Northern Californian winters are all about cold dampness — rain, lots of rain. For me, the only purpose for winter is to get the full benefit of a hot bowl of 김치찌개 kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew. That’s a dish Koreans commonly make to finish off a jar of kimchi that has become too sour and mostly “juice,” the tangy, spicy, flavorful remnant of pickling.
Kimchi jjigae with 돼지고기 dwaegi gogi (pork), Spam processed ham or 두부 dubu (tofu), are common variations of the dish. Avoiding pork for religious reasons, I was pleased to find 참치김치찌개 chamchi kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew with tuna, on the menu of a restaurant near Kangwon National University in Chuncheon, a lakeside city in the mountains northeast of Seoul. I first tasted that version in the mid-’90s and have been making it ever since.
Korean grocery stores sell canned tuna specially made for kimchi jjigae, marinated in 고추장 gochujang (Korean red pepper paste). Because tuna is usually chunk light tuna, which has a smell and flavor, albacore canned tuna is my tuna of choice. (But I may have to reconsider after reading this Epicurious article about mercury in albacore.)
Since most canned tuna isn’t packed in gochujang, I add gochujang or 고추가루gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes or powder) to the stew. Gochujang will make the stew thicker; gochugaru, thinner.