There are a lot of Koreans who live and/or visit Cebu. Several have come into Zubuchon and stared clueless at our pictureless menus. Waiters and customers struggle to communicate, but in the end, food makes it to the table… I do feel for them, having recently ventured into a hole in the wall noodle place in Hong Kong where I had to resort to pointing at dishes on other tables to place an order for dinner. So I was recently having lunch with a Korean friend, the wife of a college roommate, when I had a momentary lightbulb over my head and thought I should try experimenting with a lechon kimchi jigae…
As college students, we had rather modest food budgets, some $50-60 a week if I recall correctly. And we ate a lot of chicken wings, spaghetti, cheap vegetables, and other low-priced food items. My Korean roommate always had good kimchi in stock (made by his sister) and when funds were running low, he used to make this easy soup/stew (kimchi jigae) that nourished us for very little cost. In Korea, I understand this is sometimes made with spam, or hotdogs, a sort of off-U.S. base dish. Otherwise, it is made with pork, often pork belly. There are dozens and dozens of ways to do this, but I read a few recipes and tried my hand at a kimchi jigae for the first time to reasonable results!
I sauteed some onion, garlic and defrosted lechon. Took that out of the pot. Took half of a bottle of kimchi (purchased) and added a few drops of sesame oil (friend’s suggestion) and sauteed this in the pot until quite fragrant. I added back the meat and onions and garlic, a little sliver of ginger and some water. I also added in the other half of the kimchi in the bottle, along with all the juices. I had no korean chili paste on hand (probably essential) but added some dried chili flakes for more heat. Oddly, bottled kimchi isn’t actually that incendiary, so the soup is rather mild at this point. Add some mirin and a bit of soy sauce. Let this simmer for 15-20 minutes until the pork is soft and the kimchi has rehydrated a bit. Season with salt to taste. It should have a slow burn on the spiciness quotient. I also added in some chopped green onions or small leeks, some firm tofu and it was good to go… Probably just a 7/10 at this point. I think I could easily get this up to a 8/10 if I added korean chili paste, some miso to thicken the broth and maybe some lechon broth instead of water… The soup was spicy and sour, meaty and flavorful. The veggies and bean curd added texture and flavor as well. You will need lots of rice on the side. Not sure I am going to go any further with this dish, but it’s interesting how pork plays such a pivotal role in many global dishes, and substituting lechon does seem to work nicely every once in a while. :)