Fermented soybean paste

Doenjang 된장

Hello everybody! I know some of you have been waiting for my doenjang and ganjang recipes for a long time! Today I feel a real sense of achievement to release this recipe here. It’s one of the recipes in my cookbook, and whether you have my book or not, this video and recipe should still be useful to you.

Korean fermented soybean paste, called doenjang (된장), is more than just a seasoning or an essential ingredient in many iconic Korean dishes. It’s part of who we are as Koreans and how we see ourselves. A meal of rice, kimchi, doenjang-soup (or doenjang-stew), and  a few side dishes is for many Koreans, the definition of a meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s impossible for us to imagine life without doenjang.

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Salty, earthy, hearty, incredibly savory and delicious, it adds flavor to many dishes and makes them distinctively Korean. Making doenjang at home takes a long time, you have to be ready to commit to it for one year! It’s not hard to make, but takes patience and some hard work, and some special equipment. But as a bonus, Korean soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang:국간장) is a byproduct of making doenjang, so you get that delicious soy sauce for free!

Of course, you can always buy doenjang and guk-ganjang in a Korean grocery store, which is what most Koreans do. But the taste of store-bought can’t be compared to homemade doenjang and guk-ganjang, you will be knocked out over how delicious they are! And I’ve never found a brand of soup soy sauce in the store that satisfied me, which is why I always use fish sauce in my recipes as a substitute.

Besides the taste, making your own is fun and satisfying to eat. Over years of making, tasting, and fermenting these iconic Korean sauces, you’ll develop experience and sophistication in fermenting and eventually become a Korean food expert.

This video was a lot of fun to make. The recipe took me 2 years to develop, and the video took another year to film. It’s finally finished and I couldn’t be happier to share my recipe with you! Koreans traditionally start the process in the winter because the weather is good for drying soybean blocks. But I discovered that indoors, in my apartment in New York, any time is a good time to start making doenjang.

I hope you try it! Enjoy the recipe!

Special equipment

  • An electric mat or blanket, or ondol-style heating in your house
  • Cotton flour sacking or cheesecloth
  • Cotton butcher’s twine
  • A large shallow bamboo basket about 17 inches in diameter, or a large baking pan lined with waxed paper
  • Dried rice straw or hay that’s been well washed and dried (optional)
  • A cardboard box (an 18-x-10-x-7-inch box will hold 3 bean blocks)
  • A 4- to 5-gallon Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • A 5-quart Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • 3-5 dried jujubes (daechu)
  • 3-5 large dried hot chili red peppers (any variety; about 4 inches long)
  • 3 (4-x-1½-x-1-inch) pieces hardwood charcoal

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Ingredients (for 10 pounds of doenjang)

How to make doenjang

Make meju blocks from soybeans
Blocks of crushed soybeans are called meju (메주) in Korean, and they’re the foundation of doenjang-making.

  1. Drain the beans and put them in a large heavy pot. Add water that is three times as deep as the beans, cover, and cook over medium-high heat for 1 hour.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking until the beans are soft enough mash easily, 4½ to 5 hours, checking to make sure the beans remain covered with water, and replenishing as necessary. Drain the beans in a colander.boiled soybeans
  3. Mash the drained beans to a paste in batches with a large mortar and pestle or in a food processor. Don’t finely grind them, leave some beans half-crushed.mashed soybeans
  4. Divide the mashed beans into 3 portions. Knead each portion with both hands and shape into a firm rectangular block measuring 6 x 3 x 4 inches.form meju meju

Ferment the meju

  1. Traditionally Koreans dry meju on the heated ondol floors of their homes, and if you live in Korea or have that kind of heating in your house, you can do that too. But in my NYC apartment I simulate ondol by putting an electric blanket on the floor. Line the blanket with a clean cotton cloth or waxed paper and set the blocks on top, or put them in an open basket. Set the heat to low. Dry the blocks, rotating them occasionally, until they are solid enough to hang, 3 to 4 days.meju
  2. Tie each block up in cotton twine and hang them. You can hang them outside but be sure to keep them covered and out of the rain, and if it’s too hot out they may rot. Inside, you can hang them from the ceiling with hooks. Wherever they hang, the spot should be cool and well-ventilated and all sides of the blocks should be exposed to air and not touching each other. Let the blocks hang for 6 weeks, until they are well dried out and smell a little pungent when you get your nose close to them.hanging meju
  3. Now it’s time to ferment the bean blocks. Place a layer of dried rice straw or hay in the bottom of a cardboard box that’s just big enough to hold the blocks with a little space between them; the straw will insulate the blocks and attract good bacteria like Bacillus subtilis in the air. (Don’t worry if you can’t find straw or hay; the blocks will still attract good bacteria.)
    meju
  4. Cover the box and put it on the electric blanket. Set the heat to low and let the bean blocks ferment for 2 weeks. At this point, the well-fermented bean blocks will smell a little earthy and pungent and will be covered with white, brownish-yellow, or sometimes greenish fungi. (These fungi change the bean proteins to peptides and amino acids, which will give the bean paste its delicious nutty flavor.)
  5. Tie the fermented bean blocks up in cotton twine and hang from the ceiling, as before, for 1 month.meju (fermented soy bean paste block: 메주)meju-fungus

