this soup, the seasoning paste will guarantee it won’t be aggressive. Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes) brings the soup’s signature color and heat, while soy sauce adds salt. Mirin (cooking rice wine), has sweet flavors that balance out umami and spice, and the sesame oil adds that extra oomph. You can make it and use it right away, but preparing the paste in advance and letting it marinade will result in deeper flavors. This seasoning paste is also versatile: Use it in other soups, such as napa cabbage soup, bean sprouts soup, radish soup, and more. When it comes to making soups using the paste, just start with vegetables and protein of your choice, add water, and season with the premade paste.

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Korean Sofritos 

In Puerto Rican cooking, sofritos, a combination of flavor shortcuts, are mixed with onions, garlic, and more. Brands like Goya sell premade versions, but making homemade sofritos takes just a little bit of patience and time.

Inspired by Puerto Rican sofritos, Korean sofritos are built out of anchovy fillets packed in oil, white parts of scallions, and chopped onions. Anchovy fillets are alternative ways for building flavors in Korean soups that often use dashi. Instead of making dashi, cooking with anchovy fillets results in a similar salty, deep broth, and you don’t even see anchovies at the end because they get dissolved with other ingredients.

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Also, the reason to use the white parts of the scallions is that they tend to have more flavor than the green parts. As the white pieces get cooked in oil, they release an incredible aroma. Be sure to reserve the green parts for garnish at the end.

It’s important not to rush this process. Be sure to take time so that the chopped onions, anchovies, and scallions are fragrant and translucent. Adding extra oil prevents all ingredients from burning, and the excess liquid will help create a delicious chili oil after you put in the seasoning paste.

Choosing Silken Tofu 

Although silken tofu used to only be readily available at Asian markets like H-Mart, there are several different kinds of silken tofu at the grocery store nowadays. Be sure to get the one that says silken, not just soft. The type of tofu that you are using for the soup should feel and look like a flan. 

You can find silken tofu either in a typical square container or a tubular container. I prefer to use a tubular one because it’s easier to add to the soup, but if you are using the one that comes in a square container, be sure to break it apart into big chunks.

You can use soft tofu for the soup, but you can’t really call that soondubu jjigae. There are other dishes, like dubu jjigae, made with normal firm tofu, but if you want the true experience of eating and cooking soondubu jjigae, I suggest using silken tofu. 

Get Creative with These Variations 

This recipe is a basic version of soondubu jjigae without any extra toppings, so you can experiment by adding different ingredients. Some popular toppings are shrimp, pork, and mussels. Fresh seafood tends to add more depth to the soup, and it’s prevalent among avid soondubu jjigae eaters. You can use a frozen seafood mix, which includes things like calamari, shrimp, and mussels. If you want to add some vegetarian toppings, different kinds of mushrooms, like oysters, shiitake, and enoki, are also great additions. When you are cooking these varieties, add them right before you add the chicken broth, leaving an extra few minutes to stir the ingredients.

Spicy Silken Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jjigae) Recipe

Spicy Silken Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jjigae)

Ingredients
  • 6 tsp gochugaru, Korean red pepper flakes
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 oz anchovy fillets in oil, minced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, small diced
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 silken tofu
Instructions
  1. Make the seasoning paste first by mixing gochugaru, soy sauce, mirin, minced garlic, and sesame oil. Put it aside and let it marinade its flavors for at least 15 minutes. You can make the seasoning paste in advance up to a day.
  2. In a small pot, add the oil from the anchovy over medium-low heat along with minced anchovy fillets and white parts of scallions. Put the green pieces aside for garnish later. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable oil to the pot along with small-diced onion. Keep the heat from medium to medium-low to make sure it’s not burning.
  3. Cook everything while constantly stirring for 7-10 minutes until onions are translucent and all the anchovies are broken apart.
  4. Once the mixture is all fragrant, add the reserved seasoning paste and cook more for additional 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth to the pot and let the soup simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add silken tofu to the soup by breaking into small chunks and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Crack a raw egg into a serving bowl and put bubbling hot soup right in the bowl with the egg (the heat from the soup will slightly cook the egg), Garnish it with the green parts of scallions you reserved in a bowl along with some rice.

Header image by James Park.

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