Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Non-Spicy Korean Fish Egg Stew (Ahl chigae 알찌개): Times in Korea

While Husband and I lived in Seoul, one of our favorite places to have a weekend lunch was the neighborhood of Insadong, one of the cultural areas of Seoul.  In Insadong, there are numerous tiny little restaurants specializing in certain traditional alcoholic beverages or different sorts of pancakes, or even different Korean stews, chigae (찌개) .   Husband and I would leave our apartment,  take a long walk  of about 30 minutes, and make our way over to Insadong, where we would take a peek at all the different restaurant offerings and choose where we wanted to eat.  Invariably, Husband would choose the restaurant that offered the widest varieties of food and we would prepare to eat.

At this time, we only had Daughter #1, and I just carried her homemade baby food with me.  She was not a factor in our choices of food so we could choose almost anything we wanted.  Usually it meant that we went super spicy, as at home I am not the spiciest of cooks, mainly because I don't think it is such a good idea for my tummy. Korean Fish Egg Stew is one spicy dish that comes out in a beautiful clay pot, boiling hot, fire red from Korean red chili powder, with chunks of creamy white tofu and bright pink egg peeking out for the soup.  It is sprinkled with green scallions and often edible chrysanthemum (or ssukgaht 쑥갓).  The effect is a beautiful mix of red, white, pink and green, and perhaps one could even think of it as Christmas colors in a bowl. 

To eat it requires a huge bowl of rice, as the soup broth is super spicy, the tofu piping hot, and the fish eggs salty.  But a bowl of rice makes the soup go down very easily, and often at the end of the consumption of this big clay pot of soup, husband and I were left wanting just a bit more.  Instead we would get up, walk out and eat some other delicious street food as we walked up and down the street.

With kids, traditionally spicy Korean fish egg stew (Ahl Chigae) is out of the question.  Even Son who loves spicy would find it too fiery for him.  I make a more simplified version, much less spicy but very delicious with a bowl of rice.  It is so simple to put together and easily enjoyed that I sometimes wonder why I'm not cooking it more often.

The special ingredient you need to make this soup is frozen pollack roe.  This is one of those ingredients that I have really only ever seen at a bigger Korean market.  This package is one that I think tastes good, is readily available, and maintains its freshness in the freezer well.

 The rest of the ingredients are very simple, easily found and there are few ingredients to make a yummy chigae for dinner tonight.

Non-Spicy Korean Fish Egg Stew (Ahl chigae 알찌개)
Serves 4

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 green onions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoons of Korean red chili powder (gochugaru 고추가루) This is optional if you like kick - 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder is mildly spicy.
4 cups of water, or plain unseasoned beef stock (Korean style - if you make your own beef broth)
6 oz seasoned pollack roe (available at your local Korean market)
14 oz pack of medium firm tofu, cut into cubes
Crushed toasted sesame seeds, optional

In a saucepan, over medium heat, add sesame oil, green onion, garlic, and Korean red chili powder.  Cook until garlic is fragrant, but not brown.

Add water or broth.  Bring to a boil.  Add pollack roe.  

Cook for an additional 5 minutes, then add tofu.  Continue cooking until tofu is warmed through, about 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Serve with steamed rice.

A bite with fish egg, scallion, and tofu.

My choice of sesame oil - I also prefer the smaller glass bottles as I think they stay fresher longer.  (this is not a good price if you have a Chinese market nearby.)


Anonymous said...

Actually to do it right you need to use fresh/frozen unseasoned pollack eggs. The seasoned variety is typically best eaten as a side dish, not boiled in soup... Someone I knew a LONG time ago made the ahl chigae using the package of the pollack eggs that her mother in law had bought to eat on its own and she was never able to live that down b/c to Korean mothers, that is unthinkable (good seasoned pollack eggs are quite expensive). :)

Joanne Choi said...

Thanks anonymous. Although they are more expensive, the seasoned eggs means that there is less work in making and actually seasoning the chigae. And in this area, it is actually harder to find the unseasoned; seasoned is more common.

But I'll be sure not to use any roe that my mother in law has bought for me to make ahl chigae. HAHHA.

Sam said...


Sam said...


Patty said...

Asian soups are the best! My favorite roe is called mentaiko in Japanese, not sure what it's called in English but it's delicious! I love your blog, keep posting!

Cindy said...

These kinds of soups are not fattening and are very yummy.

Diana said...

Well, I don't actually consider this is likely to have success.

Veronica said...

Only found pollack roe that was already mashed and out of its natural casing holding the tiny eggs together...let's see how it turns out...


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