Soak the meju in brine

  1. Wash the blocks in cold water and to remove the fungi. Place the blocks in a shallow basket or on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and let them dry in the sunlight for 1 day, turning them until every side of each block is dried.meju drying in the sun
  2. Combine the 3½ gallons water (56 cups) and 5 quarts of the kosher salt (20 cups) in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Set out a 4- to 5-gallon earthenware crock. Put 2 pieces of the charcoal on a gas burner; turn on the flame, and heat until they are glowing red. (If you don’t have a gas burner, use the broiler: Put the charcoal pieces under the broiler and turn it on; remove the charcoal when it is red.) Use tongs to transfer the charcoal to the earthenware crock. Drizzle the honey over the burning charcoal. Cover the crock and wait for 5 minutes.heating charcoal
  4. Remove the lid. You will see lots of smoke and smell a good caramel aroma. This process sterilizes the inside of the crock and will give the sauce good flavor.
  5. Remove the charcoal and wipe the inside of the crock with paper towels. Add the bean blocks and salted water to the crock. Add the remaining piece of charcoal, the jujubes, and dried hot peppers; they will float on the surface of the water. (The charcoal will attract and absorb any dust. The jujubes add sweetness and the dried red peppers help prevent the blocks from going bad.)meju soaking
  6. Cover the crock with flour sacking or cheesecloth and put on the lid. Let the blocks soak in the salty water until well fermented, 2 to 3 months. On clear days remove the lid and let the crock sit in the sunlight. Close it at night and be sure to keep the crock covered with the cloth so bugs and dust can’t get in. As time passes, the salty water will turn brown and smell like deeply fermented soy sauce.meju in sunlight

Separate the doenjang from the soy sauce

  1. Discard the charcoal, jujubes, and peppers. Transfer the soaked bean blocks to a large bowl. The blocks may have broken up during the soak, so use a bowl to scoop the soy sauce out of the crock and into a strainer set over another large bowl. Add any pieces of bean block to the bean block bowl. Save the soy sauce for making Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang) later.
  2. Mix the doenjang with both hands, breaking it up into a paste, and transfer it to a 5-quart earthenware crock. Pack it down and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup salt. Cover with the cotton cloth, secure it with a rubber band, and put on the lid.
  3. Put the doenjang crock in a sunny spot for its final fermentation. About twice a week on sunny days, remove the lid and let the sunlight shine into the crock through the cotton cloth. When it’s well fermented, the doenjang will smell sweet and taste salty and earthy, with a deep flavor. This will take 5 to 6 months. If it ever looks a little too dry on top, pour some of the separated soy sauce on top to make it moist again. You don’t need to stir it in.
    doenjang

Serving and storage

  1. Store the doenjang in the crock outside the house or at room temperature. Whenever you take some out, press the rest down with a spoon to keep out the air. Once in a while, take the lid off, cover with a cotton cloth, and let the sun hit it again.

Doenjang-making diary

Here’s a schedule of dates from a year of my doenjang-making. You might need to deviate from this timeline depending on how your project is going, but you get the idea of how long it takes and where you should be every month.

January 4 — Soaked the beans.
January 5 — Made the meju.
January 9 — Hung the meju up.
February 24 — Put the meju in a box with hay.
March 10 — Took the meju out of the box and hung them up.
April 10 — Washed the meju and let them dry in the sunlight.
April 11 — Soaked the meju in salty water.
June 11 — Separated doenjang and guk-ganjang.
June 22 — Made guk-ganjang.
December 1st — Doenjang was ready.

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144 Comments:

  1. Docbradt Idaho joined 1/19 & has 3 comments

    So I’m getting frustrated. I’ve spent time and money on the clay pots and soybeans etc. i asked a question last week with no reply. Has anyone out there had it where there was no fungi of any color on the meju block? Mine are so dry and I’ve had them in the heated box for 3 weeks. Do I just hang longer and put in the brine solution? Do I wet them and put in the heated box with straw to try and get fungi longer? How important is it to get noticeable fungi? I’d be grateful if you or someone who knows would reply to this.


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,620 comments

      I replied to you this morning, Brad.
      For those who may make doenjang, I’m copying and posting some of my answer here.
      Fungi grow well in warm temperatures and with the right amount of humidity.
      There must not be much humidity in your house. The next time you make it, make sure there is some humidity.
      Good luck with your doenjang project!

  2. Docbradt Idaho joined 1/19 & has 3 comments

    So I have let the Meju dry for the 6 weeks and I put them in the heated box with some straw.(wheat straw) After almost 10 days I have no fungus of any kind on the blocks. They smell good but no color. Is that ok? Do I use alfalfa hay or wheat straw as I have no rice straw? Thanks.

  3. 1984 UK joined 2/19 & has 2 comments

    Oh no! Second attempt and black mould again on my meju blocks. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.


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  4. Dutchgirlme Sierra Nevada Mountains joined 2/19 & has 3 comments

    Maangchi, my 메주 will soon be at the stage to put them in the brine. Do you use anything special to wash the 옹기 out with? Is it ok to use dish soap or baking soda or what. Thank you


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    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,620 comments

      Wow, looks great!

      I wash my onggi a couple of times with a sponge or scrubber, wipe it off with cotton cloth or paper towels, and then let dry in the sunlight with the lid open. Don’t use dish soap because earthenware has micropores and the soap will get stuck in them.

  5. 1984 UK joined 2/19 & has 2 comments

    Hi Maangchi, I made my meju blocks two days ago. Already they are quite smelly and they have lots of black mould growing (see photo). Does this need to go into the bin? At least I haven’t got too far yet!!!! I don’t know what went wrong, I couldn’t turn them too often as I had to go out, but there is still black mould on the ends (that wouldn’t face the warm side anyway!).


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  6. Florfy London, Ontario, Canada joined 10/17 & has 8 comments

    Hi Maangchi!
    I’ve been thinking about trying this recipe for a long time. It seems so fun and interesting to me, even though I don’t eat doenjang very often! I have a few concerns that have prevented me from trying to make this, though.
    1. I’m having trouble finding an electric blanket/mat, so would I be able to dry my meju if I just set the air temperature in the room to about 23 degrees?
    2. I can’t find Korean wood charcoal, so would I be able to skip it? Or is it necessary for this process?
    Thank you in advance for your response!

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