Korean Kimchi Stew with Canned Tuna and Tofu

tunastewpNot so long ago putting canned tuna into a soup would have never crossed my mind. Yet, together with “scary” tofu and matured, very sour kimchi, it creates one of the most delicious and quickest soups I know. No wonder I now make it sometimes twice a week!

I first heard about this kimchi stew from my friend C.. I must say the first time I read “tuna”, I understood raw fish and found it very surprising its canned version was involved, but my friend was so enthusiastic, I decided to try it as soon as possible. The result has exceeded all my expectations (which, given my friend’s sophisticated taste, were quite high already…). The flavours are so complex, you will find it difficult to believe there is no stock and chilli flakes as the only – moreover optional – seasoning. The canned tuna brings something “meaty” but also slightly fishy (in the positive sense of the word), while the tofu mellows all the flavours and becomes – at least in my opinion – an obligatory ingredient. In short, the mixture of ingredients is just perfect.

If you have never tasted kimchi (김치), it is a Korean preparation of seasoned fermented vegetables, the most popular being Napa (Chinese) cabbage and daikon (white long radish). Apart from the fiery kimchi there is also a mild, chilli-free version, which is however less popular. Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant (my fellow cheese fans, think here about smelly matured cheese!). It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetable preparations, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is said to prevent certain cancers… In short: it’s wonder food. Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know.

Kimchi is not only eaten as a side dish, but also – especially at the mature, “older” stage  – put into warm dishes, for example fried rice or… soups. If you have only “young” kimchi, you can also prepare this soup, but older, very sour and strong kimchi will definitely be better here. I have been making kimchi for several years now and – since I prepare the “lazy”, easier version – I consider it one of the easiest things in the world. I no longer weigh or count the ingredients, adding them at random and the result is always delicious, the best flavours being obtained with very fresh and firm vegetables. Here you can see my adventures with Kkakdugi 깍두기, or Cubed Radish Kimchi and Mak Kimchi, or Easy Chinese Cabbage Kimchi)

Going back to the stew, or “kimchi jjigae/chigae”, its traditional version is made with pork and tofu, but of course canned tuna is a perfect emergency, last minute substitution and suits so well this dish, for now I am not tempted yet to try it with pork. Among the numerous sources for this popular recipe I chose the infallible Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song, one of my best buys among cookery books. I have skipped the shiitake mushrooms and adapted the amounts to a dish for one, so I encourage you to check this fantastic book for the original version. As my own – maybe also crazy – touch, I have sprinkled the bowlful of soup with raw red chilli slices for a fresh additional hot kick. I also like a splash (about one teaspoon per person) of toasted sesame oil added just before serving.


I have chosen to use water here, but the author gives also vegetable stock as an alternative. In my opinion kimchi is so rich with flavours, no stock is necessary, but feel free to substitute with good quality stock, if you have it.

Whether you add chilli flakes or not depends on how hot your kimchi is and of course on your preferences. Apart from the heat, chilli flakes add a beautiful hue and more taste too, so if you like fiery dishes, don’t skip them.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves 1):

half a can of tuna (about 60g, drained; I prefer by far the white albacore tuna, but any canned tuna is ok)

1 small garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon oil (sesame oil is the best here)

250 ml (about 1 cup) loosely packed, matured Chinese cabbage kimchi, cut into bite-sized pieces + some kimchi juice (I have added about 50 ml)

about 50-60 g (about 1.8-2 oz) firm tofu

Korean medium-hot chilli flakes (skip them if your kimchi is very hot or if you don’t like very hot dishes)

300 ml/ about 10 fl oz water

chopped green onion

(fresh red chilli to garnish, sesame oil)

Drain the tuna and cut up into several pieces (don’t shred it).

Stir-fry the tuna and garlic in sesame oil for 30 seconds.

Add the kimchi (and chilli flakes, if using) and stir-fry it for one more minute.

Add the water, the tofu and simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with green onions and serve. (You may also sprinkle it with fresh red chilli slices and with a splash of sesame oil).

Serve either with bread or steamed rice.

16 Replies to “Korean Kimchi Stew with Canned Tuna and Tofu”

  1. This is quite possibly the most unusual combination of flavours I’ve come across Sissi but you do know what you’re doing and our tastes are quite aligned so I’ll trust that I would really enjoy it. We always have canned tuna in the house but I usually make salads with it, soup sounds perfect this time of year. We’re experiencing around the -14C these days. I’ll probably just purchase kimchi got the first time.

    1. Thanks a lot, Eva. For me it was also quite unusual, but apparently this version of kimchi stew is very popular in Korea! I always make salads with tuna too… and it gets boring… Though I did post once stir fried tuna (canned) and carrots. I love this simple dish.

  2. I’ve been stuck on using canned tuna only for tuna salad for so long it’s hard for me to think of another use. Thank you for giving me one. You know I love kimchi and we are starting to eat more and more tofu so this stew is a must make. Love your last touch of chile strips and toasted sesame seed oil.

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. In my case it’s almost the same (almost because I discovered some time ago a delicious simple stir-fry of carrots and canned tuna salad which is however cooked… http://www.withaglass.com/?p=9678 which was already unusual for me). I hope you will try this stew (and most of all, like it).

  3. After so many diets to be honest I am a little sick of canned tuna. But I wouldn;t say no to this stew and I belive the same stands for my son who is a big fan of tofu!

  4. I’m so glad you posted this recipe. My husband’s co-worker who is Korean gave him large Tupperware full of homemade kimchi recently . This sounds so simply yet so delicious! I’m watching Korean drama on my kindle. I’m so fascinated by their foods (there are so many food scenes) and culture.

    1. Thank you so much, Nipponnin. I am also fascinated by Korean cuisine (as you might have noticed…) and I must confess I use some ingredients for both Japanese and Korean dishes and I find it very convenient.

  5. I guess it’s the byproduct of living in an Asian country that’s been through wartime and rationing, but canned food started being incorporated into our traditional dishes a lot. Although my mum generally believes in fresh food and eating healthy, sometimes she can resist and fries some spam (luncheon meat) to be sandwiched between bread, or just as a side to white rice with soy sauce. What I take away from this is a wonderful adaptation to the environment and learning to make do with the best flavours in mind! Kimchi stew is one of my favourites! This looks like a cheap and delicious combination with the tuna and tofu 🙂

    1. Hi, Shuhan. I would have never consider this stew cheap though… the white tuna I buy with a special label is actually more expensive per kg than fresh one… but it is a very convenient dish since I have canned tuna all the time.
      I think many Europeans don’t consider canning as a preserving necessity only, though it started this way of course (I don’t speak for Britons though, but let’s say the Swiss, the French and the Poles). If you ask people why they buy some canned products, it’s sometimes for their taste too… Many people hate fresh sardines and mackerel, but love their canned versions… French canned mackerel in white wine sauce is amazingly good! Not to mention sardines, which, if canned with bones, are actually healthier than fresh ones because bones soften and they are the healthiest part in this fish. Or anchovies… I am crazy for these. I sometimes prefer canned good (white) tuna to the fresh average one… It’s just different for me.
      Nonetheless, I was very surprised to see canned tuna in a soup, but the result was fantastic.

    1. Hi, Karen. Thank you for the compliment! I would have never thought about it too but apparently this stew is very popular in Korean! When I took the first spoonful I understood why…

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