Nakji Jeongol (Korean Octopus Stew)

Nakji Jeongol (낙지전골) is a Korean octopus stew that deserves a bit of primer, since the world of Korean soups and stews can be pretty intimidating. In Korea, most meals are accompanied with some form of soup, categorized into two main categories: soups like guk or tang, and stews like jjigae or jeongol.

Soups are typically thin, simple, and simmered for extended periods. In general, guk are meatless, and a little watery; last year I posted a recipe for the popular Gul Guk (Oyster Soup). Tang are, you guess it, made with meat (a favorite of mine, Gamjatang, is made with pork neck and potatoes – it appears in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table).

Stews are more ornate, adorned with fresh vegetables, and served in large, family-style dishes. Jjigae are typically made with a single defining ingredient; Kimchi Jjigae and Sundubu Jjigae, the latter made with curdled tofu, are the most popular. Jeongol contain a variety of ingredients, and are a little more elaborate; historically, jeongol were served for members of the royal court, while jjigae were for commoners.

Today’s Nakji Jeongol has a fair amount of add-ins, but the basic recipe is very simple: marinate the octopus, prepare the soup base, throw it all together. There is no single set of add-ins, so feel free to throw in whatever you have available to you (for example, I used cilantro because the more traditional herb, perilla, is hard to find where I live). Frozen packages of pre-cleaned octopus can be found in most Asian markets, or you can get some fresh (and likely cleaned, but here’s a quick video if needed) from your local fishmonger.

One fairly uncommon ingredient in the soup base is doenjang, which is the Korean version of miso paste; if you’re not able to find it locally, it is sold online, or red miso paste will work in a pinch. If you’re curious as to my thoughts on fermented soy, here is something I wrote earlier this year (spoiler alert: I think fermented soy is fine).

Nakji Jeongol – Korean Octopus Stew (Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet)

Octopus marinade:
1 lb baby octopus, cleaned
1 tsp tamari (or coconut aminos)
1 tsp sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced

Soup base:
3 cups chicken or fish broth
3 cups water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tbsp Korean red pepper powder, more to taste
1 tbsp doenjang (or red miso paste)
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt, more to taste

sliced zucchini
sliced carrot
mushrooms (white, enoki, and/or shiitake)
green onions
bean sprouts
fresh herbs (perilla leaves or cilantro)
sesame seeds to garnish

1. In a bowl, combine the octopus, tamari, sesame oil, and garlic; set aside. In a pot, add the broth, water, mirin, red pepper powder, doenjang, and white pepper; whisk to combine, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the salt and taste, adding more salt if needed.

2. Add the octopus (and its marinade), kimchi, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and green onions to the stew, then simmer until the octopus’ tentacles start to curl, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients to taste, then serve.

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