SOUTH KOREA: Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams / Sogogi Miyeok-guk (소고기 미역국)
The moment we drew South Korea we called our good friend Beau, who just moved back to the USA after spending the last 10+ years in South Korea, and asked him his advice. Without hesitation, he suggested Miyoek-guk. Actually his words were “Oh dear… um… Korean soups are really complex. There’s a great one called Miyoek-guk. Miyoek = seaweed. Guk= soup. Seaweed slightly fried with soy sauce, sesame oil and tiny bits of pork. Then put into an amazingly savory soup often with tiny clams….” and then he fell silent with a dreamy look on his face. Okay, so we have our soup because Beckett heard the wistfulness, seaweed, savory + clams and he was sold.
Miyoek-guk is quite famous in Korea and is referred to as “birthday soup”. It is the first food that new mothers eat once they give birth and people traditionally eat it on each birthday to commemorate their day of birth – hence the nickname. According to legend, many, many years ago Koreans observed whales eating seaweed after giving birth and adopted the same technique for postpartum recovery. It’s no wonder whales eat it: seaweed, one of nature’s superfoods, contains amazing amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and is purported to assist with healthy immune systems, proper thyroid function, and healthy blood pressure.
But wait! There’s more! Apparently, seaweed is also really great for brain function and is often given to students before exams. (Note to self: remember this! In order to do so, please eat more seaweed!)
Based on recipes online, it appears that Korean “birthday soup” can be made with beef, pork, clams, or vegetarian. For our version, we opted for beef + clams.
Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams
- 2 teaspoons of Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced (approximately 1 tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 lb lean meat such as brisket or flank steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 lb small clams**
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 oz (30g) dried seaweed (miyeok) (approximately 2 cups), cut or broken into 1-2″ pieces
- 10 cups water
- 4 tablespoons Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Korean anchovy
- 1 clove garlic, sliced very thin
- 1 green onion, sliced very thin
* Gluten free Korean soy sauce is available online. I found it on Amazon.
** If you can’t find good fresh clams, many asian grocery stores carry packages of small clams in the frozen section.
- Prepare the marinade by mixing all ingredients in a medium bowl. Add beef and allow it to marinate while you complete the next steps.
- Prepare clams by placing them in a large pot and cover completely with 10 cups cold water. Bring pot to a boil then reduce heat to low. Skim any foam. Boil 20 minutes.
- Strain clam broth through a cheesecloth, reserving both the broth and the clams, but discarding all impurities.
- Drain the seaweed then massage with 3 tablespoons of salt until seaweed is evenly coated.
- Rinse salted seaweed with cold water 3 to 5 times until it no longer foams and all dirt and salt is removed. Pull apart and discard any extra thick or stringy pieces of seaweed. Squeeze out any excess water.
- Heat a medium-sized pot on medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and sauté the marinated beef for 2 minutes. Add chopped seaweed and sauté on medium for 5-10 minutes until most of the moisture of the seaweed is gone. Be sure to stir frequently so seaweed does not burn.
- Add clam broth, clams, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic + green onions. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour (soup develops more flavor the longer it cooks).
We tried several different kinds of seaweed and there was a definite winner. If you can find this brand, you’ll be pleased you did. Some of the others we tried were extra slimy, overly fishy, or simply fell apart. This seaweed retains its crunch and delicate flavor. Thumbs up.
Well, the Miyeok-Guk was not a huge hit with the kids*, but the adults all enjoyed it quite a bit once we put in extra hot sauce and kimchee. We served it with egg custard (gyeran jjim), kimchee, bulgogi, rice, seaweed salad and Trader Joes’ Korean veggie pancakes (pa jeon). Everyone left full and hopefully a little smarter thanks to the seaweed superfood.
*My theory on why it wasn’t a hit with the kids: we didn’t use the good seaweed and didn’t put enough soy sauce in the first batch. When I tested the recipe again the next day with the good seaweed and more soy sauce, it was wolfed down. The recipe above has been adjusted to reflect that modification.