Proving once again, old kimchi is *magic* when cooked: Kimchi Jjim.
Growing up, Kimchi Jjim was food we ate when the cupboards were bare and the fridge was empty. Kimchi Jjim was not fancy and it certainly wasn’t food served to guests.
Then I ate an extra-fancy version of this classic at a Korean restaurant. All of the sudden, Kimchi Jjim was transformed into a posh and elegantly rustic dish. I knew I had to start making this version at home.
Company worthy and a great way to use up old kimchi, this dish is all kinds of special decadence! And it couldn’t be simpler to make at home.
What is Kimchi Jjim?
Kimchi Jjim is braised kimchi. Different from Kimchi Jjigae, it has less liquid so it’s more of a stewed vegetable dish. Still saucy but definitely not soup.
Kimchi Jjim is very versatile. Typically, Koreans add pork. But you can add just about any protein — beef, canned tuna, chicken, spam, hot dogs, even tofu!
Kimchi Jjim can also be eaten plain. Plain Kimchi Jjim (which is basically braised kimchi) was my favorite dish during my lean grad school days. So good eaten with rice and a hard boiled egg or two!
Traditionally, Kimchi Jjim is cooked with Pogi Kimchi — traditional whole cabbage kimchi. There’s an aesthetic to serving this dish in wedges.
But in my Korean American kitchen, I usually have Mat Kimchi on hand — it’s pre-cut and easier to serve. Both work in this recipe. But Mat Kimchi (pre-cut) cooks more quickly vs Pogi Kimchi that’s in a big wedge. That’s why I recommend parboiling the pork belly first. That way, the Mat Kimchi (pre-cut) won’t get too soggy.
Essential Ingredient: OLD KIMCHI
The essential ingredient to spectacular Kimchi Jjim is OLD KIMCHI. Do not make this dish with new or freshly made kimchi! It won’t taste the same at all!
Old Kimchi is very well fermented or aged, “mature” kimchi. You know, that old kimchi you forgot in the back of your fridge? That’s perfect for Kimchi Jjim. The flavor is deeper and more pronounced. The texture is soft with no crunch whatsoever. The color is dark red/orange, and it’s very juicy.
How can you tell when Kimchi is old? Take a bite. If the kimchi is overly sour and fizzes in your mouth, then it’s old enough. It should be very soft, juicy, and dark red/orange.
Here’s a visual: on the left is perfectly ripe kimchi. On the right is old kimchi.
Technically, kimchi never goes bad. Unless there’s mold, kimchi is safe to eat even 2-3 years after packing into jars.
In a normal fridge, it takes about 3 months for kimchi to age enough to be considered “old.” But it really depends on your kimchi, where you live, and how you store your kimchi. In general, warmer weather speeds up fermentation.
Looking for more recipes for OLD kimchi? Try these dishes:
- Kimchi Jjigae
- Budae Jjigae
- Kimchi fried rice
- Porkchops with Kimchi Pan Sauce
- Kongnamul Bap AKA Soybean Sprout Rice
- Kimchi Pancake
How to make Kimchi Jjim:
Parboil pork belly with ginger slices for 10 minutes. Scum will rise to the surface and stick to the pot and pork belly. (Don’t be tempted to skip this step! Parboiling keeps the pork from tasting too game-y. Also, it prevents the kimchi from turning to mush while the pork belly cooks down to tender succulence.).
Drain and wash pork belly with cold water, making sure to rinse off all the scummy bits. Wash the pot thoroughly.
In the newly washed pot, fill the bottom with old kimchi + juice. Nestle the pork belly on top. Cover and simmer until the meat is tender and cooked through, about 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness.
Remove pork belly and slice on a cutting board. Return pork belly carefully back into the pot.
Slice tofu and shingle in between pork belly strips.
Cover and simmer until heated through. Spoon kimchi juices over the tofu. Drizzle with sesame oil and garnish with green onion and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
Kimchi Jjim AKA Braised Kimchi
- Shallow braiser with lid (donabe or clay pot or enameled cast iron braisers all work well)
- 2 strips thick cut pork belly (about 2-3 lbs total)
- 3-inch ginger, cut into thin strips
- 2-3 cups old kimchi + juices
- 1 block tofu (medium or firm)
- drizzle sesame oil (optional, at the end)
Parboil Pork Belly:
- In a shallow braiser, add pork belly and enough cold water to just cover. Add ginger slices and boil for 10 minutes. The water should boil furiously; scum will rise to the surface and stick to the pot and pork belly. (Don't be tempted to skip this step! Parboiling keeps the pork from tasting too game-y. Also, it prevents the kimchi from turning to mush while the pork belly cooks down to tender succulence).
- Drain and wash pork belly with cold water, making sure to rinse off all the scummy bits. Discard ginger. Wash the pot thoroughly.
- In the newly washed pot, fill the bottom with old kimchi + juice. Nestle the pork belly on top. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender and cooked through. Depending on thickness, this should take 20-30 minutes.
- The pork belly should be tender enough to slice easily. After 20 minutes, I test by lightly tapping with my tongs. There should be no "bounce" to the meat. Instead, the pork belly should have some give and feel soft.
- Using tongs, remove pork belly from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into 1/2-inch slices. Return pork belly to the pan, keeping the slices shingled neatly.
- Slice tofu into 1/2 inch slices and shingle slices in between the pork belly. There should be alternating rows of shingled pork belly and shingled tofu slices.
- Cover and simmer until tofu is heated through, about 5 minutes. Uncover and spoon kimchi juices over the tofu. Drizzle with sesame oil and garnish with green onion and sesame seeds. Serve with rice and other banchan (side dishes). Enjoy!