The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
Koreans have an expression, “shiwonhada” (시원하다)—literally, “intensely refreshing and cooling”—that describes the sensation when you feel cool after eating something hot in temperature. Add spiciness to that party and you’ll take shiwonhada to the next level. To me, the dish that perfectly captures this experience is the spicy fish stew called maeuntang (매운탕). There’s nothing better than dipping a spoonful of this spicy, savory stew into a bowl of steaming white rice.
When I was growing up in Seoul, I remember my grandmother hurrying home from the local fish market to prepare this stew for our family. As she prepared the dish, its scent would waft through the house, making my stomach rumble. Because the current Stay At Home order has given me more time to revisit dishes that bring back fond memories, I recently committed my grandmother’s recipe to paper (with a few phone calls to my mother for moral support).
The two components to the stew are broth and seasoning paste. To make the broth, take 2 pounds of cleaned whole fish (bass, perch, cod, pollock, or flounder) and cut into 2″ pieces, including the head. Cut about 1 pound Korean radish into bite-size slices. Add the fish and radish to a pot along with the whites of 1 leek, thinly sliced, 1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced, and a big pinch of dried anchovies (approximately 10 pieces). Cover with cold water (about 4 cups) and set over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce your heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
While your broth is simmering, make the seasoning paste: In a bowl, add 2 tablespoons gochugaru, a couple turns of ground black pepper, ½ tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon doenjang or miso, ½ tablespoon gochujang, and 4 cloves finely grated garlic. Whisk it all together until it forms a nice paste. (I like to double up on this paste and save the other half to use in a pasta dish for a kick! The paste will keep in your fridge for up to two weeks. You’re welcome.)