I've been feeling pretty down in the dumps lately. In addition to my usual run of summer allergies, the company I work for laid off about 2/3 of all our employees during a downsizing two weeks ago. I was lucky enough to avoid the ax, but I lost a lot of good people from my department. Those of us who are left are pretty demoralized. It feels like I'm attending a prolonged wake every time I step into the office.
When I'm depressed, I like making warm, soothing dishes to comfort me. Soon Dubu Chigae (Korean Soft Tofu Stew) is one of my favorite comfort foods. Despite the fact that I'm not Korean, there's something incredibly homey about a big, earthenware bowl filled with clams, tofu, beef, and broth. I love both the spicy kick of this dish and how the flavors permeate into each and every piece of silky soft tofu. Add a bowl of rice and you've got a powerful salve for what ails you. Even though the weather has been hot, any time is a good time for Soon Dubu Chigae.
Recipe for Soon Dubu Chigae
1 3-quart saucepan or sauté pan
1 shallow ladle
1 chef's knife, Santouku knife, or Chinese cleaver
1 cutting board
Ingredients (Soon Dubu Chigae):
1 lbs of beef cut shabu-shabu style
1 lb of live clams
8-12 cloves of garlic
1 cup on kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), drained
2 blocks of silken tofu
1/4 cup of kochukaru (Korean chili flake)
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp of vegetable oil (preferably Canola)
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of sesame oil
6 cups of water
Prep work (Soon Dubu Chigae):
If you did not buy the clams from a market, or if you have doubts as to whether the market purged them of sand, place the clams in a solution of 1 cup salt, 3 cups cold water, and 3 tbsp of cornmeal overnight. Most fresh and frozen clams purchased from a fishmonger or supermarkets have already had this step performed on them, so you're fairly safe skipping it.
Rinse the clams in cold running water. Brush thoroughly to remove any sand or loose bits of shell. Discard any cracked ones or ones whose shells fail to close. Drain, cover with a damp kitchen towel, and place in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Peel and clean the garlic. Smash with the flat of your knife, then finely chop. Set aside.
Squeeze any remaining liquid out of the kimchi. Finely chop and set aside.
Cut your tofu up into cubes. Use whatever dimensions you prefer, as long as they're uniform. I like 1-in x 1-in x 1/2-in measurements for mine, since it makes them easier to pick up with chopsticks.
Remove your meat from its package and separate out into individual slices. This will make it easier to sauté and prevent clumping. Return to the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Instructions (Soon Dubu Chigae):
Add the vegetable oil to your pan and heat to medium high. Once the oil becomes very loose and starts to smoke slightly, add the garlic. Sautee until the garlic is light brown and the oil becomes fragrant. Should take less than a minute.
Add the kimchi to the pan and sauté until the mixture is dry and the kimchi stops releasing liquid. Most of the sizzling sounds should stop. Takes 5-10 minutes.
Add each slice of beef individually in folds to help prevent clumping. Let the beef brown on the bottom for a few minutes before you stir. Give the meat a few minutes to brown between each stir.
Once the meat has separated into individual slices and is in no danger of sticking together, sauté until any fat has rendered away. Should take around 10 minutes.
Add the kochukaru, sea salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir until evenly distributed. Make sure the area is well ventilated and try to keep any steam from getting into your eyes.
Sautee for another 2-3 minutes to help release the flavor of the kochukaru. If the mixture looks like it might be in danger of burning, reduce the heat to medium.
Add enough water to barely cover the meat, increase the heat to high, and bring up to a boil.
Add the tofu and let come back up to a boil. Drop the heat to medium, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Insert the clams hinge-side down. Cover, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, then simmer until all the clam shells have opened. Should take less than 10 minutes.
Best enjoyed with a nice, big bowl of steamed rice.