canned mackerel kimchi {kimchi stew}


ahoy friends!

hope you’ve polished off your summer with the best memories and are now in the full swing of what i think is the best season of the year, autumn. it was impossibly hard to face the reality that this summer was finally over because there was so much sweetness that i wasn’t ready to part with. all of the summer activities and memories made of friends visiting from near and far, rooftop parties, evening bike rides around brooklyn, and the summer trips have tapered off now.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that cooking for me has been a rarity this summer, but now you know why! who wants to be indoors cooking when all of new york is in full bloom?!

i did accidentally toast my leg on a motorcycle muffler, and had to stay at home for a few days to heal. while indoors, my sixth sense for kimchi ripeness told me that it was officially time to use up the last batch of kimchi that i made this summer before it became too sour and fermented for anything. thus, kimchi jjigae! kimchi chigae is an easy flavorful soup that borderlines a stew.

i’ve been going back and forth between sharing a traditional kimchi jjigae recipe that uses pork belly as a flavor base or the way my mom cooked it using canned mackerel or pacific saury. i’ve consulted a few korean friends and family to see what they thought of canned fish kimchi jjigae and the reactions spanned from a gag reflex to “that’s how poor college students do it” to “that’s the only way i know how”. you’ll find variances across people’s preferences in kimchi jjigae, and there’s definitely no right way to do it - but i’ll tell you that this version is all my taste memories really know.

having kimchi jjigae made with canned mackerel and spam can say a lot about who is preparing it and the people who will be eating it. it’s casual, comforting, accessible, fast, economical, and most of all, delicious. a can of mackerel costs maybe $3 at most , and it comes cooked with a brine that’s packed with flavor. my mom dumped the entire can directly into the pot, and in less than half and hour, she had a deep flavorful soup ready to feed all six of us. my roommates and i also ate this way in college, and for some reason, using pork belly always seemed a little too luxurious and bougie for our liking.

the next time you’re at a korean market, pick up a can or two of canned mackerel or pacific saury, and keep them on hand in your pantry. one day, your kimchi ripeness sixth sense will come knocking and you’ll be elated to know that you can have a flavorful kimchi jjigae ready to go in less than an hour ;)

xo, christine


kimchi jjigae with canned mackerel

2 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic

2 cups diced ripened kimchi with juices

1/2 (6 oz.) spam lite can sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices

1 15 oz. can of mackerel or pacific saury (kkongchi or godeunguh)

3 cups water

1 jalapeno (optional)

sliced tofu (if you’re not allergic to soy like me)

1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil


1 stalk green onion sliced

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. bring a medium sized pot up to medium heat, add oil, and sauté garlic, kimchi, and spam for 3-4 minutes until spam and kimchi is lightly toasted.

  2. pour in 3 cups of water into pot and bring up to a boil for 2 minutes

  3. bring heat down to medium-low, and carefully pour in canned fish along with all of the brine (try to keep fish intact). cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

  4. toss in jalapenos (and tofu) and sesame oil and continue to simmer for 7-8 more minutes.

  5. garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, serve with rice, and enjoy!