FOODIE WITH FAMILY: Korean Army Stew – also known as Spicy Sausage Stew or Budae Jjigae – is a popular, comforting, and deliciously filling stew. You’re going to love this one-pot fusion dish of rich and spicy broth, ground meat, sausage, vegetables, and noodles.
When my little brother moved to Korea almost two decades ago, I threw myself into learning about Korean food culture. My favourite way to learn about a country is to eat my way through it or through its popular dishes.
One of the most fascinating recipes I read about was Korean Army Stew.
It was a dish born of post war impoverishment that fused together Korean ingredients and surplus American army base processed food ingredients.
My brain had a little trouble wrapping itself around a savoury, spicy kimchi broth with things like sausages, smoked sausage, instant ramen noodles, and vegetables, but I needed to taste it to understand because of its enduring popularity in Korea. I made a giant pot of it.
And boy, was I ever glad I made it. It was savoury, spicy, filling, simple to make, and almost endlessly customisable based on what we had on hand, but most importantly it was delicious.
WHAT INGREDIENTS DO YOU NEED FOR KOREAN ARMY BASE STEW?
The list may look a little daunting in length, but I promise this is one of the easiest, most comforting dishes you can make when those chilly autumnal or winter evenings arrive. You’d be hard pressed to find a faster-to-make stew that will warm you up better.
And just as wonderfully, there’s no one perfect way to make this. You can swap ingredients in or out based on what you have on hand; there are a couple of must-have ingredients, though, and they’re listed below.
NECESSARY INGREDIENTS FOR BUDAE JJIGAE
This is non-negotiable. Bite-sized pieces of kimchi add a depth of flavour and texture you simply can’t get anywhere else.
You can either use homemade kimchi (and if you haven’t made it yet, why haven’t you?) or purchased kimchi. Either way your kimchi should be cut into bite-sized pieces.
Stock or Broth
Traditionally, anchovy and kelp broth is used in Korean Army Stew, but that’s a little tricky to find in the United States (US). You can definitely sub in a low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or stock.
I know that sounds vague, but it is intentional because there are so many options. My personal favourite version of Korean Army Stew includes a little ground beef (but I have also used ground turkey and ground chicken.)
I also use smoked sausage which are pretty commonly employed, but you can sub in any sausages.
Don’t skimp on the garlic, ginger, and green onion for this spicy sausage stew. It really deepens the flavours and elevates the entire dish.
Instant Ramen is the most comment noodle used in Korean Army Stew. That’s right. Just grab a packet or two of the most humble, inexpensive ramen noodles you can for this recipe.
If that doesn’t ding your chimes, you can sub in sweet potato starch noodles, also known as glass noodles. They’re equally delicious and a good gluten free option if you have such diners at your table. Either way, you’re going to want to boil them separately from the stew, and add them to your stew when you serve it. Why the extra step? There are two big reasons.
Firstly, if you boil the noodles in the stew, they will absorb too much of the broth because they soak up a tonne of liquid. Secondly, if you have any leftover stew, you do not want to leave noodles in it because they will turn to mush.
OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS FOR BUDAE JJIGAE
Here’s where it gets fun. Some of these sound like they don’t belong, but if you are feeling adventurous and you try it, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised.
You can add any of these optional ingredients to your budae jjigae for variety. Have a little faith and give them all a try!
I love using baby bok choy in my Korean Army Base Stew, but you can also use Napa cabbage that is thinly sliced and bite-sized. Spinach is another nice green option to add in.
I’m also a big fan of using pretty much any variety of mushrooms in this recipe. If it is a small mushroom like an enoki, you can simply remove the base and separate the stalks.
If you’re using a broader mushroom like a king oyster, shiitake, or white mushroom, slice into bite-sized pieces before adding to the pot. There’s no need to pre-cook them, though!
Red bell peppers, thinly sliced are another nice addition to this stew. Really, you can almost add any vegetable you fancy.
Tofu actually pairs quite nicely with meat and helps stretch this dish even further. Is it obligatory in here? Not even a little… but it’s fun.
I can honestly tell you I never once considered adding baked beans to a stew before trying Korean Army Stew, but now? Well, I’m open to it because it’s delicious here. I promise you won’t regret adding regular old baked beans to the soup pot, as odd as it may sound.
Wait, what? I’m not kidding.
American cheese makes a pretty frequent appearance in Korean Army Stew. I am not always a fan of American cheese -basically, I only melt it on burgers or make queso with it- but it truly works in this stew, adding a surprising richness.
This is another great option for adding richness to the stew. I love a runny yolk here, but you can simmer it a little longer to make your yolks cooked through if you prefer that.
HOW TO MAKE KOREAN ARMY STEW
I honestly giggle over how easy this is to pull together. You’ll need to have a deep-sided 12-inch everyday pan or skillet to make your Korean Army Stew. You can also use a shallow dutch oven.
It’s most traditional to cook this over a hot-plate at the table so that it’s served family style, bubbling-hot at the table for people to help themselves. It can just as easily be made on the stove-top, though!
Mix together your seasoning sauce ingredients and set aside.
While many recipes call for piling all of the ingredients together in a pot and simply simmering, I like to brown a little bit of ground meat in the pot first with some aromatics, to add a little extra layer of umami as inspired by the Ominvore’s Cookbook version of Korean Army Stew.
It’s not traditional to do that, but I like the result. You can also omit the ground meat and do this the old-fashioned way by adding everything to the pot at once except for the ramen noodles, green onions, and optional garnish.
Add the kimchi, garlic, ginger, sausage, mushrooms, tofu, beans, and bok choy to the pan. Pour the seasoning sauce into the centre of the pan.
Add the stock or broth to the pan by pouring it along the side. Raise the heat to medium, cover, and bring to a boil. Cook until the bok choy is crisp tender.
If using American cheese and/or egg yolks, add over the top and simmer (uncovered) for another two minutes, or until it is melted or the yolks are barely set.
Cook the ramen noodles separately. Ladle the stew into bowls, adding ramen to each serving, and garnish with green onions.
Tada! I told you it was simple!