Generally this time of year brings out the comfort food cook in all of us. But I am already burned out on squash, roasts, and stews. I have been craving a new type of solace for the gloomy days in the way of food, something completely different that will warm my core but also excite my taste buds. I have found my new nookie-blankie in the way of kimchi soup.
This soup can be super easy if you buy stock and combine ingredients, or you can do as I did and make it a little more of a project with superior results. I start by making a broth of local pasture-raised pork shanks ($4 at Seward Co-Op, carrots, onions, cilantro stems, shiitake stems, scallion greens, fresh ginger, garlic, and cold water. Salt and pepper the shanks and brown them with a little canola oil. Browning the shanks develops a rich caramel flavor. The old adage is "fat is flavor" but in my cooking caramelized fat is really where the flavor is. Because this soup is very bold, layering that boldness with browned meat really enhances the finished product.
Once the meat is fully browned, add your vegetables and sweat for about 3 minutes, add your water to cover the shanks and vegetable, and bring to a simmer. Once it is at a nice simmer turn down your heat so there are a few bubbles ... a light simmer if you will. The shanks are a well worked muscle so the stock will have to simmer 3 to 4 hours. While the stock is simmering, it is very important to skim off the fat and scum that rises to the top, this will help the stock maintain a clean flavor and good clarity.
Once the meat of the shanks is falling off the bone remove them from the pot and make sure to get all the meat out of the pot. Strain all of the vegetables from the stock and the broth back into the pot then add a jar of kimchi, sliced shiitakes, the meat from the shanks (pulled into bite-sized chunks) and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, rice vinegar, fish sauce, sriracha, and fresh cilantro and serve. You can add cooked soba, egg, or rice noodles to the soup to make it more substantial or just add more kimchi. The total outlay of costs for four entrée sized portions of this soup was a whopping $9. The soup will freeze nicely if you make a large batch.
2.5 lb. pork shanks
1 bunch cilantro
3 oz. fresh ginger root
1 bunch scallion
Fish sauce to taste
Sriracha to taste
Rice vinegar to taste
Salt and pepper to taste